−−− BY LINDA JENKINSON −−−
It’s my very favourite time of year when anything could turn up and every day is an adventure. Today I had a flock of house martins feeding high over my pond in Leeds 4 and recently I’ve been able to see passage waders such as little stint and curlew sandpiper at Yorkshire nature reserves. These waders tend to by-pass Britain in spring in their urgency to get to their breeding grounds in northern Scandinavia and Arctic Siberia but, during the leisurely autumn migration, they loop into the UK.
For many species, peak migration is in early October. What birds are waiting for is perfect weather conditions to make their journey across the sea to Britain. For winter thrushes such as redwing and fieldfare, this is high pressure over Scandinavia and an easterly wind direction. On arrival they will rest and replace their lost body fat then disperse across the country on clear nights using the stars and the magnetic field to navigate. If you listen carefully on a cloudless night, you’ll be able to hear the characteristic ‘tseep’ sound that redwings make as they fly overhead. It won’t be long before you’ll be able to see them feeding on our bumper crop of berries in parks and gardens around Yorkshire. If you don’t have any berries in your garden you can provide apples on the ground.
Another species that travels to us from the continent in huge numbers is the starling. They join our resident population, increasing numbers to about 16 million over winter. I’ve been watching our resident starlings performing mini-murmurations since July and I look forward to seeing numbers increase locally. When I started birdwatching, Leeds city centre was home to a huge winter starling population. The sky was alive each evening with a spectacular murmuration. Sadly, drastic steps were taken to prevent starlings from roosting in the city but it is still possible to see large murmurations at some of our nature reserves.
One of the UK’s favourite winter visiting birds is the waxwing. Unfortunately, we don’t get the opportunity to see them every winter as waxwings are a sedentary species and will only move if they are unable to find enough food. Food shortages can occur due to a poor berry crop; a high population; or the inability to access food due to extreme weather conditions. It’s usually apparent that we will have a good waxwing year when small flocks begin to arrive in November. Their call sounds like an old trim-phone and they tend to hang out in supermarket car parks so don’t go shopping without your binoculars.
Linda Jenkinson teaches people about birds in and around Leeds. For details of classes email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07778 768719. Visit www.startbirding.co.uk or Start Birding on Facebook and Twitter.