This week I'm very grateful to guest blogger Jeff Delve, aka The Wallasea Birder, for this informative blog:
It is Autumn again!
I know, you are thinking that we haven’t really got into summer yet but for birdwatchers it is autumn. You see in spring our wintering birds migrate north to breed in the permanent daylight of the arctic and in autumn they return south to milder climes, feeding up before the rigours of winter.
By that definition a birdwatcher’s spring ends in mid June with the last arriving breeding birds and a few stragglers that have missed the boat this year and Autumn starts in early July as the first returning wading birds start to turn up in wetland areas.
These early birds are probably the ones that did not breed successfully, maybe first year birds just going through the motions, or failed breeders, perhaps their nests or young being victims of predators. With no reason to hang around the breeding areas they start to drift back south.
Whilst around the countryside generally and in our gardens there are family parties of finches and legions of juvenile tits and warblers, all locally bred, our wetlands have a mix of local breeding birds and drop in migrants.
By mid July those first few birds have started to become a flood. Green Sandpipers, Greenshanks and Whimbrel are already here on Wallasea, most likely birds from breeding areas in Northern Europe and Scandinavia rather than the far Siberian arctic. They have less distance to travel to our shores but before long they will be joined by longer distance migrants.
Along All Fleet’s Marsh, Whimbrels, seen heading north in May, are now back and numbers are growing. Over the weekend at least 18 were to be found, their trilling calls making identification easy as small groups fly up from the saltmarsh, especially near the webcam tower. Those with good ears may also identify the occasional Greenshank calling as it flies by, far easier to pick up by ear than finding them amongst the local Redshank tribe. Small groups of Dunlin, still sporting their black-bellied, chestnut-backed summer plumage, can be found hurriedly feeding on the mudflats as the tide falls and numbers of Ringed Plover will soon start to build up, picking their way across the muddy islands.
We are also seeing parties of Godwits, both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed, all sporting bright chestnut hued breeding plumage although their flight feathers have already started to moult out and they can look ragged on the wing. All these birds are adults or at least yearlings from last year.
As we move into August the numbers and variety of waders will increase and with luck we may get a few scarcer migrants to spice up the mix. The flocks of Dunlin and Ringed Plover may sometimes include the odd adult Curlew Sandpiper or Little Stint for example although these can be a challenge to pick out of the growing throng on high tide roosts.
By the middle of August the wader numbers will be swelled by the first juvenile birds, introducing a new range of plumages to the mix and providing another identification challenge. The young birds will all be sporting pristine new plumage whilst the adults will be looking a bit tatty as they start to moult out of their rather worn summer dress. By the end of our summer holidays migration will be reaching a peak and new birds will be coming through every day – so never mind the missing summer get out there and grab some early autumn migration!