I WRITE this in very strange times. Normally I would be reporting on the various rare and scarce birds found by local birdwatchers ranging across our area. However, with lockdown those horizons have narrowed dramatically and the focus instead has been on the birds of people’s immediate surroundings.

What is clear is how nature has been a real comfort in these difficult times. A number of readers have contacted me to say how focusing on the birds, whether in the garden or on their exercise time, has been a real distraction from the darker news. If there is one positive thing to come out of these difficult times I hope it is that there will be a greater appreciation of nature and that we value it more.

Given the restrictions there have still been some nice sightings with one lucky Richmond resident having both Marsh Harrier and Red Kite drift over their garden. Richmond also attracted a long-staying flock of Waxwings. A handful of Ospreys were reported but pick of the sightings was a Honey Buzzard spotted near Middleham.

In my own case the incentive to have a daily walk around the village has turned up some nice birds. These have included Red Kite, Hobby, Whimbrel, Ringed Plover and Redstart and half a dozen of these lovely Yellow Wagtails. I also had my first village record of White Wagtails, these are the continental race of our familiar Pied Wagtail distinguished by a pale grey back and white flanks. It’s likely these birds were on their way to breeding sites in Iceland.

It’s been a strange spring in other ways with generally late arrival of summer visitors, presumably due to the almost continuous cold easterly winds, but others arriving surprisingly early. For example Spotted Flycatchers are one of very latest migrants to arrive but they were back at their nest site in my village by April 27. In contrast I still haven’t seen any House Martins or Swifts.

Tied to their homes, birdwatchers have been looking for other ways to safely enjoy their hobby. One area which has really taken off recently is nocturnal migration monitoring (or NocMig as it’s affectionately known). This involves placing a microphone out in the garden overnight. This picks up and records the calls of bird flying over and then this is run through a computer programme which helps to identify the different species.

This growing interest coincided with a remarkable movement of Common Scoters over the country in early April. These handsome ducks are normally only seen as distant birds on the sea but huge flocks have been recorded flying overland and literally thousands of birdwatchers have spent cold evenings listening out for the calls of the flocks as they fly over. Birds were heard near Thirsk, Bedale and north of Ripon but this area seems to have been slightly off the main flight routes.

There has also been a significant upsurge in the number of people viewing bird webcams. These allow you to birdwatch ‘live’ from the comfort of your own living room. They range from tropical forests and towering sea bird cliffs right down to people’s garden bird tables. Some of the most popular ones have been American backyard cameras with many species of common garden visitors there being mouth-watering rarities over here. This allows us to dream of finding rare birds again once the restrictions are lifted. My personal favourite is the Canopy Lodge fruit-cam! This is a webcam set in the Panama jungle where fruit is put down to attract some wonderfully exotic forest birds.

lAs always, if you are lucky enough to find an interesting bird I would love to hear from you at nickmlinden@gmail.com Keep safe and keep your eyes peeled…