The freezing start to April must have made many of us wonder if spring would ever get going. It had the same effect on wildlife, with flowers late to show, few amphibians entering ponds to breed, and no sign of our summer migrant birds. That’s all changed with the warmer weather since the middle of April mad spring is now back on track.
For migrant birds, spring came with a real bang, as Monday 15 April saw one of the largest arrivals of summer visitors ever recorded in London. Willow Warblers, Wheatears (see photo above), Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Redstarts were the main species, with sites all over London reporting record totals of these species. About 315 Willow Warblers, 290 Wheatears, 250 Chiffchaffs, 135 Blackcaps and 52 Redstarts were reported on the London Bird Club Wiki on that day alone, with many more arriving during the week. Highest counts included 60 Willow Warblers in Dulwich Park, 44 Wheatears in Richmond Park, 30 Chiffchaffs in Bushy Park, 16 Blackcaps at Alexandra Palace, and 12 Redstarts (usually a very scarce migrant in London) on Wormwood Scrubs.
Tower Hamlets enjoyed its share of these arrivals from Africa, with East India Dock Basin and Victoria Park both recording double-figure totals of Willow Warblers, a good scattering of Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Whitethroats all over the borough, and a couple of Wheatears on the development site at the Leamouth Peninsula. The highlight, though, was a Nightingale singing in roadside shrubs beside Poplar Dock Marina. To hear this beautiful songster, more usually associated with late evenings in Kentish woodlands, singing its heart out opposite McDonald’s and within a stone’s throw of Billingsgate Fish Market, was a surreal experience. And the fact that there were 3 Blackcaps, a Whitethroat, 2 Willow Warblers and 2 Chiffchaffs in the same small shrubbery gives an indication of the scale of the arrival of birds.
Another good bird in the borough later in the week was a female Redstart at East India Dock Basin. This site is renowned as one of the best places in the country to see the scarce Black Redstart (though they have been much less reliable here in the last couple of years), but its commoner cousin is much more a bird of the countryside, and has only ever been recorded here once before.
So spring is well and truly sprung. Flowers are blooming, butterflies and bees are on the wing, and more of our summer birds are arriving. So why not get out into your local park or open space and enjoy the wildlife there.
Header photo: Wheatear by John Archer