The last few weeks has been quite amazing, for wildlife sightings in the parish. Whether it is the lack of traffic, lack of pollutants, good weather, clear skies or just more time for sightings, it has been wonderful. The first weekend of lockdown brought a cuckoo, seen and heard near the Plough. This was followed the following day by a red kite flying over, and then a kingfisher seen on the canal, making its piping call and flying low over the water. House Martins and swallows are now seen almost every day, and the warblers newly arrived from Africa have been incredible, all many weeks earlier than usual. We've had blackcaps calling their loud territorial call in the village and especially on the hedgerows alongside the towpath. Chiff chaff and nuthatches can be heard almost anywhere in the parish. The most excitement however has been down at the Roman Bridges, where migrant arrivals have included, reed, sedge, willow, and grasshopper warblers, common whitethroats, blackcaps, reed buntings, and chiff chaff. When all these birds are singing, together with the resident pairs of cettis warblers, the sound is just brilliant, and I can't ever remember there being any other comparable time in 48 years of studying the wildlife at Hockenhull.
We've had the most extraordinary collection of baby birds born in our hawthorn hedge, with three baby blackbirds running their parents ragged at the moment with their demands for food. We also have a baby pigeon, baby robins, dunnocks, house sparrows and currently a pair of wrens are frantically making a nest in the space left by the pigeons. The hedge is only 10m long but backs onto the canal towpath, so there is great protection there and easy access from both sides.
Butterflies have also been early and numerous, and following the sightings of mid March when peacock and small tortoishell were seen, so many other species have appeared. Common & holly blues can be seen along the canal hedgerows and in the village near any conifer or holly bushes. Orange tips are really active at present, and I've been delighted to see both male and female brimstone feeding in our garden. As blossom has emerged so have the butterflies, and comma, speckled wood, peacock and small tortoishell have been present. I've had the first sighting of the year of a painted lady butterfly reported to me, and a Humming bird hawk moth was seen near Broxton which is a very rare early occurrence for this extraordinary moth.
The flowers in the fields and hedgerows have also been very early with lots of celandine, lady smock, marsh marigold, wild arum spikes, red campion, red valerian etc. all in bloom. The blossom has also been exceptional, maybe it's because of the clear air and lack of pollution. The hawthorn is particularly white, together with Queens Anne's lace and various varieties of hogweed. Wild garlic is flourishing in a copse along the Baker Way, and is in flower alongside clumps of bluebells.
A number of villagers have reported seeing brown hare, foxes and badgers, and we've been watching with interest the removal of winter bedding from badger setts along Birch Heath. The family of badgers there are clearly very active. The otters are still leaving spraints on the stonework of the middle bridge at Hockenhull, but haven't appeared in daytime for a few months. We've walked into the village many times recently, and been pleased to see the coots and moorhens doing well at the Pit. The resident greylag goose has been joined recently by a single Canada goose, and the water level is still high to give added protection to the water birds breeding there. Lots of baby mallards can be seen along the canal with family parties of 12 or more being common.
Although this period of corona-virus has a great many downsides, the bonus of having plenty of time to observe has been a wonderful bonus. I hope you enjoy the pictures.