After what must rank as one of the driest Aprils in recent years, the combination of sunshine and some much-needed rain has led to plenty of scenes like this around the arboretum in the past few days - the richness of colour combined with the scents of the various emergent flowers making for an absolute feast for the senses.
Indeed, the change to south-westerly winds and damper conditions last weekend clearly brought with them a few migrant birds as was evident when I got down to Rowe's Flashe Lake on Saturday morning (25th) only to be greeted by the familiar sight of a Common Sandpiper flying about over the water with the Swallows before coming to rest on a buoy towards the southern end. Doubtless there have been several records of this species at Winkworth over the years but, as far as I can tell, this was the first documented record since 1987...
Imagine my even greater surprise then when I walked past the lake again on the morning of the 30th and flushed FOUR Common Sandpipers from the north-west corner - surely a record count for the site? They then posed quite happily for several photos in the spring sunshine. A lovely sight.
Other new arrivals this past week have been the first Garden Warbler of the year, singing in the brambles towards the south-east corner of the lake on the 25th, and on the 26th a Sedge Warbler was singing in the small patch of reeds on the eastern side of the lake, replaced on the 28th by a singing Reed Bunting which has remained all week.
Also nice to discover down at Rowe's Flashe this past weekend was a Little Grebe constructing a nest on one of the buoys - the buoys, incidentally, are marking the areas where barley straw bales have been put in the lake to combat algae.
Swallow numbers continue to increase, with at least ten zipping around over the water on the 26th although, aside from one House Martin on the 15th, I've yet to see any other hirundine species or Swifts here yet - I discovered the other day that Sand Martins used to nest in the banks of Rowe's Flashe.
Amongst all this excitement there have also been increasingly regular visits from a couple of Greylag Geese, not all that common a sight here....
and the first Mallard ducklings of the year have emerged and are growing fast. There were twelve around as of the 28th.
Thankfully they appear to have so far escaped the jaws of the local Grey Herons...
During sunnier spells the birdsong in the arboretum has been incredible. It was good to see and hear this handsome male Greenfinch singing away near Rowe's Flashe Lake on the morning of the 27th, especially as numbers of this species have fluctuated in recent years due to disease.
Talking of birdsong, this Sunday (3rd May) I'll be helping out at a dawn chorus walk at Winkworth. This walk is now fully booked but I will be leading another one at Uppark on the 11th, should any of you be interested in attending.
Back to Winkworth now, and another exciting development this past week was my discovery of a male Sparrowhawk adding material to a nest in the lower arboretum. He's been working on it for several days now and it's great to see him meticulously adding each twig one by one - fingers crossed he finds a mate and they go on to rear some chicks in a few weeks.
Who's watching who?
The weather has been rather hit and miss for butterflies in the past few days, but during the warmer spells I have noted plenty of Orange-tips and Peacocks around, plus smaller numbers of Speckled Woods, Large Whites, Brimstones and this Comma, basking on a path in the meadow on the 22nd.
Less easy to spot was this well camouflaged Brindled Beauty moth...
And this hoverfly, Helophilus pendulus - 'The Footballer' (due to its stripy thorax) or 'Sun Fly' - was equally well hidden on the sandy soil.