While out for a walk with my son this morning we noticed a small flock over lapwings passing overhead. Just a dozen or so.
We rarely see them around here despite the Somerset Levels, about half an hour away, being an important winter site for them. The last time I saw them here was February 2018 when we had the so-called Beast from the East.
I recall watching flocks of lapwings heading south west, never large in number, along with golden plover, redwings and fieldfares. Rather than the blue sky and broken cloud of today, it was a dark heavy sky, thick with snow. I remember checking on Twitter and saw report after report of birds reaching the coast, desperately seeking shelter and perhaps more importantly, food in the unfrozen edges of estuaries and shorelines. Photos of lapwings in residential streets, or huddled around the hulls and buildings of a boatyard stick in my mind. All the places you’d never normally see them.
And then over the following days, after the thaw, stories of dead birds strewn along hedgerows and the edges of fields. The ones that didn’t make it.
I presume the flock I saw today were heading away from the east where the weather has been much colder than here. Unlike the birds in 2018, unfrozen ground will be much easier to find.
It’s blowy, wet and cold out there this morning. But I could hear a blackbird singing. First one of the year. And not it’s winter sub-song but the full-phrase version.
So while it’s still winter in that damp way we seem to specialise in here, you can hear spring coming.
A couple centimetres of snow this morning. Funny how that completely changes the dynamic of the bird interactions at our feeders. As a rule each species tends to keep a respectful distance from each other. The sparrows are a boisterous lot and are generally a bit much for the blue tits. But then the robins usually see off the sparrows, and pretty much anyone else. Today, particularly on the table where we put old apples and bird seed, they were all piling in, the need for food taking precedence over any kind of hierarchy.
Unusually, a small flock of goldfinches came and fed on the seed heads of the winter savoury in our herb bed. We often see them in the top of our walnut tree but I’ve never see them so close to the house before. Such an attractive bird.
Temperatures climbed marginally above zero promptly so the snow started to melt quite early. Off we went for a walk while it still looked good. We found roe deer tracks in the snow. Eventually spotted one in a belt of oak trees. In a nearby cider orchard flocks of starlings, fieldfares and blackbirds were noisily feeding on the few remaining apples on the ground.
By the time we were walking back much of the snow on the lanes had melted. Glad we grabbed the moment.
One morning this last week I stepped outside at first light. It was very still and quiet. My attention was drawn to the sound of redwings overhead. The first I’ve seen this autumn. Just a few small flocks but a sure sign of the turning of the seasons. Later on the same day I saw a handful of swallows. Another remnant of summer. Two species who’s combined migratory range extends from Siberia to South Africa.
It’s strange how a sight or sound can be so evocative of a particular season that in a single day two separate moments can feel like completely different times of year.
In the first four days of October we have had two–three times the rainfall that we had throughout the whole of September.
Over the past week we have had the first frost, first evening with the wood burner lit, and the first mornings with the heating on. A small flock of mistle thrushes was in the chestnut tree in the church yard next door – we occasionally see a pair around here, but to see a flock can only mean they are winter migrants from the continent.
This morning, while walking the dog in the rain, I watched a handful of swallows flying at ground level in a neighbouring field, weaving in and out of a flock of sheep. So still a few remnants around.
Firsts and lasts.
The swallows have definitely left now, the odd straggler around, possibly the late brood feeding up before leaving. Heard a Little owl during the night, the first I’ve heard this autumn. Various warblers on the move as well: willow warblers, chiffchaffs, and blackcaps.
It might be my over active imagination, but golden hour seems to be continuing longer after sunrise than I’d normally expect. I wonder if there are enough particulates from the US wildfires in the atmosphere here to cause a noticeable effect?