When everyone starts to mourn the loss of the summer and dreads the thought of the dark nights, that is when I start to get excited about the months to come.
Am I mad? Well some might say that I am, but I get this feeling because I know what is coming. I know that, with every hour that those days are getting shorter, more and more wader and wildfowl species are making their way to the UK from the Arctic. Birds from as far away as northern Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Svalbard, Scandinavia, Franz Josef Land and other parts of Arctic Russia.
|hundreds of thousands of birds will leave their breeding grounds in this region to overwinter in the UK|
Some of these birds will start their migration as early as late June. These are birds that didn’t reach sexual maturity and only made the journey originally as a practise run, or they could have attempted to breed but couldn’t find a mate. Those arriving in July may have mated but their eggs or chicks were predated. It is a hostile world in the Arctic and there are only a few short weeks to produce the next generation. If it doesn’t work out the first time then there isn’t much hope of having suitable weather conditions for long enough to warrant a second try.
So the autumn (outward) migration starts early – when we’re eating ice creams and paddling in the sea. It is also a leisurely affair, food and survival being the only real motivators. This year we’ve had favourable and prolonged weather conditions which has meant that migration has reached its peak slightly later than usual. It is certainly in full swing now though. And not just wildfowl and waders, many other species of bird also arrive in their thousands such as redwing, fieldfare, starling, goldcrest, brambling and blackbird. If you’ve got more than the usual number of blackbirds in your garden at the moment then some of them will be from the continent. It’s also a great time to look and listen for redwings. See if you can hear migrating redwings on clear, still nights as they migrate in from Scandinavia. If you listen closely you’ll hear a ‘tseep’ sound from above.
Keep up to date on the movements of birds by following the very informative British Trust for Ornithology’s Bird Migration Blog. You’ll be able to read about which American birds have been blown off their migratory flyway and have ended up in the UK due to westerly winds over the Atlantic. No one knows whether they’ll ever make it back safely – all we do know is that they disappear.
Have a look at the map of the flyways below. Ours is the East Atlantic Flyway but we often get birds from other flyways depending on the weather.
|Map showing migration flyways|
Anyway, back to the wildfowl and waders. The best place to see migrating wildfowl and waders in Yorkshire is at Spurn National Nature Reserve. Flocks of waders are already gathering on the Humber. The majority of these are knot. You’ll also be able to see pink-footed geese, brent geese and whooper swans over the coming months. Follow the action on the Spurn Bird Observatory website.
Many of these birds will eventually move on to the Wash which is why I’m feeling excited because of my Wader and Wildfowl Spectacular tour in North Norfolk on Thursday 20th to Saturday 22nd November. Here we will see thousands of knot and other waders swirling around the beaches of North Norfolk and we’ll witness the sights and sounds of enormous flocks of pink-footed geese lifting off the Wash at dawn. We’ll also look for whooper and Bewick swan, brent geese, European white-fronted geese and the scarcer bean goose.
One winter weekend just isn’t enough and I’ll be heading off to Dumfries and Galloway for another Winter Collection at D&G tour in January 2015. Here we’ll see whooper swans from Iceland, Greenland white-fronted geese and thousands of barnacle geese, pink-footed geese and scaup which is a sea duck that gathers in the Solway and Loch Ryan near Stranraer.
|A flock of pink footed geese|
Of course there will be lots of other opportunities to Start Birding throughout the autumn and winter months so get in touch to find out about classes running from 2 hours to a full day. I’m based in Leeds and run local trips in the city and around Yorkshire. I also travel to other counties to spend the day in some of the UK’s best birding sites. Click on the other tabs for more information or visit my website www.startbirding.co.uk