A friend tells me that a family of house martins is still to be seen in his Addingham barn. The youngsters are out of the nest and flying around but the parents are still feeding them – working hard to get their family fit for the long flight to Africa. Then, one morning last week, a large party of blackbirds accompanied by some thrushes descended on one of our rowan trees, quickly stripped it of berries and disappeared. The black males had dark beaks suggesting to me that they were recently arrived incomers from Scandinavia or N. Germany. This is the season of two-way bird traffic and a great time for birdwatchers. You never know what you may see.
Another friend was up near Keighley Gate – a favourite spot for migration spotting – and watched a marsh harrier, a bird of wetlands and reedbeds, quartering Rombalds Moor, no doubt on its way south. Migrating hen harriers on their way out and short-eared owls arriving have also been seen in this area in previous years. Marsh harriers are a real success story for British conservation. I can remember the excitement of my first sighting of one in East Anglia when they were just beginning to take advantage of the superb Nature Reserves there. Now, not only are they to be seen in our local wetland reserves – Leighton Moss in Silverdale is a good place to start – but some birds have liked their accommodation so much they’ve decided to spend the winter with us.
Change in migration habits, probably the result of climate change bringing warmer winters, has been in the news recently. Some blackcaps, until recently classed as summer visitors along with other warblers like chiffchaffs, willow, wood and garden warblers, have for some decades now stayed for the winter, just moving slightly southward: so individuals we see at our winter bird tables are probably from northern Europe rather than from our local fields and woods. This trend has strengthened – blackcaps are fairly stout robust birds and quite capable of holding their own at the bird feeder! Now a similar trend has been observed among chiffchaffs – much lighter, more vulnerable birds, but presumably finding the gains outweigh the risks.
As the Autumn takes hold we may be saying goodbye to favourites like martins, and swallows, but we have a lot to look forward to – redwings and fieldfares enjoying the last of our berry crop or, perhaps, exotic-looking waxwings in their favourite rowans in Ilkley car park.
Photo by Andreas Trepte (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons