I’m still waiting patiently to see my first redwing of the year – that unmistakable flash of colour in flight, as well as a creamy stripe above the eye, makes this charming visitor to our shores easily recognisable.
Redwings journey here in significant numbers from both Iceland and north-east Europe. They are found anywhere there is a supply of food and have a particular liking for berry bushes such as hawthorn, rowan and cotoneaster as well as juicy earthworms! They are very social birds and are often seen in large flocks with other thrushes like fieldfares and blackbirds.
You’re most likely to spot them in the hedges of open countryside or grassy fields but they’ll also venture into parks and gardens if food is scarce.
These colourful migrants arrive from September onwards, but the greatest influx is during October and November so I’m confident of spotting one yet! Even if you don’t manage to see one, you might hear their clear, thin whistle at night as they maintain contact with one another as they fly to their final winter destination.
In the UK the redwing is red-listed because of the small declining breeding population centred in the Highlands of Scotland. However the species has never bred in Northern Ireland – although an attempt was recorded in County Kerry in 1951.
Come March these visitors will take flight back to more northerly climes to breed. Redwings raise their young in cup-like nests made of grasses, twigs and mud and a typical clutch has around five or six green spotted eggs.
After an incubation period of two weeks, the young take another fortnight to fledge and then the parents lay start all over again with another brood!
Photo credit: Mark Hamilton
This week is World Space Week, an international celebration of science and technology.
The United Nations General Assembly declared in 1999 that World Space Week would begin on 4 October each to year to commemorate the launch of the first human-made Earth satellite, Sputnik 1, on this day in 1957.
You might wonder why someone from the RSPB is writing about World Space Week. Well it’s because this year the theme is satellite navigation.
This revolutionary technology has enabled us to better understand one of the natural world’s greatest mysteries – migration.
Every year around 4,000 species, which make up 40 per cent of the world’s birds, take off in search of more suitable places to feed and breed.
We know that most birds use a combination of skills to find their way, but the sun is probably the most important signpost for migrating birds.
Even night-flying migrants usually set off at sunset, so they can get their first directions from the setting sun. They then follow the positions of the moon and stars.
In one experiment, scientists allowed birds to fly round inside a planetarium. As the artificial stars moved around the artificial sky, the birds adjusted their positions to keep on course – just as though they were on a real migration!
Tracking birds on their migration is really important for conservation as it helps us understand the challenges they face on their long journeys, from extreme weather to food shortages and human persecution.
This means we can work with our overseas partners to ensure that threatened species are protected when they leave our shores.
To mark World Space Week, we’re at the Ulster Museum on Saturday. Come along from 10am to 3pm for an introduction to satellite tracking.
For me, autumn is the most special season - when nature shows off its coat of many colours and huge flocks of birds come and go, all searching for a more temperate home for the colder months.
Most people will know that long-distance migrants like swifts leave our shores at the end of summer and undertake the arduous journey to Africa. But you might be surprised to learn how many other species are at it too. Even the blackbirds in your garden in January could be winter visitors from eastern Europe!
With species like swallows, house martins and terns already on the wing to balmier climes, they’ll soon be replaced by birds like fieldfares, whooper swans and many kinds of ducks, geese and wading birds.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that as temperatures tumble, we’ll see an influx of waxwings.
This exotic looking bird from Scandinavia is easily recognisable by its pinky/beige colour and prominent crest and is most likely to be seen gobbling berries in your garden.
We’ve only begun to unravel to mystery of migration in the last 100 years or so and the findings are fascinating.
We know birds can navigate by recognising familiar landmarks, such as coastlines, river valleys and even roads but many scientists also believe birds have an internal 'compass'.
Tiny grains of a magnetic mineral have been found in the head of some birds, including pigeons, which can detect the Earth's magnetic field, which may allow birds to navigate by finding the position of true north – pretty impressive!
To think these creatures, some no bigger than the palm of my hand, fly halfway around the world just to survive is amazing and I’m already looking forward to welcoming them back next spring.