Sunday, 27 April 2014

So how did it go?

Grasshopper warbler
Sunday's spring migration event got off to a slow start in terms of bird-song and visitors because the weather was uncertain. As the day went on, the weather improved, so that butterflies and birds became more obliging.

Trevor Gunton gave me my task, which was to repeat the successful "tick and twitch" event that I have led on January 1st for the last 2 years. A normal guided tour brings in £2 a head, but under this scheme, you pay 10 pence for each species seen or heard. I aim for (and always fail to reach) 50 species, so the numbers speak for themselves, but for me it is just a really nice morning out with people who are genuinely interested. Many of them have been with me on previous mornings.

Of course, spring migration is a movable feast. In April you might expect a lot of migrants to be still on their way to the UK, but luckily this year most of them are in. In two hours 12 of us saw 46 species, including some elusive birds, but we missed out on some really common ones like mute swan, house martin and swallow.

Garden warbler
I made the decision to try and get some tricky birds and not just go for high numbers so we dotted about a lot. My plan was to go to the mound near our car park for lesser whitethroat and then go to the sailing lake for waders and terns. After that we would return to the VC for a loo break before taking the Meadow loop in search of Cetti's and grasshopper warblers. This was planned to take an hour and a half but Trevor bet me it would take two. He was right. I owe him a box of Pontefract Cakes and some Yorkshire tea bags for hard water. ("Even t'watter is hard in Harrogate," he tells me.)

Lesser whitethroat
The lesser whitethroat obliged but we saw no waders at the Sailing Lake at all. However, we had a serenade from three or four garden warblers to make up for it. On the Meadow Trail we added common whitethroat and a nightingale, but at least one of our group swore that they had heard a grasshopper warbler. The rest of us were sceptical because we heard nothing.

The problem with "groppers" is that they sing at the upper limit of our audible frequency range, so that if, like me, you had a misspent youth listening to loud rock music, you can only hear them if they are very close. Fortunately we were able to get closer, so that even I could hear this one.

Cetti's warblers are the complete opposite in terms of song. They are explosive and startlingly loud but the chance of seeing one is worse than  the chance of seeing a grasshopper warbler. We only heard one but he was in great form.

The check-list that I made specially for the event turned out to have several species missing so I will amend it and post it again. I will also let you know how many species were seen on the day as a whole.

I used my son's iPod to show people photos of the birds and to play their songs. Although I am against luring birds by using recordings, I believe they help to teach people the difference between birds with similar songs. I used a Birdguides "Birds of Britain Pro" app. for iPod, iPhone or iPad but there is about a dozen you can choose from, including one that listens to a bird's song and then tells you what it is!