Monday, 13 September 2010

On the move

Early autumn fogs hold the prospect of vagrants from the east. Small migrant birds, setting off from Scandinavia under clear skies, may find themselves drifted west across the North Sea. Here they may encounter a bank of fog or rain, which forces them down on to the East Anglia coast. If the combination and timing of these meteorological conditions happens in a certain way then many hundreds or even thousands of birds may seek the relative security of England’s east coast. This is a truly exciting event for the birdwatcher and an early morning walk among the dunes at Winterton or along the long shingle ridge towards Blakeney Point may yield some stunning birds. The sight of hundreds of Robins or Pied Flycatchers is one not readily forgotten. In with these more familiar migrants may be less commonly encountered species, including various warblers, thrushes and other delights.

Frustration comes when the forecast shows real promise and you have a full day of work ahead, with no prospect of an early morning dash to the coast. The walk out to Blakeney, which is to be recommended, is at least a half-day affair and not something you can squeeze in before work. It is a strange place, an exposed and empty landscape, touched by the hand of past human activities to leave a desolate air. In the clearing mists of early morning, ridges of shingle take on weird shapes and the landscape appears all the more alien. I sometimes feel as if everything else has gone, that human society has disappeared and all that is left are vague echoes of our presence in the form of discards from passing ships and former inhabitants of the point.

The Point at Blakeney has held some nice birds over the last two weeks, with one of my favourites – the Wryneck – reported by visiting birdwatchers. There are some birds that seem ideally suited to a particular place or landscape and the Point is the place that I most strongly associate with the Wryneck. This diminutive member of the woodpecker family was once a regular breeder across much of England but now it is effectively extinct as a breeding species – a real loss.

The arrival of these autumn migrants feels somewhat early this year, no doubt a reflection of the cold autumnal spell felt in the last two weeks of August. I usually associate late September and early October with visits to the coast to watch visible migration in action (the sight of pipits and thrushes passing south at dawn) or to seek out some of our rarer visitors. Even now, the long walk on shingle might be hard work but the rewards are likely to be worth it.

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