On the Wing with Gary Atkins

on the wing
on the wing

Watching is quite an important part of bird-watching ... and watching is relatively easy just now, with the most trees still to sprout their leaves and many of their branches still bare.

But give it a couple more weeks, and watching our feathered friends will have become a bit of a lottery and, by late May/early June – well, forget it!

It’s great to see the buds open and feel the blanket of fresh and vividly-coloured vegetation surround us as trees and shrubs balloon under their burden of leaves and blossom. But that’s when bird-watching becomes virtually impossible – unless you can use your ears as well.

If not, a crash course with headphones and a set of CDs featuring all 300 or more species known to inhabit the British Isles is called for ... but if you’ve not bought your CDs yet or brushed up on those confusing and contradictory sounds, it might be a bit late to start this year, even for the commoner birds.

So, make the most of May, a great month in which to SEE the best selection of our summer visitors – swallows and martins, a range of warblers, wheatears and wagtails and one of the great signs of spring, the cuckoo – which have just arrived or very soon will, heralding a busy breeding season.

They will all be fairly noticeable now, by sight and sound as they establish territories, pair up, mate and raise new broods that will then require feeding. Cue another wave of frenzied activity as parent birds wear themselves out finding food for their youngsters.

All the time, those pesky – sorry, beautiful – leaves, blossom and flowers steadily mask the twigs and branches on which our songbirds sit and belt out their fluid refrains, catchy choruses or alarm calls. Now where’s that CD ...

Another thing about bird-watching – it’s nice when the sun’s shining. But sometimes that’s not the best time if you hope to see something a bit different.

None of us would have been dashing outdoors last Sunday when the torrential rain swept in horizontally from the north-east, driven by 40mph winds and keeping our temperatures comfortably in single figures.

The only place to be was home by the fire. Yet a quick trip out at the back end of such a squall, or at the first opportunity after the rain stops and the wind subsides, might just throw up a rarity, blown well off course and forced to ground as they head for their breeding grounds.

Whether to brave the weather is a true test of a bird-watcher’s resolve!