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Sand martins take the ‘early bird’ honours
ONE of the highlights of March birdwatching is to try to locate the first summer migrants returning from their wintering grounds.
Wheatears tend to vie with sand martins for the earliest sighting but it was the latter species that took the honours this year with four birds seen at Nosterfield on the 18th.
More remarkable was a swallow seen at Redmire the following day, one of the earliest ever sightings in this area.
The first wheatear was near Osmotherley on the 23rd with a chiffchaff at Nosterfield on the 24th and the first ospreys over Nosterfield on the 27th and near Grinton on the 30th.
A pair of garganey were seen at Newsham Ponds on the 24th, continuing a series of March records of this lovely “summer duck”.
Birds leaving for the north were also prominent, in particular flocks of pinkfooted geese with widespread reports of birds. The largest numbers included 120 over Exelby, 127 over Nosterfield, 300 at Carthorpe and 65 over County Hall, Northallerton.
A marked influx of shelduck brought birds to a number of waters including an excellent count of 73 birds at Newsham Pond and small groups of whooper swans were on the move too with the largest count being 12 birds at Nosterfield.
The Nosterfield area also turned up the two best sightings of March with the relocation of the bittern in the reedbed at Flask Lake early in the month and the discovery of a singing Cetti’s warbler on the reserve itself.
The latter bird was assumed to be the bird seen here in the autumn but as the species is particularly susceptible to cold weather, it is possible it is a second, freshly- arrived, bird.
Other sightings of note during March included jack snipe, avocet and barn owl at Nosterfield, a flock of 486 curlew and eight ruff at Bolton on Swale, water rail at Newsham Ponds and a red kite at Akebar.
Looking ahead to April, this is often one of the best months for waders so a trip to Bolton on Swale lakes, Newsham ponds (near the A66), Nosterfield or Pepper Arden is often productive. In particular, it will be worth trying to catch up with the annual passage of blacktailed godwits through the area.
Impressive numbers have been recorded on occasions and these are well worth looking for around midmonth.
Birds of prey will also be on the move.
Marsh harriers and osprey are fairly regular April visitors, although typically only seen briefly flying over, and red kites too are seen more frequently as the Yorkshire breeding population expands.
April is also a good month for stumbling across merlin as they follow the meadow pipits back up on to the moors.
Another phenomenon of recent years has been an inland passage of rock pipits with Nosterfield in particular attracting this species, sometimes accompanied by the much rarer water pipit.
It may also be worth keeping an eye on the skies for Alpine swifts. This big brother of our familiar swift has never been recorded in this area but at the time of writing there has been an unprecedented influx of the species to the South Coast and East Anglia.
There is just a chance some of these birds will continue north and what a great sight one of these spectacular birds would be swooping around the cliffs at Sutton Bank.