Early birds’ complicated chorus


Ever since I fixed the hole in my leaking water butt in the garden several weeks ago, it has never rained, so, as I write, I still don’t know if it’s water tight!

April has been an incredibly dry month but certainly it has helped butterflies, bees, and birds to kick-start their annual breeding programme. Moths, too have been extremely numerous, despite the occasional frosty night and many species have been appearing at traps across the Borders several weeks earlier than usual.

Talking about early, I was up at 5am the other morning to do the first stage of an annual bird breeding survey, which I have been doing for a few years. It entails visiting a predetermined 1km square twice during the breeding season and crossing it twice in different directions, following the same route each time, to note every kind of bird seen or heard.

In May, it gets a bit noisy just after sunrise with every bird in the area trying to outdo its neighbour, so it takes a bit of practice to stand and try and sort them all out. It takes concentration and the ability to try and filter out the different songsters, but it is great fun.

My patch is mainly arable fields and coniferous woodland, so I can get quite a good mixture. The best birds of the day were a flock of about 20 crossbills seen feeding on some spruce cones and a single singing nuthatch, which is not uncommon in the Borders nowadays, but it was the first ever recorded in my square, so their advance continues. It’s not just the birds that make the outing special but on such a glorious sunny morning, the whole ambience of that time of day is unique. Roe deer and squirrels are frequently encountered, but seldom other human beings, which adds to the enjoyment.

At that time of day, the lambs seem to be hyperactive as the first rays of sun warm their backs and they can be seen careering round the fields in gangs, full of enthusiasm and the joys of being alive.

One group I simply had to photograph as they stood and weighed me up, with the low sun shining through their ears, giving them a red hue. Once they ascertained I was no threat, they resumed their cavorting with renewed vigour.

Spring for me is all too short and an early start ensures that every ounce of enjoyment can be squeezed out of every day.