Thursday, 20 October 2016

Birds on the move

It's that time of year when birds are well and truly on the move. In fact, it's always that time of year, because migration is going pretty much 24/7, 365 days a year, but mid-October is just about the peak of the autumn migration season.

If you're lucky enough to live in Scotland, or along the Solway Firth, or on the coast of East Anglia, that can mean huge flocks of wild geese winging in from their Arctic breeding grounds. Waders, too, from the same direction. At some of Britain's migration (and twitching) hotspots, the last couple of weeks have seen a flurry of rarities, including Britain's first-ever Siberian Accentor. And then the second. And the third. And the fourth. And the fifth.

Inland, an invasion of Yellow-browed Warblers has been taking place. These tiny sprites are regular winter visitors, but scarce, and can be easily overlooked unless you learn their high-pitched call, as they can easily tag along with flocks of Goldcrests and other small birds.

But if you're a casual birdwatcher (and that's what I've been for the last couple of weeks), there's one sure sign that autumn is really with us. Redwings. That's one above. And before an eagle-eyed viewer points it out, that's actually one from the Icelandic subspecies. They're a little darker, and bigger, and can pop up over here, although most that we see in the UK come from Norway and Sweden.

Earlier in the week, I woke in the early hours. Our bedroom is in the loft, and the skylight was slightly open. I could hear a thin, hissing sound, 'tseeep, tseeep', and then I was asleep again.

But the next morning, on the way to work, little flocks of 30-40 birds were skimming over the fields everywhere. They're Starling-sized, but the wings are more swept back, the outline just that bit more streamlined, and they're much more tied to farmland, although you might get a few in the garden if you've got a lot of berry-bearing shrubs and trees, or if you leave some windfall apples around.

As yet, I've seen no Fieldfares, so often the close companions of the Redwings, but they'll be here, no doubt, in the next few days. And the leaves will keep falling, and the birds will keep returning and departing, and it'll be spring again before you know it.

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