Monday, 17 September 2012

Autumn birds

Here in England autumn is in the air. The air is a little colder, each day is slightly shorter than the one before and in the countryside if you pause, you can sense that slight sweet rotting smell.

For birds it's a time of change. It reminds me how different our perceptions of time and change can be depending on the latitude we live at. For temperate parts south of the equator, of course, you just reverse the times so Christmas will be in summer and May Day will come towards the end of autumn's slide into winter. The experience of the seasons is the same. But further north, winter is longer and harsher, as I experienced for two years in Finland. Most birds leave in autumn and hardly any arrive, making spring far more dramatic. In the two years I was in Finland, I saw my first Woodpigeon of the year each time on the 30th April. Near the equator, as in Kenya where I've also lived, none of the resident birds leave but you know Europe and Northern Asia are descending into winter because new birds arrive, many of species not present in the European summer.

Last week a visit to our local North Essex migration hotspot, The Naze, an unstable peninsula between the open sea and an estuary, turned up several migrants, birds not present in summer locally but passing through on the way to Africa - Pied Flycatcher, Common Redstart, Garden Warbler, Yellow Wagtail, Sand Martin and others. Yesterday i was covering an area not far away and also coastal but much more sheltered, so less likely to attract local rarities - the complicated estuarine areas of Hamford Water and The Wade. This fits in neatly with a pint in the Red Lion, Kirby-le-soken, before I head back. Birds sitting on an old upturned rowing-boat in the channel were revealed as three different tern species, Sandwich, Common and Little. A Whinchat flew to the top of a bramble bush. Those are all birds heading for Africa. But soon after a small, sharp-winged, intense, fast shape cut across the sky and put up clouds of waders. The first Merlin of the winter had arrived.

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