Sunday, 3 April 2016

Cache and Carry

According to folklore 'On the third of April come the Cuckoo and the Nightingale'. Surely a fraction early in most years, at least for Cambridgeshire, though if this phrase was coined before the switch to the Gregorian calendar in 1752 then it would place the expected arrival day on what is now April 15th... A flick through the last 10 Cambridgeshire Bird Reports reveals that Cuckoos rarely arrive in the county on or before the 3rd (only twice in that time), but they are usually here by the 15th (which is the latest they've been found (twice) in that time). Nightingales, it appears, generally arrive in the county a fraction earlier than Cuckoos - but again, somewhere between the 3rd and the 15th on average. Interestingly, (ahem), in 2013 Cuckoos began to arrive in Cambridgeshire extra early, with 3 reports on March 24th. Typically, that year marked the latest that Nightingales arrived within the decade. As Winnie-the-Pooh might have observed, you never can tell with birds.

A career as a statistician ruled out, I decided to head over to Wicken Fen, hoping to see if I could find signs of either species. Needless to say, neither obliged, but it was a fine day to be out. Chiffchaffs noisily proclaimed their return, Peacock butterflies flitted about the 'pussy' willow flowers and Marsh Harriers soared effortlessly above the reeds. A pair of Toads ably demonstrated what the season is all about.

Over on Burwell Fen, the Winter order was not yet finished. Short-Eared Owls put on a fine display, with at least 2, but possibly up to 4 birds on show. One individual, whose plumage positively shone in the Spring sunshine, exhibited some interesting behaviour. Twice it caught voles and on both occasions appeared to take them to a (different) tussock of grass and leave them there. No doubt other explanations exist but it looked to me as if the owl were caching food, which I was unaware they did (on one occasion it even appeared to  look round as if checking nobody was watching where it stashed the vole, but that might be pushing it!)...

Further on a Hare ran across the path and bolted away through the grass at impressive speed. As I watched, a slight flicker of movement betrayed a fine male Wheatear down on the cropped grass. A handsome symbol of the changing year.

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