In a good month for Yellow Wagtail, this fine male was particularly showy pic @sjnewton
April more than lived up to its reputation as the best birding month of the year at the Wetlands. There may have been no out-and-out rarity but four Little Terns - the first for four years - along with three Kittiwakes were good records for London let alone Walthamstow. The largely clear skies and north-east airflow also meant birds dropped in throughout the day so there was a chance of finding something no matter what time a visit.
With no access restrictions - unlike last April - coverage was excellent which helped produce a total of 105 species seen across the month. They included 25 new for the year - nine more than were added last year and one more than in 2019. The additions take the year list to 120 which compares to 109 last year, 113 in 2019 and not far too behind the 126 of 2018.
Among other highlights in April were the first Garganey for 18 months, good numbers of Little Gulls, both Redstarts, two Short-eared Owls and yet another Great Egret as well as high numbers of both Yellow Wagtails and Wheatears. In general, summer visitors seemed to arrive early and, even better, the numbers looking as if they will stay to breed seemed to be up on recent years.
The third White-front of the winter stayed for one day pic @IvorHewstone
This winter had one last goose surprise when another White-front was discovered on No 5 on the 6th. The extent of the barring shows it was not the fugitive from Wanstead which spent January and February at the Wetlands. CF closed the biggest gap in the year list when he found a drake Wigeon on East Warwick on the 21st. Two Teal hung on to the last day of the month and a drake Shoveler was still around on the 29th.
The first Garganey since Sept 2019 pic @Chris_Farthing finally settled down.......
...but this was a more typical view as it moved between reservoirs pic @Callahanbirding
Garganey was not seen at all last year, perhaps partly because of Covid access restrictions last April. So the lovely drake found by DC on the 17th was much appreciated although its flighty behaviour tested fitness levels. Five Goldeneye stayed until the 13th with a single female remaining until the 19th - three days later than in 2019 and two weeks later than last year.
March's Red-legged Partridge continued to show intermittently until at least the 13th by which time it had mastered the knack of running through the rail tunnel to move between the Warwicks. CF picked up the fourth Great Egret of 2021 - unimaginable just a few years ago - flying north east on the 24th.
Single Red Kites were seen on 10th, 13th 15th & 19th with Buzzards on nine days and a maximum count of five on the 19th. PA had the first Hobby on the 27th - two days earlier than last year.
It wasn't a great month for waders with the clear skies giving little reason for birds to pause their migration north but, by the end, most of the expected species - except for Godwits - had been recorded. The first and only Oystercatcher of the year so far was seen on the 1st and the sole Lapwing of the month on the 12th. Little Ringed Plovers were late with the first on the 2nd - around two weeks behind the previous two years - with others seen on the 3rd, 13th with two on the 14th. A pair were seen intermittently at the end of the month on the north side, suggesting they may be trying to breed somewhere close to the Wetlands.
This Whimbrel stayed for two days on Walthamstow Marsh pic @samuel_ei_jones
The first Whimbrel was found by QG from his flat balcony overlooking East Warwick on the 24th before going north. Another surprisingly tame bird settled on Walthamstow Marsh on the 28th and 29th but flew over the fence to the Wetlands occasionally when flushed.
A single Snipe was seen occasionally in the No 1 reed-bed until mid-month with late migrants on the 28th and 30th. Passage Green Sandpipers were seen almost daily from the 23rd with three on the 24th. Common Sandpiper numbers were low but built to five on the 26th and nine on the 30th. The first Common Redshank of the year was on the 12th while LB found a Greenshank on Lockwood on the 26th and the same - or perhaps a second - was on the south side in the evening.
One or perhaps two Greenshank graced the Wetlands on the 26th pic @sjnewton
If waders were so-so, gulls and terns were remarkable. Kittiwake - at least until the last six months - is a real rarity at the Wetlands. But after two in the autumn, three were seen this month with an adult and 2cy bird being found by RE on the 7th. Both stayed until next day with the immature hanging around until the 13th. A second adult dropped onto Lockwood for a sleep briefly on the 8th (when the other adult was still being watched) before flying north.
These two Kittiwakes gave exceptional views during their stay pic @OwlTurbot....
For the third year running, the Wetlands hosted good numbers of Little Gull in the Spring. The first three were found on the 16th with another on the 22nd. They were followed by a remarkable 32 on the 24th. A 2cy bird on West Warwick was briefly joined by a flock of 26 - largely adults - before all departed high north. Another five were seen later high heading west. The last record was an adult with a pink flush which dropped in briefly on the 29th.
The final lone adult even had a pink flush pic @IvorHewstone
The first Common Tern passed through on the 4th - two weeks ahead of the first last year but what hopefully are our breeding pairs arrived on the 19th. They were joined on the 23rd by four Arctic and two Little Terns found by AD mid-morning. They are the first Little Terns since 2017 and only the third record in the last decade. Amazingly, two more were found by PA on the 27th which stayed for about 20 minutes. For context, up to this month I had seen only one Little Tern at Walthamstow in 40 years of visiting only to see four in a week....
Common Terns arrived back mid-month and look as if they will stay to breed pic @OwlTurbot
One of four Little Terns which visited the Wetlands this month pic @OwlTurbot
A Short-eared Owl flew close-by SN on the 1st going north over Lockwood and a second gained height before drifting east on the 9th. The first Swift of the year was on the 23rd, ten days behind the earliest bird last year but two days ahead of 2019. Numbers built up quickly with 80 by the 26th and hundreds by the 28th. In a good year for Rooks, CF had four fly north on the 15th.
April is a good month for Short-eared Owls but they rarely come this close pic @sjnewton
Swallows passed north in small numbers throughout the month but around 50 were seen on the 28th and 30 next day as they fed low over the reservoirs in the gloom and strong northerly wind. The first House Martin was watched in a snow shower on the 5th with only one or two seen daily until the 29th when local birds seemed to arrive.
In general, arrival dates for warblers were early this year. After the first Willow Warbler in March, small numbers continued to be seen - or more often heard - until the last few days of the month with eight on the 15th the highest daily total. An early Sedge Warbler was on the 2nd, well ahead of arrivals over the last three years. By the end of the month, singing birds were close to double figures, certainly more than the last two years. The first Reed Warbler was on the 7th on the No 1 reed bed which again was five days before 2020 and seven days before both 2019 & 2018.
Common Whitethroat was first heard on the 5th, eight days ahead of last year with good numbers singing by the end of the month,. A Garden Warbler arrived on the 18th six days before the first record last year and over two weeks before the first in 2019. The exception to early arrivals were Lesser Whitethroats with the first record on the 24th, ten days later than in 2020. By the end of the month, however, there seemed to be three to four birds in song across the reservoirs.
A Garden Warbler arrived mid-month but then promptly disappeared pic @sjnewton
A flighty male Ring Ousel was found by CF on the 27th but only allowed itself to be glimpsed twice. Fieldfare did linger with up to four around the reservoirs until the 16th with the final Redwing on the 2nd.
Common Redstart is just about annual in April but rarely as co-operative pic @sjnewton
A cracking male Common Redstart was found by CN on the 10th only, as often is the case at the Wetlands, to disappear. Fortunately, it or a second male was a lot more accommodating in the same general area two days later. The Black Redstart seen by RE on the 14th, however, didn't give anyone a second chance to get it on the annual list. It was a good month for Wheatear after the usual lull from the early birds in March. Three were seen on the 9th with records on 13 following days. There was a clear peak mid-month with seven on the 20th and eight next day.
Yellow Wagtail numbers were also high after the first two were seen by GW on the 1st - a week earlier than the last three years. The next records did not come until the 9th and 13th but they were seen pretty well every day from the 21st and often showed well. There were seven on the 27th, eight next day but the peak count was a flock of 15 together on the ground on the 26th.
Greenfinches seem to have made a real recovery with plenty of pairs around the Wetlands. Linnets, too, were more obvious than in recent years with pairs widely scattered around the reservoirs.
Red-crested Pochard and Black-tailed Godwits are now the most obvious omissions from the annual list while it looks like we will have to wait until the autumn for our hoped-for Osprey and Black-necked Grebe.