Dr Phil Smith’s Wildlife Notes
In contrast to last year’s exceptionally warm, dry month, April 2008 reverted to the more traditional showery, cool conditions. Consequently, the return of summer bird migrants from Africa was slow, until a spurt of activity in the latter half of the month. For example, I counted 80 Swallows flying north at Marshside in about one hour on 27th. They were accompanied by smaller numbers of Sand Martinsand House Martins and seven Swifts. The following day, there was a big “fall” of Wheatears, a tour of local mosslands producing a total of 68. Most if not all were of the large, brightly-coloured Greenland race which passes through later than European birds. One field on Plex Moss held 47 White Wagtails, the continental version of our familiar Pied Wagtail. A small newly-ploughed field at Barton was particularly productive with 20 Corn Buntings, 4 Yellowhammers, 12 Wheatears and 2 Whinchats.
As usual, Whimbrels used our mosses as a staging post on their way to Scottish or Scandinavian breeding haunts. Small parties could be found at several locations from mid-month, peaking at just over 100. One lucky observer encountered a “trip” of six Dotterels at Plex Moss on 27th but they only stayed for about 30 seconds, disappointing the many local bird-watchers who arrived soon afterwards. These beautiful mountain plovers used to stop off regularly on our mosslands; hundreds were shot each May during the 1840s. However, since the 1980s, occurrences have been few, Lancashire enthusiasts having to trek to the top of Pendle Hill for reliable sightings.
Another montane species is the Ring Ouzel, the upland equivalent of the Blackbird and sadly declining in Lancashire. A few turn up along the coast most springs but, judging by the number of reports, this April seems to have been particularly good. I just wish one had flown in my direction!
I went down to Seaforth on 16th for my annual Little Gull “fix”. The passage had been relatively thin but up to 55 of these delightful birds – the world’s smallest gull – were present, a further bonus being a solitary Spoonbill. The previous day, one fortunate birder had photographed a White-tailed Eagle passing north over Seaforth. On plumage, this was a different individual from the one seen at the end of March. The success of the Scottish reintroduction programme means we may see more of these spectacular birds, for which there are only two previous Lancashire records in 1840 and 2003.
April showers have kept the dune slacks well topped up and, although cold nights reduced Natterjack Toad activity, I had counted 172 spawn strings on Birkdale Green Beach by the end of the month.
Lots of tiny wildflowers appear on the sandhills at this time of year. These “dune annuals” complete their development during the spring, surviving the summer drought as seeds. One of the most attractive is the bright blue Early Forget-me-not (Myosotis ramosissima) and, although this plant is really abundant on the Sefton Coast, it is listed as a “species of conservation importance in north west England”.