Well it wouldn't be right for me to claim there was no sign of spring to be seen anywhere today as my records will show that to some degree there was, but as far as the weather is concerned there certainly was no sign at all and as for the records, well they didn't take up too much pen and paper on the Clougha/Birk Bank trail, the lamb above however was a pleasant reminder of spring.
Well I took on a false hope today when just 30 minutes out of the motor and up the Clougha track I spotted a pair of Stonechats but sadly - and I use the word emphatically - they were the only two seen in the four and a half hours up here today and their number was exceeded by one when I found 3 Wheatear at above 400m which is precisely what happened up here last year four days earlier on 19 March when I saw two males at the same altitude. Also seen on the trek, 19 Red Grouse, a Meadow Pipit which I reckon was the palest individual of the species I ever saw, raptors were represented by 2 Buzzard and a Kestrel. I couldn't possibly say upland birding lacks 'any' excitement but sometimes it does lack it in buckets full.
The Stonechat situation is by no means a good one, we're almost at the end of March and these two birds today are the only ones seen in at least four upland locations I have visited this year so far and I've seen just three migrant birds on the coast in the past couple of weeks. The status of the Stonechat began to level out in 2005 following the upturn which started around 1999, and in the Clougha/Birk Bank area numbers have been falling since 2007 when the poor spring/summer weather we have been experiencing began to take a hold and breeding successes were poor. This winters ice-age weather will obviously have done nothing to improve the situation, more to the point it will have advanced the decline considerably. The following March records are clear evidence of the decline in the status of the Stonechats in the Clougha/Birk Bank area which I have been observing for over 12 years....
2007. 23 birds found representing 11 pairs and a lone male.
2008. 17 birds found representing 5 pairs and 7 lone birds.
2009. 8 birds representing 4 pairs.
2010. 2 birds seen as a pair.