Saturday, 26 October 2013

Autumn into winter

With a gale forecast to arrive soon and the clocks going back, autumn is beginning to turn into winter.
It's been surprisingly mild though and late butterflies continue to feed before going into hibernation.
Several commas, red admirals and small tortoiseshells have been in my garden near Derby, feeding on michaelmas daisies and now on ivy blossom. In addition I've put out rotting plums, damsons and bananas which the commas and red admirals love, probing their proboscises deep into the gooey mess.
Red admiral on ivy 
On the bird front, there are still rather few immigrant thrushes in the Derby area. Even though there were some big counts of redwings a few weeks ago, most of them and their larger cousins the fieldfares, must still be in Scandinavia.
Fieldfare by Pauline Greenhalgh 
Meanwhile, those (mostly crazy) bird watchers who indulge in watching visual migration ('vis mig') are getting up at dawn and keeping their eyes on the skies for the next hour or two, when passage, if there is any, is at its height. I myself indulge occasionally. Two mornings ago I counted over 3000 wood pigeons flying south in flocks up to 150 strong. But there were only a handful of thrushes. This morning, pigeons were on the move again, keeping low to the contours as they headed into a blustery SSW wind.
Suddenly, a raptor flew up in front of me and went over my head, rather half-heartedly chasing a pigeon. It was a juvenile male peregrine falcon and I wondered if it might be from the cathedral since I was only a few miles from the city.
Serious vis miggers contribute their sightings to a website run by a Dutchman and called Trektellen. Some counts are amazing either for the sheer number of birds recorded or for the variety of species seen. Look at to see how many redwings were counted on a single morning flying over a hill in Bedfordshire on 10th October. That must have been amazing!
The best vis mig watch points tend to be among hills or moors where birds are channelled by the contours. But even if you just step outside your house and look up, wherever you are, on a 'good day' you can expect to see redwings, fieldfares or woodies flying long as you get up early! Usually by 9-10 am, passage is much reduced or over, the birds then settling to feed.
Nick B (DWT)
Ps. The best conditions for movement are good visibility, overcast skies and light SW winds but locally birds may move in a wide range of weather types. On clear nights, go outside anytime after 10/11 pm and listen for the 'seep seep' calls of redwings flying's magic to hear them passing....and, as Lorraine commented recently, it must be quite exciting for our cathedral peregrines too.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Deeper into autumn

The weather here has turned wet, windy and decidedly colder over the last week. A huge arrival of redwings from Scandinavia has taken place. For example, some 33,000 birds were counted from a visible migration watch point in Bedfordshire a couple of mornings ago. Numbers are still very low in Derbyshire (I saw 12 near the city this morning) but more will arrive soon no doubt.
Redwings (and their larger cousins, the fieldfares) are both on the peregrine prey list.
The next bird that should come winging its way across the North Sea is the woodcock. Mass arrivals of this nocturnal wader should be gin around the middle of October - so any day soon. Our adult peregrines take woodcock as they fly over the cathedral at night, illuminated by the floodlighting which beams upwards.

Woodcock photographed in a Derby garden in mid winter
I've not been to the cathedral much recently but when I have I've only seen the two adults so I suspect that all the juveniles have now departed, as they should have done.
Things will be quiet now until February when the first stirrings of the breeding season re-emerge and courtship starts up all over again.
Nick B (DWT)