April means spring has arrived and with it a chance to push that year-list towards respectability. But whilst your bagging those commoner migrants, keep an eye and ear out for rarer species.
Early March overshoots continue to trickle through in April with Little Bittern, Night Heron, Black-winged Stilts and Alpine Swifts likely to put in multiple appearances during the month. The southerly air flows will also bring further reports of Subalpine Warblers, with the possibility of a Sardinian Warbler and/or Western Bonelli's Warbler.
Black Kites might drift across the Channel, a Black Stork might just make it too - less likely but much appreciated would be a long-staying Black-eared Wheatear. A few Red-rumped Swallows will probably arrive with returning "barnies". A "red-throated" Red-throated Pipit could put in an appearance to those up early.
But amongst all the spring overshoots, April has a reputation for nearctic sparrows - with Song Sparrow, Savannah and White-throated Sparrow, plus Slate-coloured Junco all having crossed the pond in April. Now is the time to check those little brown jobs inhabiting those headland hedges.
As the month draws on, rare terns start appearing with Gull-billed, Whiskered and Caspian Tern all likely. Back on land, Calandra Larks like April. Surely we can expect one to linger some year soon?
But whatever you're doing keep the pager switched on and the tank full on the 24th. With Eastern Phoebe, Moussier's Redstart and Brown-headed Cowbird all turning up on this date, past performance really is a guide to the future!
April 2012: a juvenile Thayer's Gull in Lincolnshire gave birders the run around before finally settling into a pattern of sightings whilst a Bufflehead in the same county was less accommodating staying just one day. A Falcated Duck in County Mayo was considered more than likely genuine; a male Pallid Harrier in Gloucestershire must have been a sight. Black-winged Stilts appeared in several counties but scarce passerines were in generally short supply.
April 2011: A Little Crake in Sussex was the month's best bird although another Oriental Turtle Dove in Suffolk might have been equally popular had it been twitchable. The singing male Barolo Shearwater returned to Lundy, a Black Scoter was identified off Northumberland and two Little Swifts appeared together over Cornwall. A spring record of Red-flanked Bluetail, from Dorset, was unexpected. Shetland hosted a Collared Flycatcher at the month's end as the usual spring migrants started to appear in numbers.
April 2010: April's highlights included the arrival of a territory holding, singing male White-spotted Bluethroat in Norfolk and two singing Iberian Chiffchaffs in Norfolk and Kent. Had an Irish Roller or the Lincolnshire Calandra Lark hung around both would have been popular birds. Cornish birders enjoyed a singing Savi's Warbler, whilst quick off the mark London birders feasted on a Black-winged Stilt, and equally fast birders in Cleveland caught up with a one-day Black-throated Thrush.
April 2009: Highlight of the month was Kent's Crested Lark whilst as popular was a male Collared Flycatcher in Dorset. An overwintering male White-throated Sparrow in Hampshire eventually made the birdlines whilst Britain's largest flock of eleven Whiskered Terns arrived in Derbyshire. A long-staying Pallid Swift arrived at the month's end in Merseyside.
April 2008: A stunning male Black Lark in Norfolk, only Britain's third record, arrived on the same day as a Calandra Lark in Shetland. A Slate-coloured Junco in Kent and a male Little Crake in Devon, being more accessible to birders, were more popular, whilst Hoopoes, Bee-eaters and Red-rumped Swallows arrived in numbers. A Pallid Swift flew around the Isles of Scilly at the month's end.
April 2007: Many birders were left wondering when their luck would change as April brought a host of short-staying top-notch rarities. Best of the bunch were Egyptian Vulture in Norfolk, Glaucous-winged Gull in Surrey and two Blue Rock Thrushes, in Wales and Sussex. An unprecedented invasion of Glossy Ibises including a single flock of seventeen individuals that settled in Gloucestershire was a sight to behold. Other great April birds included a singing Iberian Chiffchaff in Norfolk and a Black-eared Wheatear in Argyll.
April 2006: A handsome drake Hooded Merganser was the month's highlight for birders prepared to trek north to Shetland. Elsewhere a drake Blue-winged Teal in North Yorkshire and then Northumberland was equally attractive. Norfolk's second Killdeer probably drew the largest crowds however. Summer migrants began to arrive in force during April with a showy Western Subalpine Warbler in Dorset popular amongst digiscopers. Up to 20 Alpine Swifts were seen with atypically long-stayers including three birds together in Devon and a single bird in London.
April 2005: Belted Kingfisher on the 1st April. Surely an April fool. Not at all. Undoubtedly the bird of the year if not the millenium, first found in Staffordshire it was amazingly relocated in Aberdeenshire to the delight of thousands of birders who made the long trek north. An Amur Wagtail in County Durham would have been equally popular had it stayed longer. A Short-toed Treecreeper in Essex and a Great Spotted Cuckoo in Sussex offered compensation for south coast birders. Other rarities included a White's Thrush in Shetland and another Killdeer in Ireland. By the end of the month lesser rarities were streaming through including a Great Reed Warbler in Surrey and a Citrine Wagtail on Scilly.
April 2004: early summer migrants included a record invasion of some 40 Red-rumped Swallows, whilst crowd-pullers included an Iberian Chiffchaff in Northumberland, a one-day Alpine Accentor in Norfolk and a smart drake Bufflehead initially found in Greater Manchester before moving to West Yorkshire. A fly-by male Pallid Harrier in North Yorkshire and a Song Sparrow reported from Devon will have caused some nervous twitches. Lesser rarities included summer plumaged Whiskered and White-winged Black Terns in the south whilst almost 50 Hoopoes left birders in no doubt that spring migration was in full flow.
April 2003: Bird of the month was a male Taiga Flycatcher in East Yorkshire - a first for Britain. The county also scored with a male Pallid Harrier on the 1st. Quality birds elsewhere included a Little Swift over the Isles of Scilly, a Crag Martin in Sussex and a White-headed Duck in Buckinghamshire. Good numbers of Alpine Swifts, Red-rumped Swallows and Black Kites put winter firmly behind us.
April 2002: Typical spring overshoots included a dozen Red-rumped Swallows around Britian, thirty-plus Hoopoes, a Whiskered Tern in Wiltshire, a Great Spotted Cuckoo in Ireland and a pair of Black-winged Stilts in Hampshire. Scotland scored with a Two-barred Crossbill in Abernethy Forest and a Whistling Swan in Dunbartonshire. Pity the latter enjoyed bread from the hand !
April 2001: Kent produced the best bird for the second month running with Iberian Chifchaff. A second bird followed closely on the heels of Kent's first - this one on Bardsey and alongside a Pine Bunting. Outer islands generally had the best of the rarities with Black-throated Thrush on Fair Isle mid-month and a Spanish Sparrow on Skokholm also mid-month.
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