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With Dawn Lawrence


OW that the leaves are falling and the nights are dropping in, it is easy to feel that nature is deserting us. Of course, many birds have left and it has long been understood that birds do this to overwinter in gentler climes. As early as the 8th century Homer mentions in the Iliad the Trojan army running away like the cranes “which flee the coming winter”. Despite some mistakes in the intervening centuries (the idea that swallows spend winter buried in the mud of ponds really isn’t so hard to believe when you consider what they actually do), our understanding has continued to improve, although much about migration remains mysterious. However, not all of our birds have deserted us, not all those that appear to stay have actually done so and some different birds are heading our way, to spend the winter right here. On the first really cool nights of the year we suddenly hear the “tseep tseep” calls of the first redwing flying into Britain from their breeding grounds in Scandinavia. I

mentioned these winter visitors in January and their fellow winter thrushes, the fieldfare. It is time to start listening out for the distinctive call, maybe you’ll hear it this season, and look out for them feeding in apple trees. The familiar garden robin may seem to spend its whole life with us but it is now known that our breeding pairs head south and our winter robins come here from Scandinavia and beyond. The same goes for blackbirds although many move shorter distances – Bristol’s winter blackbirds may only have come from Norfolk. I may mention the interesting habits of robins again later in the year, perhaps around Christmastime... Blackcaps have changed their habits in the last 50 years: these pert little warblers have always bred in Britain and all used to migrate south for the winter. However, since the 1960s a population which breeds in southern Germany has established a new migration route and now comes here to overwinter, reversing the usual direction of migration. They are aided

October, 2015

and encouraged in this new behaviour by garden bird feeders: an apple stuck into a tree, fat balls and bird seed all help support some 3,000 wintering blackcaps in England now. A rather more spectacular sight is a flock of waxwings. These beautiful, noisy, lively birds are a sight worth waiting for. Waxwings are particularly fond of hawthorn and rowan berries and they only come to Britain when they run out of food in their homelands of Scandinavia. If this happens irruptions of thousands of birds can pour across the North Sea into Britain. If the irruption is a big one, and food shortages persist, then they can make their way right across the country to Bristol. A sweet little skeetering twitter is often the first sign that they are about and they are happy in the city as long as they have berries to eat. Start looking out for them in October although they are more often seen later in the winter.

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Bishopston Voice - October '15  
Bishopston Voice - October '15