Timing is everything

An early start

Yesterday I did the first visit to my first BBS square. I might have done it on Bank Holiday Monday but my plan, based on a favourable forecast, was to see lots of butterflies in the Chilterns on Monday. However, the forecast was an accurate weather forecast rather than a butterfly forecast and the Dukes of Burgundy, Green Hairstreaks, Dingy and Grizzled Skippers were all absent from Ivinghoe Beacon. At least I met some others looking for butterflies who had had as little success as I had had, and they had clipboards and everything!

And so it was Tuesday morning when the alarm woke me at 5am and I looked out of the window to check the weather. It had been raining and it was forecast to rain quite soon, but now it was clear. I decided to risk it and was parking the car at 0535 a few miles away. As I pulled on my wellington boots two Yellowhammers were singing from either side of the road at each other but I benefitted from their songs. Skylarks were singing too. These were good omens but I could only start recording a little way down the green lane, some 5-10 minutes walk away.

A Chiffchaff sang and a Whitethroat called. A Blackcap sang from high in a tree and a Garden Warbler from low in a bush. I listened to, and looked at, all of these as a form of ornithological limb stretching to limber up for the main event.

And then I was at the first section of my survey plot and starting to record birds in earnest. I started with a clear-singing Chiffchaff and then a Chaffinch. A Whitethroat and a pair of Long-tailed Tits.  More Chaffinches. A distant Wren, and then the first of many Skylarks.

A green lane
A green lane

The sun was almost coming out, but I was mindful of the forecast so I didn’t dawdle. I didn’t want to be three-quarters through the survey when the downpour came – if it came. At this time, it looked like a sunny day was starting.

I know one shouldn’t mind whether one sees anything or not – the point of the survey is to record what is there, however much or however little, and the scientist in me knows that very well. But the inner birder wants to see record numbers of everything if possible!

I was walking down footpaths, along hedgerows, through arable fields. And this is my 11th year of surveying this randomly allocated piece of land.  I now expect to hear Bullfinches in the area where I usually hear Bullfinches (and I did), and when I pause, at halfway, to sit on an abandoned piece of agricultural machinery with grass growing up through its metal frame, I expect to see a Red-legged Partridge scurrying away (and I did).

I was hoping to see, or more likely hear, my first Lesser Whitethroat of 2015, and I heard two of them in the same stretch of hedge, and one popped out to give me a view too.

Two Lesser Black-backed Gulls sitting in a wheat field would hardly quicken the pulse, but they have never sat in that field before when I have been recording here so it was a moderately notable record for me.

By the time I got to the far end of my route I had recorded a good selection of birds, most of what I would expect and good numbers of some. I was missing Reed Bunting and Yellow Wagtail but they tend to be seen more often on my second visits in a month’s time. We’ll see.

The last addition was a distant Willow Warbler singing in a place where there is often, but not this time, a singing Song Thrush. The sky was darkening and I wondered whether I would get back to the car in the dry. I did, and listened to someone from the BTO talking about Cuckoo’s on the Today programme as I de-booted.

By the time I got home a few minutes later, it was raining. Good timing!

Tomorrow, weather permitting (and the forecast looks good) I’ll start election day by making the first visit to my other BBS square before voting for Andy Sawford and then delivering some more leaflets to get the Labour vote out.  I’m sure he’ll get in, but it seems quite up in the air as far as who might be his fellow MPs, and even more so, who will be Prime Minister. Do the birds know? No! Do they care? No! Does it matter to them? Yes!

A large field of wheat
A large field of wheat



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1 Reply to “Timing is everything”

  1. I think you were unlucky with the lack of butterflies at Ivinghoe on Monday. All four species were on the wing just across the valley at Bison Hill that day, though only Dingy Skipper in any numbers


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