First up was my annual trip to Paxton pits in Cambridgeshire for the nightingales which breed there. It is starting to get very depressing though. Five years ago they had well over 10 pairs on site At 8 in the morning you could pick your bird and join the crowds listening to their beautiful song. Two years ago the number dropped off a cliff. Last year wasn't much better and this year their website was reporting only 3 or possibly 4 pairs on the whole of the extended site. I walked all of my usual areas for them - the bit by the hide, the triangle, the hedge by the field but nothing. Lots of other birds were singing - blackcap, garden warbler, chiffchaff, willow warbler, whitethroat - but not a whisper of a nightingale. My last chance was near the river, where another birder on site told me they had heard one a few days before. After perhaps 20 minutes I finally heard the characteristic chattering, explosive call from deep in a bush. One male was desperately trying to attract a mate. I listened to him for about 15 minutes. As ever he remained pretty deep in the bush, never showing himself well enough for a photo. This was the only one I heard though.
Why their numbers are down so much is a mystery. Other summer migrants were there and the habitat is not any different to my eyes. It is probably a combination of factors including the perils of the migration across the guns of the Mediterranean. Other sites are also reporting lower than normal numbers so it may be that they are going the way of the turtle dove. The sound of Summer will be different in years to come.
After Paxton I went cross country to Leicestershire. Two of our rarer terns were reported yesterday and came up on the pager again today. These were white-winged terns, cousins of the black terns, both of which are migrants through our lakes and reservoirs in Spring. They are very late arriving this year though and by the time I got to Eyebrook it was clear that today they were making up for lost time. Both black and white-winged were being reported across a number of sites, in good numbers as well. Without exact directions though I was expecting a long search across the reservoir searching them out. Even before I got out of the car though I saw one fly straight past the parking area and in company with a black tern. I grabbed my gear and pretty much straight away got onto them fishing up and down opposite the road.
You can see why they got their name - that black body with the contrasting white wings. They also have a characteristic white rump which shows very well when they are flying away from you. After about 30 minutes the black terns all formed into a flock and rose up and up on a thermal. Eventually they disappeared, moving on north to their breeding grounds. The white-wingers though remained, fishing and darting around on the reservoir. It does say something as well that whilst we were watching the terns an osprey, presumably from Rutland water, was fishing on the far bank, but we only gave it a passing glance!
Finally I went further across the country to Cambridgeshire, to Eldernell near Whittlesey. The target here was a white stork. These are pretty controversial birds at the moment. There are many escapees in the country and there has been a reintroduction scheme in Germany. This one, although ringed, did not have any of the tags associated with the escapees so it may be a kosher bird.
It was always a long way away though, eventually appearing to go to sleep by a gate on the far side of the flood. More visible were 2 or 3 common cranes which have a territory nearby, their honking calls echoing around.
Right by the car park is a bridge with swallows nesting under it, and a pair decided to have a rat on it long enough for me to grab a few photos of them. Beautiful birds with the sun on their feathers.
A lovely day in the Spring sunshine. One lifer in the form of the whit stork plus 4 other year ticks. As I write this there are flocks of up to 60 birds still dropping into reservoirs across the country. Vey pleased with my smaller flock though. What might be next? Well, probably a trip back to Eldernell where corncrakes are calling towards dusk!!