Spring comes early to the Patch.

Great crested grebes looking extremely cool in their breeding plumage

Great crested grebes looking extremely cool in their breeding plumage

The last week of February was worryingly mild, with sunny days of 18-20 degrees. Worrying in a global sense - pleasant in a personal way.

We have a very smart pair of Great Crested Grebes now in their full breeding plumage on the large pond at the entrance to the Patch – we must keep an eye open in the next few weeks for their spell-binding courtship. Alongside the grebes were a flock of around 60+ over-wintering wigeon. I guess in a month or so they will be off to their breeding grounds mainly in northern Scandinavia or to the east of the Urals in Russia. Shoveler, gadwall and mallard all took off quick-style with our arrival, and groups of teal as always zipped up and away from the waterlogged base of the willows.

This Saturday morning it was bright and breezy and we were welcomed by a stunning male marsh harrier flitting high above the far reedbeds.

Tits and finches followed us down the birch avenue to the mixed wood – blue, coal, great and long-tailed – not quite the full set – but pretty close. A higher twittering call caught our attention and it was a single lesser redpoll showing very well (thanks very much).

From the centre of the wood a great spotted woodpecker drummed, a treecreeper made its way up a thin trunk and a woodcock flew off at the first crack of a branch underfoot. With the wood’s canopy free of leaves it was an opportunity to check out some old nest sites that could well accommodate a hobby in two or three months’ time. It was then we caught our first proper spring call from the tree tops – it was a chiffchaff; the first of the year. What a harbinger that trill little call is - although there is some discussion within birding circles if these early chiffs are indeed incoming migrants or just over-wintering birds enjoying some early sunshine – in the end Stephen and I decided that it didn’t really matter. We both had really nice views of this little warbler singing away and wagging his tail from side to side like a happy pup.

At least two more harriers were seen overhead through the trees – females this time – fingers crossed they choose the Patch once more to raise their young.

female marsh harrier

female marsh harrier

Male reed buntings were out on display showing off to any passing female bunting who might show some interest. Several Cetti’s warblers were also getting in on the act, warming up their explosive libretto.

It was this same weekend last year when the country was struck by the ‘Beast from the east’ and the Patch was coated with winter snow. I do appreciate the worries of climate change, but this week there was something rather plesant with the sun warming the back of my neck – certainly more of a spring feel to the morning than a winter one.

However, as my Granny used to say “Dinnae cast a cloot until May is oot”.

Graeme Mitchell