Friday, 3 July 2020

What happened to summer?

It’s fair to say that 2020 has been a very strange year. A global pandemic, a spring in lockdown, an incredibly wet late winter followed by the hottest, driest spring on record... and now here we are in early July and weather and birding-wise it’s already feeling distinctly like autumn.

Late June/early July is traditionally the slump of the birding year, with weeks often passing without any new additions to the year list. In the past three weeks though I’ve added a handsome six species to the patch year list: Wood Sandpiper, Crossbill, Siskin, Redstart, Cattle Egret and Common Tern.

I've recently finished reading Simon Barnes' excellent On The Marsh, the following extract from which seems particularly apt...
"...we had seen a delightful gathering of golden plovers. They were still in their summer breeding plumage and yet these sumptuous colours were beginning to fade, were already a little rough round the edges.
They had gone over. They had completed their breeding: they were on the move. For them, autumn had arrived. Just think: all those people getting ready for what they thought were their summer holidays, unaware it was already autumn.
Jeremy Sorensen, former warden of the RSPB's Minsmere in Suffolk, used to claim that summer didn't exist at all. Looking at the world in his entirely bird-centred - avicentric - way, he was convinced that there were three seasons only: you might call them breeding, dispersal and survival. We were already in the second of those seasons, so far as some species were concerned."

When we went into lockdown, back in March, spring was just getting into its stride. Now, with pubs and hairdressers about to reopen, we birders are already looking ahead to the promise of autumnal delights, and recent days have delivered a very satisfactory selection of dispersing birds to Pulborough Brooks.

Waders in particular seem to be moving through earlier than usual, presumably indicative of failed breeding attempts. The Pulborough-grown Avocet family remain on the North Brooks, the juveniles now looking very grown up and stretching their wings in between extended naps. Today there were seven adults present too, let's hope some of them take a liking to the Brooks and return next year and we have more than one breeding pair in 2021. Black-tailed Godwit numbers are starting to increase again now after the first handful returned from Iceland last weekend; today there were 39 present, all still looking resplendent in their breeding colours. Other classic early returning species such as Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plover have been on the increase too, with up to 9 Green Sand and 14 LRP in the past week. Less expected was the Temminck's Stint found by Jon Winder on Monday afternoon and seen again by Matt Palmer on Wednesday.

An adult Common Tern made a brief pitstop on the North Brooks on Sunday morning before flying south, while an adult Cattle Egret flew straight through heading southwest early on Monday. On Friday evening Pete Hughes broke the news of an adult Spoonbill on the North Brooks, which was still present as of this lunchtime; the third record of the species at Pulborough this year, and perhaps the fourth different individual. Then, early this afternoon, Lyn and Mike Hunt found two Redstarts in the species' eponymous Corner; a remarkably early date for returning birds, although evidently Matt Palmer also had one on Wednesday.

If it's this good in the doldrums, then my hopes are high for an excellent autumn to come!

Common Tern (honest!)