One of the classic heralds of spring, the Cuckoo, announced its presence in Pond Plantation in the first week of May. Its silence thereafter was a symbol for the steep decline in this charismatic species' population over recent years. This has led to its being added to the Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern by the RSPB. Worryingly, this list of birds causing the greatest concern has lengthened since the last assessment seven years ago. Now one-in-five of British birds have suffered a serious population decline or range contraction. Nearly half of these species are summer visitors and many of these from sub-Saharan Africa. They are typified by the Tree Pipit which once bred commonly in the Park but was represented this month by a lone singing bird on the 2nd.
Further arrivals of summer visitors continued with two singing Lesser Whitethroats and the first of a couple of Whinchats on the 1st; the first Garden Warbler and two singing Willow Warblers on the 2nd, the latter giving rise to the hope that they may stay to breed and two overflying Common Terns and a Whimbrel on the 3rd, the latter being only the fourth record for the Park of this wading bird. Another wader species seen more often but still only in small numbers is the Common Sandpiper, the first of two birds on Upper Pen Pond being seen on the 4th. The second Yellow Wagtail of the spring was flushed from The Bog on the 7th. Five Wheatears by the Riding Ring, pausing on passage on the 9th and 10th, were the last this spring. They were of the northern race, larger and more richly coloured than British birds, typically passing through later on their way to Iceland and Greenland. One of the last summer visitors to arrive and yet another species on the Red List is the Spotted Flycatcher: two were seen on the 23rd. Interesting birds of prey were only represented by a couple of Buzzards flying over on the 14th.
The Park's resident waterbirds were well into breeding this month, although with varying success. The pair of Great Crested Grebes on Upper Pen Pond built two nests, each probably destroyed by Coots. A Little Grebe found injured was probably why this species failed to breed. Cackles, croaks & caws – the begging cries of young Grey Herons – betrayed their presence in the unseen heronry. The Park's three pairs of Mute Swans hatched 17 cygnets between them but are already down to seven. Egyptian Geese have three broods, including one of three goslings that moved to Upper Pen Pond from Martin's Pond. Of the many Canada Geese only one pair have a brood so far but there are still a few birds sitting on eggs. The pair of Red-crested Pochards appeared to have failed. Two huge broods of Mandarin Ducks, of 18 and 24 ducklings, were possibly the result of females laying clutches in other nests and leaving the sitting bird to raise their young: almost Cuckoo-like behaviour.
Jan Wilczur, May 2009