April Almanac: Spring on the wing

April is perhaps the busiest month of the spring for bird movement through Blackpool. As well as numbers of more regular species there is always a chance of something less expected too. As Winter turns to Spring we give you a rundown of what to spot in the natural world on Fylde Coast this month.

The first Ospreys (main image) have already begun to move over the Fylde Coast on their way to breeding grounds further north. They actually nest as near as North Lancs and South Cumbria these days, but for now at least birds passing through are the only opportunity to catch up with one in town.

A few tips for seeing these charismatic fish hawks moving over the town. Firstly pick your days to stare skywards. Calm sunny days are undoubtedly the best, birds move from early morning but are most likely early afternoon as the temperature climbs. Secondly take advantage of geography and habitat – the long straight Promenade is an obvious route to follow but birds will also pause at freshwater sites such as Marton Mere to try and catch some lunch. Above all though look out for screaming agitations of large gulls rising into the air. This is a sure sign they’re chasing off a bird of prey from their nesting grounds on the town’s rooftops, sometimes it may be a local Buzzard or Peregrine but on other occasions it will be a passing Osprey.

On the theme of birds that don’t stay for the summer the parks of the town can be productive for keen watchers. With relatively extensive mature trees Stanley Park is the jewel in the crown in this regard, but smaller areas of green nearer the sea can pull in tired migrants that have just arrived off the sea. Even the fringes of the Pleasure Beach and the bushes around the Metropole crazy golf course can be productive.

Wood Warbler (Creative Commons)

So what to look out for? Several species of warbler are regular but they can be a bit challenging to separate if you’re not experienced with them. You could learn the call of the lemony Wood Warbler, a bit like a coin spinning to a halt on a hard surface, and listen behind the park lake boathouse which is a favoured haunt. This species is declining in many former strongholds and will get harder to see locally.

Redstarts on the other hand are more visually distinctive, the males in particular being a stunning mix of blues, reds and a black highwayman’s mask. They turn up in parks, but also more scattered areas of trees and occasionally even alongside Wheatears on the Promenade. Ring Ousels can turn up just about anywhere too – these birds are essentially the Blackbirds of the mountains. Seen well they are easily separated from the latter by a distinctive white ‘vicar’s dog collar’ on their chest.

Adult Grey Heron with her chicks at Stanley Park (Photo: Elizabeth Gomm)

In terms of birds that do stay to breed you can do your bit for citizen science by recording the species that you see rearing young. As I write this the first young Grey Herons have been photographed on the island in Stanley Park, and from now until well into the summer different species will be fledging young. You can use eBird or Birdtrack to record any evidence of nesting birds you see, and all records add to the bigger picture. As well as the herons, formerly exotic Little Egrets now also bring up chicks in our trees. At any water body you could confirm Mallard or Moorhen presence, whilst on bigger expanses Coot, Mute Swan and Tufted Duck are possible. Great Crested Grebes are less widespread than they once were, but nest at Fleetwood Marsh and have returned to Kincraig Lake again this spring.

Comma Butterfly (Creative Commons)

Insects take to the wing as temperatures warm. Many of the early butterflies are from the vanessid group that can overwinter as adults – colourful and familiar species including Peacocks, Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshell and the distinctively shaped Comma. Like the Little Egrets the Commas have moved north with global warming, in both cases I find it hard to forget they were once rare in these parts.

There are other groups of insects that can reward attention as the month progresses. Bumblebees, dragonflies, damselflies and hoverflies can all repay attention. In terms of bumblebees and their allies there are ten different species that occur in Blackpool or elsewhere close to the town. Bumblebee identification can be a bit of a minefield due to the variation in size of queens and worker males. Bumblebees is distinctive with its bright ginger thorax and white rear end, and has spread rapidly through the county including Blackpool. Similarly Red-tailed Bumblebees are on the wing now and stand out being almost entirely black with a contrasting crimson tail.

The Red-Tailed Bumblebee

A plug to finish – I will be leading a free walk on 7 April in the sand dunes, meet in the St Annes North Beach car park at 10am (event duration two hours). Read more about the Fylde Sand Dunes project here.

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