Sunday, 8 March 2009

Spring - an early morning walk

There seems to be some confusion about when spring officially begins but never mind the squabbling about the calendar I think it started this weekend. The evenings are getting lighter and the birds are singing longer, the moles are making bigger hills and are getting ready for their once a year shag and the daffodils are flowering in the fields.

Around and about I have spotted two things this year that I think are different from the last few years. Firstly there were an awful lot of snowdrops everywhere and I don’t know if that has had anything to do with the harsher winter but they have certainly been very noticeable. Secondly, rooks, there are hundreds of them, I have never seen so many. Wherever I drive in Lincolnshire they are everywhere in great big flocks digging around for worms and grubs in the fields and road verges. They are gregarious creatures and live and work together communally in rookeries in the tops of trees and there is a lot of twig gathering activity at the moment as they repair old nests and build new ones.

This part of Lincolnshire is well known for vegetable growing and all around farmers have been ploughing the fields ready for planting up. Last week I watched a tractor and plough at work and admired the endeavour of the seagulls as they followed excitedly and gorged on the worms and leatherjackets as they were turned to the surface.

I am also certain it is spring because I am waking up earlier. Today I was up before six and it was such a beautiful morning that I took a drive down to the sea. The Wash is a vast estuary that stretches for over one hundred square miles running from Skegness in Lincolnshire to Hunstanton in Norfolk. It is fed by the Rivers Witham, Welland, Nene and Great Ouse and is one of the largest estuaries in Britain. The outstanding coastal wetland is made up of huge intertidal banks of sand and mud, salt marshes, deep channels and shallow waters and the mudflats and sandbanks are full with wildlife, feeding on marine life.

At seven o’clock there wasn’t a soul in sight and I had the place to myself. It was very cold but there was a big blue sky and I watched the seabirds getting ready for the day, disturbed a magnificent Barn Owl as it flew attentively along the dyke looking for breakfast and on the way home saw a Sparrowhawk just sitting by the side of the road.

In the garden all of the usual birds drop by for food and even the Thrush has been back. I have never lived anywhere where there have been so many birds. Yesterday, sadly, there was a murder in the garden and there was evidence of a Sparrowhawk kill quite close to the house. Over the last two months a pair of Jays have been dropping by quite regularly and they make a welcome colourful addition to the garden. There are more and more Collared Doves and I have to confess that I really do rather like them.

The story of the Collared Dove is an interesting one. Only a hundred years ago, the species was found primarily on the Indian subcontinent, although its range extended slightly into Europe but certainly no further than Turkey. In the early 1900s, however, the species began significantly expanding its range and colonised as far as France, the Low Countries and Denmark and then in 1953 reached it the United Kingdom when it was spotted in Norfolk for the first time. Today, Collared Doves are living above the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia.

The spread of Collared Doves across the United Kingdom has been very rapid. From the first breeding report in 1955 the species was subsequently reported breeding in Kent and Lincolnshire in 1957, with birds also seen as far north as Scotland. Two years later Ireland was colonised and by 1970 there may have been as many as twenty-five thousand pairs in Britain and Ireland and between 1972 and 1976 the population increased five fold

The Collared Dove, it turns out, is one of the great colonisers of the avian world. After it was introduced into the Bahamas in the 1970s it managed to spread to Florida in the United States by 1982. Its stronghold in North America is still the Gulf Coast, but it is now found as far south as Veracruz, as far west as California, and as far north as British Columbia and the Great Lakes.

Collared Doves are quite big birds and have a buff grey colour that makes them quite conspicuous. Although on first site they may look uninteresting they are really quite attractive with the half collar marking on the back of the neck, a pinkish flush on the chest and really fantastic black eyes with a red ring. This is a picture of the visitor to my garden so you can see just how close he will let me get to him (or perhaps her, because actually I can’t tell the difference).

1 comment:

Sandra said...

Hi Andrew,

I like to think Spring is here when the flowers on my Magnolia start to open and today I noticed a few flowers. Its a pity the bitterly cold wind is here to remind us that Winter is still going to spoil things when it can. We now have Red Kites in our area even though they were very rare just a few years ago. They are amazingly beautiful birds and its a pleasure to just watch them, especially if the sun is shining and showing their gorgeous red feathers to their best advantage.

Sandra x