Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Winter visitors

Last weekend but one I saw my first winter thrushes of the season. Anyone in the U.K. or Ireland with a slight interest in birds will know what I'm talking about - the large, noisy, gregarious, nervous Fieldfare and the small, inconspicuous. less nervous or gregarious Redwing. Finns or Norwegians might be puzzled because they have these birds in summer and they nearly all leave in the autumn. Americans have the same kind of migration but different species.

Why's it so special? In spring a birder is looking out for masses of different species coming in and they all have their typical times - Wheatear from late March, Willow Warbler from early April, Cuckoo in the third week of April, Swift in the first third of May and so on. In winter the number of species arriving is smaller unless you count all the shore birds which breed from Northern England to the high Arctic, and they start coming as early as late July when we're still convinced we're in summer. Those two thrushes are the most obvious and numerous of the land passerines (perching birds) that act as a sign of approaching winter.

They arrive in urgent, hyperactive flocks, eager to feed. They spread out to favoured habitats and when winter comes, if there are harsh conditions they move on again or find a special source of food such as a garden with many berries, or they die.

I love the sense of change, of movement in autumn. Nothing represents that better than the winter thrushes.

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