The most wonderful time of the year

It is that wonderful time of the year when spring is really starting to, well spring! The days are getting longer, and after months of cold, dark and let’s face it generally wet weather, things are starting to feel really warm. Daffodils, crocuses and primroses are all sprouting up along road sides and under trees. Verdant green leaves are starting to sprout from dark brown branches, and many have beautiful white or delicate pink blossom that ‘snows’ on to grass, pavements and cars, jostled free by a wind that is keen to remind you that it is only the start of the warm season.

Spring with the beautiful blossoms

In bright blue skies overhead, racing the white clouds, come the calls of swallows just returning from Africa. From the developing cover of hedgerows, bushes and trees, comes the singing of birds, some resident and almost relieved to see the warm weather, some having only just arrived from warmer climes where winter and cold are things of myth. Chiffchaff, blackcap and the twittering of those swallows mingle with the more local birds like robin, wren and a variety of tits.

Despite being only the start of the season, and with many species not yet returned to our little island, many birds were already well into the swing of breeding. Long-tailed tit nests were springing up, hidden amongst the spikes and thorns of bramble and gorse, lined with soft feathers ready to cradle precious eggs. Blackbirds were even seeing the first of their young leave the nest and call from the cover nearby, still hoping for food from mum and dad.

A walk along the river, its smooth brown surface dabbled with sunlight, revealed the first few nests of my recording season. Hidden in nooks of branches surrounded by draping, deep green ivy leaves, I find secretive robins. Their mossy nests lined with hair and grass, holding four or five white and spotted reddish brown eggs. Further along and hidden high up in a tree, a blackbird nest reveals two very small chicks, still blind, with just a tuft of fuzzy feathers on the head.

Robin nest
 At our ringing site, before that wind blew in to try and take back a wintry grip on the spring landscape, the garden was full of finches, with most of the tits squirreled away in the woods laying their clutches of eggs. Greenfinch, siskin and goldfinch made up the bulk of the catch, they themselves showing the turn of the seasons with brood patches in evidence on their tummies.
Stunning male siskin
And yet it is that time of year where many things are still rather wintery, just like that wind, and mixed with the swallows and nesting birds, you still find redwings and fieldfares, gathering for one last time in paddocks and fields before making their journeys east and north. In the mist nets, side by side with greenfinch that are clearly incubating eggs (you can tell by the stage of the brood patch), are two bramblings; full of fat in readiness to leave for their breeding sites in Norway and Scandinavia. It is that mixture of winter favourites and spring nesting that makes this time of year so wonderful to the ringer and nest recorder.
Female brambling

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