The solitary great crested grebe was still present on Tonford Lake at the end of the month, strengthening hopeS that its mate was secreted on a nest amongst dense fringing vegetation. Also parading around the lake were ten tufted ducks, which usually depart at the end of March or early April, so perhaps some of these will also stay to nest. Breeding is certainly on the mind of many birds: a goldfinch was building its nest inside a dense bramble thicket beside the Whitehall stream at the end of the month, whitethroats fresh in from Africa are setting up territories, and on the 20th a nightingale was singing in the abandoned orchard beside the Tonford railway crossing.
Winter has lost its grip, and a snipe flying over on the 27th was likely to be the last to be seen until autumn (like the tufted duck, they usually vanish early in the month). An interesting record was of a compact flock of thirty Mediterranean gulls flying over on 20th. Historically it was a bird of eastern Europe, centring on the Black Sea, but during the 20th century its range expanded westwards, reaching England in the 1960s and now firmly established on the North Kent Marshes, where the breeding population has built up to around 500 pairs. Somewhat like a black-headed gull, though with a true black hood rather than a chocolate one, other features make it more closely resemble a herring gull, and its distinctive “mwow” note is certainly more reminiscent of the larger bird than the harsh shrieks of the slightly smaller, more delicate black-headed gull.
Last month we mentioned that the snake’s head fritillaries planted in 2019 were putting on their early spring show. Thanks to the emergency additional mowing carried out by Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership in January, all four of the original clusters were relocated, and the final tally of fritillary “lanterns” was 147, a 75% increase on last year. However, given that 400 bulbs were planted four years ago, it is still not clear if the population is likely to increase significantly: if it does, we may go ahead with a more extensive bulb-planting scheme.