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Two Early Spring Migrants

Sand Martin

And for Portbury Wharf a real prize of a tick, perched on a nest box at morn’s end.

The first of the migrants was a slight puzzle, an exercise in fuzzy logic, although it looked so right with its long wings and slender build that I was 90% certain of it. The bird also showed a yellowy wash to its underparts, which the chiffchaffs that are now piling through do not.

The second migrant was easy, clouds of sand martins hawking over the pools, everywhere really. There must have been dozens, if not hundreds, of them. I couldn’t turn any into a swallow though.

Then I caught the sweet descending song of my puzzle bird and it became 100% willow warbler. A day earlier than my 1999 record at Upton Warren, which coincidentally had also been my earliest for sand martin.

Then the day’s prize was given to me by the one other birder on the Wharf. I’d bumped into him twice and was on my way back home when he put me on to the bird. I needed to manoeuvre to a more suitable spot to get the nest box in my sights and fortunately was toting my scope. Binoculars didn’t distinguish anything, so well disguised is this species against wood. But at maximum zoom the scope gave cracking views of a tawny owl surveying its domain in the sunshine.

This deserved a good few minutes’ soaking up. Not just new for the site, but new for Portishead too. And when was the last time I saw a tawny? The back end of 2006 at Montreathmont Forest in Angus. In fact that had terminated a purple patch of my only three sightings: the other two being at Glen Mark that year and Hermitage of Braid, Edinburgh in 2005. Truly a sight to soak, then.

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