April is the month when the bulk spring migration really gets going after the pioneering hardy movers of March. Waders, terns, chats, hirundines and warblers lead the charge. Many arrive while our winterers are still present, making this month of change an exciting time to build a great day list.
The world’s smallest gull is a far cry from the vulgar beasts who live at the municipal dump or who steal your chips at the seaside. It is a neat and delicate beauty, more like a marsh tern than a larger gull, at least in its behaviour, but also in size. In the spring they pass along our coasts and may cross over land, turning up to pick emerging insects from still water bodies in a buoyant, elegant, swooping flight. Adults have clean upperwings, without any black, and dark underwings. First-winters have a Kittiwake-like W pattern on the upperwings, and second-winters have an adult-like plumage with small black dots in the wing tips.
A relative of the Reed Warbler, the Sedge Warbler also has a preference for waterside vegetation, including reedbeds. It is one of the earliest warblers to arrive and on arrival delivers its rambling, over virtuoso chattering, whistling, warbling song.
Sedge Warblers are one of the few warblers to habitually perform a song-flight (the other common one being the Whitethroat). So, any little brown singing warbler rising and parachuting from a reedbed is very likely to be a Sedge Warbler. They are easily identified if seen well, by the bold white (or off white) supercilium (‘eyebrow’) and the streaked upperparts.
So much more than a black-and-white mountain blackbird, the Ring Ouzel is a wild, untamed, very shy free spirit, which shuns the way of man. This only goes to enhance its beauty, as it can be tough to get a glimpse of its delicately scaled plumage and silver-lined wings when it can spend an eternity hiding in a bush or fly off at the first sign of human intrusion. Ouzels pass through the country during April, and love short-cropped grass with a bit of cover to hide in, often favouring higher ground, even on passage.
April is the month when a large proportion of our breeding Yellow Wagtails return to the UK. Look carefully at any Yellow Wagtails you encounter this month, as there may be a sneaky Blue-headed Wagtail there. These are scarce wanderers from the continental breeding population. Males have lovely blue heads with a clear white supercilium (‘eyebrow’). The throat is yellow on the purest birds (intergrades occur between the various subspecies of Yellow Wagtail).
The oddly-named Spotted Redshank is a pale grey and white bird in winter and almost all black in the breeding season. It is possible to see birds of both colours in April and everything in between. They are at their best in their black breeding finery, when at the peak, even the normally red legs go black! Spotted Redshanks are slightly larger, slimmer and more elegant than Redshanks, with a finer, straight-to-very-slightly downcurved bill, and no white trailing edge to the wings. They announce their presence (or your presence as they flush), with a distinctive loud shout of ‘chewit’.