April is one of the most exciting times of the year. Bird movement is building up to a maximum, with migratory species rushing back to the breeding territories to get on with the mating game. And bird song is in the crescendo phase, as new-in migrants join the resident birds in the dawn chorus, or throughout the day. What a time to be out birdwatching! Here are five birds to brighten any April day.
The Mitchell Beazely Bird Watchers’ Pocket Guide described the Reed Bunting as having an “irritating, tinkling song”. The song is repetitive and simplistic, but it is so much part of the ambience of a reed-lined wetland scene that it is surely not ‘irritating’. A male Reed Bunting is
a bit like a dapper version of a House Sparrow, but with a neater black head and throat with a neat white moustache, collar, and outer tail feathers. Look in reedbeds but also small trees nearby. They are at their best perched proudly on a reed stem belting out that ‘irritating’ song.
Often one of the earliest warblers to arrive in the spring (along with Chiffchaff and Blackcap), the Sedge Warbler is mainly a bird of reeds and similar vegetation associated with water. They are often quite hard to see, but a glimpse is all that is needed to see the obvious pale supercilium which readily identifies them. Usually, it is singing which betrays their presence. You’ll hear that they have a crazy shambles of a song, showing elements of supreme mimicry and virtuosity interspersed with arhythmic ramblings and repetition.
Dotterels are famous for being fearless (of man) mountain dwellers and for having the normal sexual roles reversed (in that the females are the prettier ones and the duller males are the incubators). In late April and May they appear at traditional inland sites on their northward passage, including areas
in East Anglia and the Pennines. These include large, flat, ploughed fields with a hint of pea or onion growth, as well as some traditional hill tops, such as Pendle Hill in the county of Lancashire.
Redstarts mainly breed in the north and west of the UK, in a variety of rural habitats with trees. In April, they pass through the country and are a prize find for inland patch watchers. They are one of those birds which select particular patches of favourable habitat while stopping during migration. So, they may turn up at the same place year after year. Generally, they like quite dense bushes and trees (to bolt to for cover), often along linear features such as hedges and fence lines, adjacent to short cropped grass (for feeding on invertebrates by pouncing from the hedge, then returning to cover). Males are at their best in the spring, being bright orange, grey and black. Females are duller brown, but both sexes have quivering tails of glowing fire.
Essentially a southern species in Europe, the Black-winged Stilt’s breeding range now reaches to the French side of the English Channel. There have been a few attempts at breeding in the UK in recent years, in particular, but it remains largely a rare visitor. This bird almost defines the concept of ‘unmistakable’. The red legs are of comedy length, the bill ultrafine, the plumage as straightforwardly black and white as you could imagine. Look for them at freshwater or brackish sites. They could drop in anywhere.