Leica Nature Ambassadors talk the magic of spring and who they are most excited to be welcoming back!
David Lindo AKA The Urban Birder, Leica Sport Optics Ambassador
Expectancy. That is the word that best sums up spring for me. It encompasses the usual eulogies of spring; the buds appearing, bluebells, longer days, warmer temperatures… Above all else, I find the arrival of the migrants from more southerly climes the most exhilarating thing about the emerging season. This surge of new arrivals can even be noticed in the middle of our urban centres. I have spent many years striding around Wormwood Scrubs, my local patch in West London, in the pursuit of birds. Spring is a gradual process there starting with the sudden appearance of Chiffchaffs during March with the end of that month heralding the Blackcap replete with its soulful warble. They join the already established spring chorus of singing wafting from the throats of the resident species like Robins, Blackbirds and Blue Tits. Not forgetting the accompanying drumming of Great Spotted Woodpeckers and yaffling of our solitary pair of Green Woodpeckers.
But it is during April and into May when things really start to kick off. Before the middle of the month the first of our passage Wheatears arrive. I love seeing this special bird because it seems so un-urban. It is an emblem for the wild wide-open spaces, yet for me, it is the true signifier of the advent of urban spring. I look out for them in our meagre grassland or even on the expansive football pitches. With them come much smaller numbers of Whinchat and Common Redstarts, although not on the sports pitches. The latter species are sometimes to be found lurking unobtrusively in our tiny plots of woodland. Meanwhile, look up and you will see Swallows heading north. The first Swifts appear later. However, it is the penultimate week of April that I live for. It is the most likely time for some really special spring migrants like the Ring Ouzel or even the chance to hear a Nightingale in song, albeit often briefly.
The changing of the avian guard from winter to spring is not a clean cut changeover though. As a kid, I thought that our winter visitors left the country, then there was a gap followed by the spring birds pouring in. How wrong was I! Departing winter visitors regularly rub shoulders with the incomers. So, don’t be surprised to see a departing Fieldfare standing wing-to-wing next to a newly arrived Wheatear. Get out there and enjoy all that spring offers no matter where you live!
Mya Bambrick, Leica Sport Optics Ambassador
Spring is certainly my favourite time of the year and not just because of the warming weather and lengthening days. It’s an exciting time in the ornithological calendar, with birds returning back to their breeding grounds here in the UK. I am particularly excited to welcome back the Swift. An extraordinary bird which fills me with pure joy. The sound of them ‘screaming’ and their acrobatic ability on the wing, navigating around houses and over the top of roofs on blue-skied days, remind me that whatever happens, nature’s cycle is always constant and reliable.
Despite not being a twitcher by any means, when a mega (a very rare bird) turned up at Pagham Harbour in West Sussex, I could not resist. The bird in question was an Elegant Tern. Hundreds of birders flocked to the reserve to witness it perched on ‘tern island’ and occasionally flying out to find fish. The heat haze made it difficult to see clearly, the only defining feature on my record shot is its bright orange bill. It’s unclear why this bird arrived at Pagham, with its range normally being on the Pacific coast, from the US to Chile. It has a very restricted breeding range too, which makes the sighting even more unusual.
One place I visit every Spring is the Old Lodge Nature Reserve in Ashdown Forest, West Sussex. The famous call of the Cuckoo echoes around the reserve, occasionally giving good views whilst perching on a power line. One of the most striking migrants has to be the Redstart, and I’ve been lucky enough to see them numerous times at the reserve. A real treat is seeing Tree Pipits which sing their shrill song from the tops of trees or during their parachuting display flight. This year I’d love to visit Beachy head and the surrounding areas in the early morning when the Spring migrants have just arrived on our shores.
Ruth & Alan, Leica Sport Optics Ambassadors
Birds are brilliant and there are so many ways we can all enjoy them be it feeding the ducks in the local park, watching waders on your nearest beach or climbing high mountains in remote regions to catch a glimpse of a rare pheasant.
One thing that really grabs people’s imagination about birds is their amazing ability to migrate, travelling thousands of miles around the globe yet looking so fragile. Get chatting with just about anyone, and we do mean anyone, and mention the fact that the Barn Swallows they see around their town migrate from as far as southern Africa to reach the UK each Spring and return to the exact same place each winter and you will have their attention. Drop in the fact that the Bar-tailed Godwit is capable of a non-stop flight from winter quarters in New Zealand all the way to Siberia, shrinking some of its internal organs to do so, and well they will be clambering for more!
Bird migration can be seen just about anywhere even in a city street you could look up and see a flock of say Lapwings heading south or a flock of Whooper Swans flying back to Iceland to breed, it’s that easy, just look. We are very luck here in Llandudno on the North Wales coast as we have a coastal headland, the Great Orme, just behind our home. Here we can enjoy bird migration and in the spring one bird more than any other is eagerly anticipated – the Northern Wheatear.
The Northern Wheatear is the start of spring for us, THE bird that says well that’s it, Spring is really here. Not a rare bird but a handsome one and one that spends the winter in sub-Sahara Africa and its return is eagerly awaited each March, and the sighting of our first is a real highlight in our birdwatching year and these milestones are one of the many things that make watching birds such a joy. The 23rd March 2021, was that day. An early visit to the Great Orme to see a Lapland Bunting, which showed off very well, was then added to greatly by the appearance of not one but five stunning Northern Wheatears on the grassy slope just below where the bunting was feeding – wow! As every year the simple sight of this Robin sized bird lifted the spirits and put a huge grin on our faces, yes birds really are brilliant!