Signs of spring update: chiffchaffs, swallows and... basking sharks
However you choose to mark it, spring is officially here. We're past the first of March, the equinox has happened and the somewhat arbitrary 21st marker was yesterday. For me though, spring is when the chiffchaffs start singing. And boy have they started singing...
Over the last few days we've had reports of their song in Marsham Heath in Norfolk, in Newport and Colwyn Bay in Wales, in Coventry, up at Oxford University, in Tamworth and in Wenlock Edge in Shropshire.
The earliest report was from Heathdweller, who pointed us to the Herts Bird Club website where one lucky person reported chiffchaff song on 14 March. Can anyone beat that? (If you're none the wiser about what a chiffchaff sounds like, the RSPB have a recording.)
One swallow might not make a summer but it's enough to get this office excited. Last week, Paul Stancliffe at the BTO told me there had been a steady trickle of swallow sightings which was gradually moving northwards. One was spotted in Lancashire on Thursday.
Our Twitter folk could beat that, though. Binocularface reported that one had been seen the day before in Southerfield, Cumbria. How long before these beauties get to Scotland?
Another summer migrant to get the pulses racing is the sand martin. Overall its progress this year is on a par with the swallows. But one's got further north. To Lothian in Sotland to be precise on 13 March. This, tweeted dOSssDaz, was a new record.
I spoke with Stephen Welch, the Bird Recorder for Lothian, to confirm. "It must be a record," he said. "The report was at Musselburgh, over the boating pond at 11am. The sighting was by ex-RSPB Frank Hamilton, who has been birding here since the mid-1950s at least. I have searched the Lothian master database of about 500,000 records back to 1992, and found no others earlier. It would be very unlikely to have had an earlier one in years to 1992, there is a definite trend towards earlier arrival in recent years."
Stephen also pointed out that chiffchaff song has reached Scotland too. It's great to hear that after the bitterly cold Scottish March, spring has now arrived there too. First records of chiffchaffs are usually singles, he said, "but it seems they hit a sweet spot and all arrived together (in a manner similar to whitethroats, which in my experience tend to arrive all of a sudden)."
Another highlight from Paul at the BTO this week was the arrival of two white-spotted bluethroats (one at Spurn, East Yorks, the other at Oulton Broad, Suffolk).
It's less noticeable to us of course but spring's also been very busy out at sea. As Maya Plass, marine biologist and Autumnwatch guest presenter, so succinctly tweeted yesterday: "Nutrient upwelling = plankton = basking shark etc = Springtime!"
The most exciting is the basking shark. The Wildlife Trusts was in touch yesterday with news that on Sunday it had received the first official basking shark sighting for 2011. Scuba divers spotted the monster of the deep 50m from Roskilly Beach in Newlyn, Cornwall.
The Trusts said that the first sightings are usually in May. But the pattern has been shifting. Warmer seas mean the earlier arrival of the shark's food sources. And that's where the 'nutrient upswelling' Maya talked of comes in. A 50 miles long algae bloom was found yesterday off the southern coast of Cornwall and Devon, also a few weeks earlier than expected.
Possibly not a coincidence that it's brought with it the first of this year's basking sharks.
Meanwhile back to the birds. The RSPB today said it's getting more and more calls from worried householders reporting birds nesting in their lofts and attics. No cause for concern it says, the culprits (usually sparrows or starlings) aren't trapped and are very unlikely to cause any damage. So please don't disturb them.
Keep us posted
As always, we'd love it if you kept us posted about your spring. Post a comment right here and let us know. Or if you're on Twitter like us, tweet with the hashtag #ukspring and also see what other people are experiencing. There's a great discussion over on our Springwatch photo group on early spring. If you have photos, please post them there.