Nest box monitor David Price gives an update from Dunsford Woods...
So another breeding season starts, but what sort of April have the Pied Flycatchers arrived and found? Not great I'd suggest, particularly after such a mild winter. I had one particular oak tree in leaf at the beginning of April, but then most of them seemed to go into some sort of torpid state and are only now really starting to do much.
First Pied Flycatcher arrivals at Dunsford were recorded on 11th (3-4 males). They weren't there on 6th and in view of the gale force north westerlies from 7-9th, they probably didn't arrive until at least 10th. Can't compete with Yarner's first arrivals on 6th. No females recorded but the males were rather skulking and not singing much, so females could have been around. All probably devoting most of their efforts to finding food I guess.
Since then not much demonstrative activity on show from most pairs, and as a result it's been difficult to assess actual numbers. As of the last visit on 27 April, there were some 9 nests or what might be nests on the go, - though some of these may be abandoned. Also at some nest box locations males were singing but there was no sign of nest building. Taking these two factors together I optimistically reckon there may be 18 males/pairs present. This is some way short of last year's 24 pairs, of which 22 were in boxes. Are there still birds to arrive? Wouldn't be surprised after the predominance of arctic northerly winds. Doesn't look like the cold conditions will abate for at least another week. I think I'd hang around in sunny Portugal for a bit longer if I was still on my way!
Of those Pied Flys that had actually started nesting on Wednesday virtually all were "in progress", and early progress at that. Only one nest was looking anything like ready for laying in. We might just have a first egg date in April from this bird, - last year first egg was on 28th, - but I'm not holding my breath. Let's hope things improve, not only for the birds, but also for the frost bitten surveyors!
As for other nest box birds, most of the tits have also been delayed, only a few just starting to lay, with 1-2 or eggs. I see reports on the Nest Record Forum of all sorts of advanced situations for nesting tits even as far north as Cumbria, and can't help wondering why things always seem much later Dunsford.
On the positive side, Blackcaps seem to be getting up to expected numbers after a couple of weeks prior to this when there just didn't seem to be many around. Two Redstarts have been recorded briefly, but I haven't pinned them down yet. I've had regular sightings (though more often "soundings") of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, at two separate locations - perhaps even three. And on my last visit (27th April) I picked up the first Wood Warbler. It was not singing very strongly, rather fitfully, but I had a reasonably good view of it and couldn't see any colour rings.
Let's hope May turns out to be a little more tolerable for birds and birders alike.