Bedfordshire Birding in May
May has proved over recent years to be a superb time for birding in Bedfordshire with the last summer visitors arriving and a fine array of scarce and rare visitors recorded. The long, warmer days and peak of bird song also ensure it is one of the most pleasurable months for spending time in the field. Birding time is split between the commitments of survey activity and the desire to continue the search for migrants, with waders and birds from the south and east being the main attractions.
By the beginning of the month the vast majority of summer visiting species will have been recorded with many already into breeding activity. The arrival of birds continues however through the first two weeks of the month and will include two species that have become increasingly scarce in recent years.
Turtle Doves are now down to the last few pairs in the county with only the areas around Tempsford, Stewartby and Willington consistently turning up birds each year.
Spotted Flycatcher is commoner but recent surveys have shown that there maybe less than 100 pairs in the county and reliable sites include churchyards and neighbouring large gardens. For both species, all records are welcomed.
In recent years, House Martins have also been late in returning with some colonies not active until late May. This species and another aerial feeder, the Swift, also seems to be declining in the county with various theories on availability of food or nesting sites highlighted as the cause. House Martin is subject of a BTO survey in 2016 and 2017 while Swift Breeding Surveys are being conducted in 2017.
At selected sites in the county where muddy edges appear, a passage of waders is expected through May. Species likely to be found but usually in small numbers include normally coastal birds such as Whimbrel, both Godwits, Grey Plover, Turnstone and Sanderling and fresh water birds such as Wood Sandpiper which are found somewhere every year.
Temmincks Stint has been found in most recent years including a stunning record of five together at Castle Mill Pit / Meadow Lane in 2009, a site which again may be suitable this year.
In drier habitat, especially favouring pea fields, a trip of Dotterel would represent a great find. These have recently been very scarce with the last spring records in 1993 (until a trip in April 2017), when prior to this they were almost annual occurrences, though they still occur more regularly just to the east of the county in Herts and Cambs.
Early in the month, tern passage may also be evident, and gloomy mornings or showery afternoons may bring Arctic or Black Terns to the larger lakes. Sandwich Terns have been recorded regularly in recent years but a good deal of luck is still required to catch up with the Little Tern.
A selection of migrant raptors are available in May, but many records are of birds moving through and are seen by very few observers. Key species that may occur are Honey Buzzard and Montagu’s Harrier. With recent changes in population and climate, Black Kite may become more possible in the county. Large raptors can be difficult to identify unless good views are obtained so a few will always have to go without certain identification and all three of these species can be difficult. Slightly easier to identify is Red-footed Falcon. After the first in the county in 1992, there was one in 2006 and four in 2008 and we may expect to see more, anywhere that attracts Hobby would be a good place to look.
Other species from warmer climates that have been recorded in the county are more likely to appear in May than almost any other month.
Hoopoe is an annual visitor now, and recent May records include Roseate Tern in 2012 and 2008, Red-necked Phalarope in 2011 and 2015, Purple Heron in 2011, Common Crane in 2010, Black-winged Stilt, most recently the pair in 2008, Caspian Tern 2007 and Great Reed Warbler, 2005.
More likely to be welcomed by the later generation of birders are some species that have not occurred so recently, Bee-eater 1991, Bluethroat 1987, Collared Pratincole 1983 or maybe Woodchat Shrike 1972.