26/02/2002
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Looking Back: March 1987 and 1992

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Looking back through old reports or your own notes can often provide an incentive to get out and about in the field. However, it is often fun to see what was happening on a certain date or period in the past. This series of articles illustrates how times can change quite rapidly as we look back at the highlights of March 15 and 10 years ago.

March 1987

The weather for much of the month was dominated by a Continental airflow bringing winds from an east or southeasterly direction. The cold weather was supplemented by a blast of northerlies on the 15th which persisted for a week until the anticyclone gave way to much milder west and southwesterly winds. Gale-force winds were associated with a deep low pressure system which passed through on the 27th.

The identity of bird of the month took a little while to unravel. A suspected hybrid Scaup x Tufted Duck was noted at Chasewater (Staffordshire) on the 8th, but it was not until the 15th that 1st-winter drake Lesser Scaup was suggested for the identity of the bird and news was released onto Birdline. Large numbers of observers travelled to see the bird, which was the first record for Britain and Ireland, and for the Western Palearctic (it remained to 26th April). However, at the time few people really knew what they were looking for in the identification process as there was a dearth of information on how to identify immature birds!

Elsewhere, rarity interest centred around lingering Nearctic species from the winter. In Glamorgan the Pied-billed Grebe remained at Kenfig Pool. Larid enthusiasts were spoilt in the southwest, with a 2nd-winter Franklin’s Gull at Helston (Cornwall), Bonaparte’s Gull at Newlyn (Cornwall) and 12 Ring-billed Gulls were seen, nine of which were in the southwest. The long-staying Laughing Gull remained in Newcastle (first seen in 1984), and Forster’s Terns were seen throughout March near Dublin and at Dungarven (Co. Waterford), with another at Seaforth (Merseyside) on 15th.

Many Red-necked Grebes remained from the January influx, whilst a Black Brant was the first for Sandwich Bay (Kent) on the 21st and the Ross’s Goose was present in Aberdeenshire from 19th-21st. Nearctic ducks comprised five American Wigeons, one Green-winged Teal and four Ring-necked Ducks, whilst 1,064 Ruddy Ducks were counted at Chew Valley Lake (Avon). A handful of King Eiders could found in Scotland during the month and four Surf Scoters included three in Largo Bay (Fife). At least 62 Mediterranean Gulls were reported during the month, including 22 at Folkestone (Kent). Large white-winged Gulls were represented by 23 Iceland Gulls and 28 Glaucous Gulls. A Sabine’s Gull at Aberystwyth on 28th was an unseasonable sighting.

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The cold weather ensured that migrants were in short supply during the month. Northern Wheatears were slow to arrive with a few noted on the 15th, most arriving during the last few days of the month. The main arrival of Black Redstarts was from the 22nd, whilst the only Common Redstart was in Kent on 28th. An early Ring Ouzel was seen in the West Midlands on the 4th, an early Yellow Wagtail was on Merseyside on 18th. The first Swallow was in Essex on the 4th, and a Sand Martin in Cornwall on the 14th, but numbers of these two traditional migrants were only conspicuous from the 26th when House Martins were also seen. At least 12 Firecrests made landfall from the 28th onwards. Stone Curlews were back at Weeting Heath (Norfolk) by the 29th, and the first Little Ringed Plover was in West Sussex on the 7th. The first Common Tern was in Kent on the 27th and Sandwich Terns were noted from the 22nd onwards, with birds widespread by the end of the month. Only three Garganeys were seen, the first in North Yorkshire on 23rd. More exotic fare included a Hoopoe in Co. Cork during the first week of the month, a White-spotted Bluethroat at Foreness (Kent) on 31st and two Ospreys on 22nd and 23rd. An Alpine Swift at Borth (Ceridigion) on the 1st was early.

March 1992

A dull month with very little sunshine, but mild and changeable, with frequent depressions crossing the country. A period of southwesterly winds boosted temperatures during the middle of the month. March closed in quite different fashion with cold northerlies for the last five days slowing down the arrival of spring migrants.

Bird of the month was a 1st-winter male Pine Grosbeak in gardens at Lerwick (Shetland) from 25th (remaining to 25th April) which was the first British record since 1975 and the first to ever be ‘twitchable’. Not surprisingly many made the effort to travel north and over 200 birders saw it during its extended residence.

Mild weather with winds originating from the south ensured a number of quality early migrants were seen. No less than seven Alpine Swifts were seen, including 5 together over Killiney (Co. Dublin) on 20th. A Purple Heron was on St. Kilda (Western Isles) from 17th until the 20th when it was found dead. A Wryneck was an early migrant at Penallt (Gwent) on 28th and five Hoopoes were seen, the first of which was at Slapton Ley (Devon) on 6th. A winter-plumaged male Rustic Bunting was at Sea View Farm, Rimac (Lincolnshire) on 22nd March. A Pallas’s Warbler was a surprise find in gardens at Bognor Regis (West Sussex) from 14th-23rd March and a Richard’s Pipit was on Skomer (Dyfed) on the 11th.

Despite the mild conditions during the middle of the month a number of rarities from earlier in the year lingered. A Hume’s Warbler from January remained in Plymouth (Devon) to 10th March. A male Pine Bunting at Dagenham Chase (Greater London) from February remained until the 17th, three wintering Little Buntings remained into March (two in Cornwall one in Hampshire). In contrast to the numbers nowadays, 30 Little Egrets were reported with most in the west, and a Cattle Egret in Poole Harbour (Dorset) on 19th was the forerunner of an exceptional influx during May.

The first Sand Martin of the year made its way to North Yorkshire on the 1st March, providing the county with its earliest ever record, and Northern Wheatears began arriving from the 1st onwards, with larger numbers during a mild run of southwesterlies from 20th-24th. Stone Curlews were back in the Brecks from the 8th and early Little Ringed Plovers were reported from Surrey and West Midlands. More notable early migrants included a Wood Sandpiper in Cornwall and Tree Pipits in Devon on 11th, on which date a House Martin was in Dorset with a Willow Warbler in the same county on the 12th. An exceptionally early Sedge Warbler was seen at South Norwood (Greater London) on 23rd and a Yellow Wagtail was in Essex on 14th March with others on the Isles of Scilly and Greater London before the end of the month.

Written by: Russell Slack, BirdGuides