BIRDING DIARY – SPRING MIGRATION

ospreyFor bird-watchers spring and autumn migrations are the most exciting times of the year. In late Winter- early Spring those birds that came to spend the winter in the UK from Scandinavia and the Arctic return north to breed. These include Redwings and Fieldfares, members of the Thrush family, which love coming into orchards for the windfall apples in the Autumn. When food is scarce in Scandinavia the UK also sees flocks of the beautiful Waxwings which are often seen in supermarket car parks feasting on the cotoneaster and pyracanthus berries.

A few years ago when the acorn harvest failed in Scandinavia hundreds of Jays were seen coming in off the North Sea over the cliffs at Hunstanton to find food in England. Common garden birds such as Chaffinch and Blackbird may not have been your regulars, because birds resident in the UK tend to move south in Winterand be replaced by visitors from Scandinavia too. Out on the Nene washes and Fen agricultural areas in Winter are Whooper Swans from Iceland,Bewick Swans from the Russian Arctic, Brent Geese from the Canadian Arctic and  Barnacle Geese from Greenland.


swallows

Our summer visitors mainly come in from Africa. Sand Martins are the first of the hirundinesarriving from late March onwards followed by Swallows and House Martins. Whilst Swallows come from South Africa it is still unclear where in Africa House Martins spend the winter months. Swifts, which have declined by 25% in the last decade, arrive in May and depart in August, one of the shortest stays.

The birds you hear the most, of course, are the Warblers :  Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Common and Lesser Whitethroat, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler and Grasshopper Warbler. One of the challenges as a bird-watcher is to recognise all of these by their song. Only the males sing and for a relatively short time as they are attracting a mate.

The most spectacular vocalist is the Nightingale and we are near the northern edge of their distribution range here. The one bird sound that everyone recognises is the call of the Cuckoo, another bird suffering a major decline, but the subject of pioneering tracking work by the British Trust for Ornithology which has revealed for the first time their migration routes and behaviour which may hold clues for their survival.

One of the most beautiful of the visitors is the Yellow Wagtail and probably the least observed is the Common Nightjar which roosts on the ground in woods during the day before emerging at dusk to catch insects.

Coasts and marshes see an influx of waders, ducks and Terns. Common Terns breed in Ferry Meadows and Arctic Terns, occasional visitors there, are among the bird-world’s long-distance travellers, coming up from the southern ocean. We have visiting African raptors too, notably the Osprey and the Hobby. The Osprey, of course,now breeds at Rutland Water and Hobbies are seen across our area catching dragonflies and, occasionally, Swifts.

Finally, we have migrants such as the Northern Wheatear and the Ring Ouzel which pass through our area to reach their breeding grounds in upland Britain.

So treasure our visitors, don’t cut hedges or prune trees between March and August, and certainly don’t destroy House Martin nests. To do the latter is a criminal offence.

KEITH LIEVESLEY