Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Ready for the deluge of migrants in September.

August through to November is without doubt one of the most exciting times in the birders diary as migration will be well under way, more specifically, September and October will produce the greatest movement and numbers of birds.
September is the pivotal month for bird migration when summer birds will meet the first incoming winter migrants.  The numbers of birds can be staggering as adults, juveniles, local, and incoming and outgoing migrants, all form a mouthwatering mix of ornithological brilliance.
Migrant birds can, and do, turn up anywhere and often something much rarer will associate themselves with more familiar species.
Migrant birds use stars, the moon and the sun as guides to aid passage, the magnetic pull of the earth, and visual cues which are thought to be retained in bird memories.
Finding an area of high ground will aid the birdwatcher who wishes to witness the miracle of bird migration as birds can be picked up at range, their numbers counted, behaviour can be studied, and the origins and intended destinations can provide food for thought.  Bird migration and conservation also go hand in hand as areas of habitat known as resting, feeding, and staging posts for tired migrants can be monitored and if necessary be protected if thought to be under threat.

On my Breckland patch, I discovered a little known area for watching migration close to the Norfolk parish of North Pickenham.  This area of high ground offers a distant and wide vista from the North-West to the North-East and the site itself has a wide variety of habitats and visual cues which will aid bird migration.
This locality has a fantastic supply of fruiting bushes and hedgerows in September, most notably Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Elder, Guelder Rose, and Bramble, additionally there are sources of water which attract birds.
Finding such a location and habitat will in September will provide very memorable birding experiences, however, any area of fruiting bushes and hedges, even in urban environments will attract migrants.
September is the month when Warbler species will be encountered in their greatest numbers, it also gives birders a great opportunity to brush up on plumages and different age groups of common birds, this is important as knowing common birds will be useful if you find something unusual.
Whitethroat (juvenile) at Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk.
I love to visit area of Elder, Hawthorn, and Bramble first thing on a September morning as migrants will be feeding and refuelling from a previous nights passage.  Species to be encountered in such habitats will include Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, and Spotted Flycatchers, whilst later in the month the first winter visitors will be encountered such as Blackbirds, Fieldfares, and Redwings.  When checking Thrush species always consider something more unusual with them such as Ring Ouzel as these birds often travel with their more familiar cousins.
The miracle of migration always enters my head when watching migrants at this time of year, I often think of where these birds may have bred, either in our islands or Europe, and speculate on the journey ahead of them and the varying routes that different species take. As birds pass through Britain they will do so on a broad front, however, different species will eventually break away to follow very specific routes, as well as being funnelled through specific crossing points over the Mediterranean.  I marvel for example that Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroats will share the same Elder bush on my patch to feed, however, as they depart our shores, Whitethroats will continue more or less south whilst Lesser Whitethroats will break away and follow a south-eastern route through Europe eventually crossing the eastern Mediterranean and wintering in North Eastern Africa.
River valleys in Breckland, and elsewhere of course, should be checked in September for the above migrants as well as Chat species, specifically Whinchat and Redstart.  The often well vegetated habitats at these features will see Whinchats using fence-posts and high vegetation to launch themselves from to pick off insects.  If you are very lucky, fence-posts and fencing may hold a migrant Shrike species.  Great Cressingham held a great rarity in July 1994 in the form of a Balearic Woodchat Shrike, this is only one of three that has occured in Britain.....check those fence-posts.
As well as checking habitats at ground level, also consider keeping an eye and an ear to the sky as overhead migrants will include passage Yellow Wagtails, an absolute gem of a bird, also check damp meadows and fields of grazing cattle for this beauty.
From about the middle of September, Meadow Pipits will be passing over sometimes in significant numbers, I have also seen Tree Pipits at this time as well....a good time to learn flight calls.
Whilst looking skyward as the day warms, watch for migrating raptor species.  Ospreys may be seen passing over in a southerly heading.  On the 14th September 2008 at my migration watchpoint near North Pickenham, a spectacular day for migration included 2 Ospreys and a Honey Buzzard.
Finally, I wrote earlier about how migrating birds can turn up almost anywhere.  On 17 September 2012, whilst watching birds in the garden, a juvenile Honey Buzzard approached from the North, passed directly above me and off in a southerly heading.....superb September. 


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