First to arrive at the end of March were the Chiffchaffs, Blue-tit sized, olive green and shouting their names, closely followed by the Blackcaps. Unusually Blackcaps are quite distinctive warblers: slightly larger than a Chiffchaff and pale greyish in colour, the male has an obvious black cap and the female a chestnut one. Blackcap song is beautiful, giving it the nickname of the ‘northern Nightingale’. Just now they are all over the village.
Next to arrive are Willow Warblers, which look very like Chiffchaffs but have a lovely fluting, descending song (listen near scrubby woodland) and the rarer Garden Warblers, which sound like Blackcaps (and rarely visit gardens) but are the ultimate in plain brown birds (there has been one singing along The Street). If you are lucky you may come across another non-descript pale brown/buff warbler, the Grasshopper Warbler, difficult to see but an unmistakable call which sounds like the high-pitched reeling of an insect.
The Whitethroat is easier to identify – it has a brown back, grey head (brown in female) and buff underparts but a very obvious white throat and a long tail which it constantly flicks. It has a musical but rather scratchy song, which it likes to sing while sitting from a prominent perch. It will often fly out to catch an insect before returning to the same perch. Hay Lane footpath and the top of Pentlows Hill are good sites to look. Its smaller cousin, the Lesser Whitethroat, is greyer, with a white throat but shorter tail and tends to lurk in bushes. Its song is a low-pitched, monotonous rattle.
Next come the Reed and Sedge Warblers, birds of our waterways. In recent years they have returned to Braughing especially in the new pond behind Quinbury Farmhouse. Sedge Warblers are attractive, plump birds with a prominent cream eye stripe. Their song is an increasingly angry series of chirrups and whistles which gets faster and louder and more varied. They are excellent mimics! Reed Warblers are brown birds, darker above, buff below with pale throats. They sing a repetitive churring song from a handy reed, much less varied than Sedge Warblers. Their nests are popular with Cuckoos. And don’t forget the Cetti’s Warbler, a resident warbler which is moving north along our rivers. It is a chestnut bird, not easy to see but with a loud unmistakable call which it usually repeats three times. There was one along the Rib last year.
Turning to hirundines (Swallow family), the first to arrive are Sand Martins in early April (brown above, white underneath with a brown collar and usually just passing through) followed by Swallows (glossy blue and identifiable by their long tail streamers) and then House Martins (glossy blue black above, white underneath with a short V-shaped tail and white rump). We used to have lots of House Martins nesting under the eaves in the village but sadly numbers have declined in recent years.
Finally come the Swifts – dark scimitar-shaped silhouettes in the sky. We are lucky to have good numbers of Swifts in the area. Finally, and a specialist hirundine-hunter, comes the Hobby. An aerobatic raptor who preys on hirundines and dragonflies. In flight it resembles a large Swift, close up it has a grey back, spotted chest, dark moustache and red trousers.
Finally, a few other summer visitors to look out for. The Yellow Wagtail – a slim, long-tailed yellow bird (totally different shape to the Yellowhammer) which is commonest in our bean fields and around manure heaps. Then the Spotted Flycatcher, a chunky bird with a brown back and buff streaky chest which perches in shady glades, churchyards and along rivers, snatching insects from the air before returning to its favoured perch. And finally, the eponymous Cuckoo. For the first time in several years a Cuckoo was calling from the trees along the A10 near the farm shop last year. Let’s hope it comes back this year!