Aston Lodge Residents Association

Winter Migrants at Aston Lodge Park

Robin
Robin

A while back I was at Spurn Bird Observatory for a week in October. It is situated on a 3-mile spit of land, extending into the Humber estuary and is a magnet for migrant birds, arriving from over the North Sea. One day, there was a sea fog at dawn and suddenly, out of the mist, thousands of birds spiralled out of the sky to land in the bushes. There were birds everywhere, thrushes, Goldcrests, Robins, rarities. I have never seen the like since – a once in a lifetime's event.

But why mention it here? Can we see migration or its effects at Aston Lodge Park? Well, sort of! Have you ever noticed an increase in Blackbirds (I once counted 17 around the Grassy Patch) or heard the thin "Seeep" call of Redwings passing over after dark? It may not be on the scale of the East Coast, but it's migration.

Migrant Birds

So, what migrant birds can you expect in your garden or thereabouts? You may be surprised at some of the species.

Woodpigeon

That may surprise you! In October/November, large numbers fly over, heading south. I have counted over 2,000 in a couple of hours! Nobody knows for sure where they have come from or where they are going to, but it can be spectacular to watch.

Woodpigeon
Woodpigeon

Fieldfare

Together with Redwing and Blackbird, Fieldfare is one of main winter visitors. They come from Scandinavia and points north and east, arriving in October and leaving by April. Numbers can vary depending on food resources abroad. Once here, they head for the berry-bearing trees and bushes like Hawthorn and Rowan. If you have wind-fall apples, then they will be thankful for them.

Fieldfare
Fieldfare

Redwing

Like Fieldfares and Blackbirds, Redwings are one of our main winter migrants. Also like Fieldfares, they come from Scandinavia and points north and east, but they wander widely. Some years the same birds might be back here, other years, down in France and Spain. They are the smallest of our thrushes and so can suffer more when food is scarce. This is when they appear in your gardens. With the other thrushes, they migrate at night and this is when you can hear them calling in the darkness as they fly over – stirring stuff!

Redwing
Redwing

Blackbird

It may surprise you to know that large numbers of Blackbirds migrate to this country from abroad – but they do. You can't tell the continental birds apart, but you might suddenly be aware of a lot of them about.

Male Blackbird
Male Blackbird
Female Blackbird
Female Blackbird

Song Thrush

Surprisingly, Song Thrushes are common winter visitors. The continental birds have a more olive colour, but you need to see them together with our birds to notice that difference. They are quite prone to bad or cold weather and they will often move westwards when that occurs. Sadly, because of their size, they do suffer from "bullying" by the larger Blackbirds.

Song Thrush
Song Thrush

Chaffinch

A common migrant from Scandinavia. Continental birds are identical to our native species, so those in your garden may well be visitors. In winter the Chaffinch's blue bill turns flesh-coloured and his blue head tinged brownish.

Male Chaffinch
Male Chaffinch
Female Chaffinch
Female Chaffinch

Brambling

The numbers of Bramblings visiting us for the winter, is dependent upon the Beech nut crop (or mast) abroad. In good years for Beech mast, numbers here can be low – the birds have no need to come this far, so we see fewer. In central Europe, there are roosts of Bramblings in the MILLION, in the Beech forests!

Male Brambling
Male Brambling
Female Brambling
Female Brambling

Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpolls are birds of Birch woods; they breed on Cannock Chase, Parkhall, etc., but are mainly birds of the north. In winter, when weather is bad, we can get large numbers coming down from Scotland, as well as from Scandinavia. They do visit gardens and particularly like Nyger seed and Sunflower hearts.

Male Lesser Redpoll
Male Lesser Redpoll
Female Lesser Redpoll
Female Lesser Redpoll

Siskin

The number of Siskins visiting us has been influenced by garden feeding. They come from Scandinavia, as well as from the Scottish pine woods, but they also breed in small numbers on Cannock Chase for instance.

Male Siskin
Male Siskin
Female Siskin
Female Siskin

Robin

Another surprise, I suspect! Many of our familiar birds in this country are sedentary, but abroad they wander widely; and also behave differently. Robin for instance is rather skulking. Robins do migrate over here and I recall ringing over 400 in a week at Spurn Point! So, the Robin in your garden might be a foreigner!

Robin
Robin

Goldcrest

Also surprising, Goldcrests are our smallest bird, weighing in at 5.5g, about as much as a 20p piece, yet they come here from as far away as Russia, often in large numbers. One year we ringed over 1000 in a week at Spurn! Being so small, they are extremely vulnerable to cold weather, so may move away if it gets severe. They will feed on garden fats.

Female Goldcrest
Female Goldcrest

Starling

Starlings are well-known migrants, arriving in large numbers from Scandinavia. Their numbers can build up into huge roosts, with spectacular aerial displays. It is not unusual to see them gathering on aerials on the estate, before going off to roost.

Starlings
Starlings
Roost at Opal Way
Roost at Opal Way

Pink-footed Goose

Every year, the bulk of the population of this species leaves Iceland and heads for the east coast. From there, some move westward to the coast and fields of Lancashire. On that journey, they skirt the south of the Pennines, bringing them over the Potteries, sometimes in large numbers. Here, we are just south of their flight line, but we do occasionaly gets skeins passing over, often high up. You often here them first; they sound like yapping dogs. When the weather is bad on the east coast, further movements occur over North Staffordshire.

Skein of Pink-footed Geese over Aston Lodge Park
Skein of Pink-footed Geese over Aston Lodge Park
Pink-footed Geese
Pink-footed Geese

Lapwing

Lapwings gather in large numbers in winter, on inland fields and marshes, where they feed on small invertebrates in the soil. When the weather turns cold and the land freezes, they are forced to move, usually south and west, for milder climes. When this happens, it is not unusual to see small flocks passing overhead. These are "weather movements", rather than true migration.

Lapwings
Lapwings

Blackcap

Blackcaps are familiar summer visitors, but we get them in the winter too. However, these winter birds are from eastern Europe, swapping a severe winter there, for a less severe one here, while our birds head south to southern France and beyond. These wintering birds have been aided and encouraged by us feeding them, especially by providing fats.

Male Blackcap
Male Blackcap
Female Blackcap
Female Blackcap

Waxwing

Finally, one of our most hoped for winter visitors. They come from Scandinavia, following the berry crops, as they move south. In years of plenty, they have no need to come over here, but when they do, they head straight for trees like Rowan. For this reason, they are often seen in urban streets, around supermarket car-parks etc., where these trees are planted. We have seen them on our estate. This photo is from our garden:

Waxwing at Leacroft
Waxwing at Leacroft

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Copyright © - November 2021. Unless otherwise stated, images and text: David Emley. All rights reserved.