This is a unique time of year when we see the movement of birds on migration. The new season arrives, and we start to spot some interesting birds arrive or pass by the British Isles. Long summer days with singing breeding birds is replaced by wild weather and cold winds that bring in a variety of winter visitors that we can look out for. Here we explore some of the species found in the Cairngorms or surrounding areas and what makes them fantastic winter visitors to look out for.
One of the most noticeable arrivals are the thousands of geese species arriving overhead and landing on coastal areas. Other geese species include Barnacle, Brent, Greenland White-fronted geese. The Pink-footed geese arrive in very vocal flocks in our skies before landing in fields to feed and roosting on inland water or coastal mud flats at night. They can be confused with Greylag geese that are resident here all year round but have a much darker brown head and pink feet.
Spending their summer breeding in Iceland they will make their way to us over a few days, with the sight and sound of their skeins arriving at dusk quite a spectacle and a highlight of any birders Autumn. Get yourself to a local goose roosting area at dusk and listen to their chorus coming overhead as the land for the night.
One of the most striking of flock birds that can be seen gathering in areas of Britain is the Bohemian Waxwing. Their name was given due to the yellow and red tips to their wings, looking like they have been dipped in melted wax. They have a beige appearance with a tall head crest and black faces. Similar size to a Starling, they can flock in large numbers, coming over to the UK for fruit and berries if conditions in their eastern countries like Scandinavia aren’t suitable. We don’t always get big numbers, more of an influx in some years.
If they do visit us, they typically arrive in late October into November, often found in gardens or parks with fruit trees, and rowan berries. Sometimes they hang around here into early spring, taking on a fly-catching approach when the berry stocks have vanished.
Redwing (and Fieldfare)
A similar size to Song Thrush, the redwing is a winter visitor from Iceland and Scandinavia. Similar markings also to a thrush, they have distinctive red underwings, pale tummies, brown on their back and head with a pale stripe above their eye. They will feed on mainly berries such as hawthorn and rowan and worms, visiting the gardens on stormy days. They will often mix with other thrushes like Mistle thrush in fields, and another winter visitor, the Fieldfare. The Fieldfare is much larger thrushes with a much greyer appearance and orange striped chest.
Arriving in late September, early October, the Redwing will often arrive in mass flocks and can arrive in areas overnight. When conditions are right, they will gather on Scandinavian coasts at dusk before commencing across the North Sea in one flight, around 500 miles. Some North Sea oil platforms have even recorded this mass migration overnight. Their call is a unique and high pitched “seep, seep.”
Autumn is truly a magical time to look out for mass arrivals of birds such as geese and waders to our coats, hedgerows and gardens. Keep an eye out in your area and keep up to date with Speyside Wildlife for unique ways to see this spectacle.