Birdwatch: Song slowly returning to the region’s branches

STRONG NORTHERLY winds have meant a slow start to spring but a few more seasonal migrants have reached Yorkshire.

A drake garganey duck. They have started to return to Yorkshire, despite northerly winds.

The first garganey ducks were seen this week with drakes reported at Swillington Ings, Leeds, Cleasby gravel pits, North Yorkshire and Hatfield Moors, South Yorkshire.

The drakes are easily recognised by the long creamy white crescent marking above each eye and pinkish brown head. The females resemble female teal but are slightly larger and with an all-grey bill compared with that of the female teal which is orange at the base.

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It is the only duck that’s a summer visitor to Britain. Up to 90 pairs breed here each year favouring quiet rush-lined ponds.

The first swallows returned and there were more arrivals of sand martins prospecting river banks for nest sites.

More wheatears have been seen both on passage and back on the moors while the first ring ouzels are at breeding sites in the Pennines and North York Moors.

Ospreys should be making their way northwards through Yorkshire with some already back on Scottish breeding territories and one was over Winscar reservoir, South Yorkshire this week.

When the winds ease more chiffchaffs will arrive and the first willow warblers. When singing it’s easy to tell the two apart: the willow warbler’s rippling cascading song quite different from the monotonous ‘tink tank’ of the chiffchaff. Otherwise the two are both small greenish buff birds with fine bills.

Another bird that will soon be in our woodlands is the blackcap, which makes a beautiful sound that begins with mutterings before breaking into a series of rich notes which rival those produced by the nightingale.

The song is at its richest just after the males have arrived back and they are easily seen in bare trees with their black crowns and silvery brown plumage. The females which arrive later have a brown cap.

There have been recent reports of blackcaps visiting Yorkshire bird tables but these are birds from central Europe that have overwintered here.

There have also been more bramblings visiting garden feeders as beech mast and seeds for this winter visitor from Scandinavia become harder to find in the countryside. Several have been seen on the feeders at the North Cave wetlands, East Yorkshire.

Little ringed plovers have also been seen back at breeding sites along with black-necked grebes.

Meanwhile more winter visitors such as wigeon, whooper swans, fieldfares and redwings have been making their way out of Britain.

Common scoter ducks have been seen on several inland waters while the drake American wigeon has remained at Loscoe Lake, Normanton.

Another American vagrant, a drake ring-necked duck, was reported on one evening last week at Stainton quarry, South Yorkshire, but has not been seen again.