Birdsong proves that spring is in the air

It may still be cold but for many birds, spring has already started as they respond to the gradual lengthening of the days.

I heard my first drumming great spotted woodpecker on a sunny morning a fortnight ago as it announced its territory and search for a mate.

Robins seem to be singing everywhere now. The males have sung throughout the darkest, coldest days of winter to guard their

territory but now the sad plaintive notes of this song become richer and sweeter as they search for a female to join them.

Hedge sparrows have also been singing since the turn of the year but their thin little song grows in volume and frequency as they seek to attract one, or several different, females. Both sexes often have more than one partner.

One of the most noticeable songs is that of the mistle thrush, one of the strongest songs of any British bird and belted out from the treetops even on the most blustery days.

Song thrushes are also just starting to sing, a couple of phrases repeated two or three times and a song that will continue until July.

Some large groups of pink-footed geese have been on the move across the region as they start their gradual progression northwards back to Icelandic breeding grounds, with 400 seen over Fairburn Ings, near Castleford.

Along the Yorkshire coast, a balearic and a great shearwater were seen off Flamborough Head, while a long-staying juvenile great northern diver continues to be seen in Scarborough Harbour and three adult Mediterranean gulls at the Holbeck Hall car park on the resort's South Cliff. An Iceland gull is still being seen around the harbour.

Two Slavonian grebes were seen in Filey Bay, while another was on Beacon Ponds, East Yorkshire.

Up to three hen harriers, including a male, have been seen coming in to roost at the RSPB's Blacktoft Sands reserve, while at least one barn owl seems to have survived the prolonged freeze at the reserve.

An Arctic redpoll was seen along with 15 mealy and 60 lesser redpolls at Fairburn Ings reserve. Other birds seen there include a little egret, two smew and eight white-fronted geese. Up to three roosting long-eared owls are being reported.

Nearby, at least three bitterns have been reported at Astley Lake, Swillington Ings, while Iceland and a glaucous gull has been seen in the evening gull roost.

Bitterns are also being regularly seen at the Potteric Carr reserve, near Doncaster. A special bittern event is being held on the reserve today, and other visitors should note that some hides will be closed because of this between 1pm and 2.30pm.

Tomorrow, the reserve's annual bittern census takes place from various watchpoints and visitors are welcome to help look for the bitterns.

A rough-legged buzzard continues to be seen on farmland near Hatfield Moors, South Yorkshire, while others were seen in Westerdale and near Kirkbymoorside, North Yorkshire.

Several events are being held in the Lower Derwent Valley between York and Selby to mark World Wetland Day. Today, help with bird identification is available between 10am and 2pm at Natural England's new base, at Bank Island, near Wheldrake village, while tomorrow, a two-hour walk takes place around the reserve, starting at 10.30am from the Wheldrake Ings car park near the Bailey bridge.

The Lord Mayor of York officially opens the new base on February 2 and the following weekend a series of family events take place there between 10.30am and 3pm.

CW 29/1/11