We think that British weather is changeable, and we’d be right. But we’d have to go a long way to rival the magnitude of changes in American weather over the course of just a few days. When we arrived here for our trip last week, it seemed like spring was still a couple of weeks behind the UK at least. Very few flowers were in evidence, the weather was distinctly chilly, and it certainly felt plenty wintery whilst watching flocks of sea ducks on the Choptank River in eastern Maryland. Insects, too were in short supply. We’d left bees and butterflies back home, all that appeared to be on the wing Stateside was a selection of midges.
Disregarding the temperature and lack of butterflies, there were clues everywhere that it really was spring. There were the common loons and horned grebes, freshly bedecked in breeding plumage. There were the falls of migrants after overnight rain, including more blue-gray gnatcatchers in one morning than I’d ever seen. They’re superb birds, one of very few ‘old world’ warblers – the family Sylviidae – to occur in the Americas. Palm warblers also arrived in good numbers during our first week. They’re one of the earliest ‘new world’ warblers to come through on migration, and with their red caps and tail-wagging habit very easy to recognise. Here’s a video I took two years ago.
As soon as warm weather hit at the weekend, it was as though somebody flicked a switch marked ‘summer’. I’m not sure when the earliest dragonfly emerges back in the UK but I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t expect to see them in mid April! The tiger beetle Cicindela sexguttata was also out in force. It’s an inhabitant of forests with sandy or gravelly soils, and habitually basks in the sun on exposed surfaces – like the tarmac and stone paths of the WB&A Trail, my ‘local’ patch whenever I’m in the USA. Approach incautiously and the beetles leap into the air and whir away strongly, their brilliant green wing cases glistening in the sun.
Since the weekend the weather has stayed mostly fine, though this – combined with being in an area with less good habitat – means I’m seeing fewer migrants this week. Hopefully it will be all change again before we depart.