Wednesday 11 March 2015

Watching the spectacle of bird migration

One of my passions has always been watching birds migrating. Not looking for the first swallow, but things like the first meadow pipit going over my garden in the Autumn - odd I know!

I never really thought about doing this in a particularly structured way, I would occasionally go to the top of a hill and sit and watch, but this never really seemed that successful.

In 2011 I moved to Whitley Bay in Northumberland and lived about two miles from the local bird club's seawatching hide - brilliant! This seemed a chance for some more structured migration watching. Not long after moving there the bird club had a talk on 'vismig' by a chap called Keith Clarkson. Keith is now the RSPB's Senior Sites Manager at Bempton Cliffs, but in his late teens and 20's he lived in Sheffield and had Redmires Reservoir as his local patch. Redmires is on the moors above Sheffield, as you can imaging being a reservoir its in a bit of a dip. Keith used to count the birds and regularly get the same number of meadow pipits flying around and didn't think much of it. Then one day he saw a flock of c200 meadow pipits on the deck in their favoured spot, as he walked rounds he counted a steady flow of meadow pipits passing him from the direction of this spot and he thought it was these birds leaving the area. When he returned there there were still 200 birds there....hmmmm. He watched the area for an hour or two and realised meadow pipits were arriving from the north, stopping to feed for a bit in this spot them moving on... The penny dropped on what was happening, the birds were migrating by effectively doing short hops from 'service station' to 'service station'.

meadow pipits taking a breather on migration

That was c40 years ago and since then visual migration has become a popular past time, with thousands of people all around the world recording their sightings. In Europe we use a website called Trektellen. I originally set up Seaton Sluice as a watchpoint on here and had amazing days of 1000's of duck, geese, swans and seabirds streaming by. The site is still updated by watchers there, but now I am living in land-locked Wiltshire, I watch from a local hilltop called Morgan's Hill. I have had some really interesting days with 100's of chaffinch, thrushes and woodpigeon piling through! Please take a look but I warn up, it is addictive! (NA)

Woodpigeons overhead
Fieldfare passing by


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