Sunday, 26 April 2015


Today the Friends of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve held an event to celebrate the arrival of our summer migrant birds from Africa. The day was planned months ago and, based on past experience, this should have been a prime week-end to get a big score of species.

After a rainy night and a cloudy, cold start, I set off from home fearing the worst. Very few migrants had been seen in the preceding week and my guess was that we were just too early.

I arrived to find Ray and Pam Matthews eager to start but I was not scheduled to start my sponsored "tick and twitch" until 10 a.m. The urgency to start was generated because Ray had met some birders in the car park and they had seen a ring ouzel near Wash-out Pit!

Ring ouzels are basically big upland blackbirds.

Male ring ouzel by Jamie Wells.
Although ring ouzels do turn up at Paxton Pits they are usually seen miles away, off the Reserve in the quarry. Neither Ray or I had seen one at Paxton, in fact the last ones I saw were in Norway last year.  Those were close to sea-level within the Arctic Circle. Most often I have seen them in the High Pennines and in Perthshire in craggy moorland with scattered rowan trees and clumps of blaeberry.

On migration, we most often find them on the coast or on manicured airfields or golf courses. They arrive at night, feed up in the morning, argue with the local blackbirds and mistle thrushes until noon and then take a nap. As soon as the stars come out they try to get a fix on their position and then they are gone. We missed this one by 12 minutes!

The sponsored event works on 10p a species, so ring-ouzels are worth no more than sparrows. My target is always to get over 50 species and thereby raise £5.00 a customer. Today we beat that by seeing 52 species over 2 hours. As soon as I had collected the money, a reed bunting turned up, and I am sure the day produced a few more.  Where were the swifts, house martins and sand-martins?

Our list of 52 included some goodies like common sandpiper, reed warbler, nightingale, goldcrest, bullfinch and yellowhammer but we missed a few common birds such as starling and lesser black-backed gull. We did exceptionally well with birds of prey such as buzzard, sparrow hawk, kestrel and no less than 4 hobbies.

All-in-all I was pleased with our tally but I knew that we could double it if we had more time and a favourable wind. As I left, a tight, fast moving flock of fresh swallows skimmed past and a pair of sparrowhawks were courting (or fighting) over-head. It's sometimes hard to tell, as we all know.