At the beginning of April the weather was a little brighter than it had been in the last week of March and all our ‘usual’ bird species were around the garden with the exception of siskins. A heron was still visiting the big pond early every morning or was sometimes seen flying low over the garden to visit the pond in the field next door, and our local song thrush continued to sing beautifully every morning and evening from our large hawthorns – a very accomplished bird with a great repertoire of phrases. Both chiffchaff and blackcap were present, especially in the orchard and a single female mallard was using the pond in the mornings. The presence of a pair of yellowhammers in one of our hedges close to where they nested last year was a promising sighting and I have my fingers crossed that they will use this location again. Another pair of slightly unusual birds for us were seen this week – two pied wagtails which seem to have taken up residence in the damp field next door.
In the second week of April the weather was in general rather lovely! Sunny days with cold frosty nights became the norm and I enjoyed getting out into the garden in quite warm weather! The cowslips in one of our smaller meadows have spread abundantly and were putting on quite a spectacular show while the presence of primroses in the same part of the garden meant that there were several hybrids between these two species – known as false oxlips. Our first butterflies were seen this week – all of them slightly battered peacocks which fed on the white blossom of the plum trees in our little orchard. Later a pair of brimstones were also seen as the weather continued to be warm and sunny. On the 11th the female brimstone was seen egg laying on the alder buckthorn outside my office – always exciting to watch. As the week continued it was obvious that a pair of nuthatches were using one of our nest boxes – a first for us here. Nuthatch is a common bird with us but this is the first time I have seen evidence of breeding in the garden. Breeding nuthatches make a lot of noise!! Towards the end of the week a male redstart appeared in the hedge in the vegetable garden, but unlike previous years he did not hang around for long – normally we see a male here at this time for a couple of days.
The third week of the month saw our now resident moorhen continuing to dominate the big pond – running quickly into the shelter of long vegetation if we happened to surprise her, and by the end of the week she had eight eggs in her reedy nest. The very obvious dunnocks nest in the pendulous sedge had four eggs and female was now incubating – not leaving the nest if we walked past. No new butterfly species were seen this week but orange tips were abundant. Song thrush, blackbird and blackcap sang daily and at least three house sparrows, an unusual bird for us, sat around on the ‘yellowhammer hedge’ or under the feeders. This week yellowhammer numbers increased with a small flock of about 12 feeding daily in the field next door which had been recently ploughed and sown, and they congregated on the top of the hedge from time to time or flew into the alder at the far end of the garden. Several of our tit boxes were being used by blue tits or great tits but there was no sign of the swallows in their usual nesting place in the front porch.
In the last week of April the weather was especially warm and sunny for several days. Robins were nesting in a wall shrub in the back garden and two red-legged partridges spent some time here wandering around the borders. On the 24th our swallows returned! This was a wonderful moment and seeing them arrive and head straight into the front porch where they nested last year made me really appreciate the journey they had taken to return to this exact spot. They continued to fly around the house and garden whilst feeding on the abundant insects and spent the night roosting on ‘their’ ledge close to the front door. On the 30th a third swallow joined them – possibly a youngster from last year. That same day nine mallard ducklings appeared on the big pond – we had been completely unaware of there being a nest! The month ended with very good weather, birds of many species using the garden, bumblebees in good numbers and an abundance of wildflowers all around.