Mistle Thrushes are singing. As autumn comes to an end they often sing, perhaps staking out territories for next spring. Most however travel around in small flocks and this is the best time of the year to see them. These large thrushes, with distinctive silver under wings search out berries in hedgerows and have a distinctive upwards swoop when alighting in a tree. Blackbirds stopped singing in July, but on warm autumn days they too can sometimes be heard singing softly for short periods in the early morning. They're in the garden now, quietly striping the cotoneaster of its berries.Even though it's late November, there’s been no frost and the temperature is unseasonably warm. It's been a bumper year for berries and when the weather finally turns cold, there'll be plenty to feed the all five species of winter thrushes. Song thrushes are nowhere to be seen at present, but will start to appear along with Redwings and Fieldfares after the first frosts and when winter arrives in the east.
Friday, 25 November 2011
It’s just after a high neap tide in the middle of the day; the water is receding over a wet shore, leaving tiny puddles from the ripples of the gentle waves. There’s a hazy sun and the light is silvery grey. A warm southerly onshore breeze carries the calls of Oystercatchers towards me over the hissing sea. Sanderlings, Dunlin and Turnstones arrive, eager to feed on the newly exposed mud. At first, I hear only the distinctive rattles of the Turnstones, but gradually pick up soft calls of Dunlin; the Sanderlings are silent. Alone on this stretch of the beach, I’m able to walk slowly to the water’s edge and get very close to the busy flock. Even without binoculars, I make out the exquisite plumages of these delicate creatures, this year’s young showing buff edges to their beautifully patterned feathers. I see the perfect camouflage of these little waders with the shore, as they sometimes seem to melt into the wet silvery pools. They stay for four or five minutes and without warning are off to work another patch a little way along of the beach. In what seems like no time at all there’s a great expanse of mud, the birds have gone and the sound of the silvery sea is a distant memory.
Thursday, 17 November 2011
Chris mentioned the other day that there’s lots of red in the countryside at the moment. Unlike North America, we don’t get the intense riots of reds in the autumn leaves, but if we look close they are there. Hidden on a pile of fallen leaves I can see so many shades of colour ranging from bright yellows through browns to deep, rich red. But it’s the berries that are really red and it’s been a very good year. Hedgerows are laden with millions of hawthorn berries, rose hips are everywhere and in churchyards, yews have produced a good crop. If we get another hard winter like the last two, there’ll be plenty of food for the redwings, which have already arrived in Chris's garden.
This unseasonably mild November has meant that red admirals are still on the wing. Two rest in full sun on what’s left of a poor blackberry crop, the intense red on their wings a blaze of colour, contrasting with white and jet black.
Paler, but no less beautiful, the breast of a robin makes me looks closer. I see more orange than red. Great-spotted woodpeckers are at the garden feeders every day now and then there are the goldfinches with their amazing red faces. On the beach, Redshank’s legs stand out in the sun, reflecting beautifully in the still water of a pool, whilst the blood red of Oystercatchers bills couldn’t be more intense.
I could search and find more, but Chris was quite right.
Sunday, 13 November 2011
Sitting on a bench overlooking the sea on an unseasonably warm November day, the thin, hazy sun reflects silver and grey and lights the autumn flowering of gorse on the cliffs behind. There’s a slight breeze and few birds, save the odd passing gull and a shag diving between crests in the waves. The sun’s glare closes my eyes and I’m aware of the sound of the gently breaking surf. It’s soft, calming, continuous and at the same time intermittent; I’m mesmerised. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, just an everyday sound that I realise I miss most times I walk these very familiar cliff paths. I finally open my eyes and realise how fortunate I am to live in this wonderful place.
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
There’s not a cloud in the sky. The warming November sun illuminates the wet mud and it’s perfectly still. As if by magic, the empty shore is suddenly full of flashing grey and white wings. 300 or more Sanderlings swirl low over the ground, gyrating left and right, white under-wings glinting as they catch the late afternoon light. The rhythm is breathtaking; some break away into a smaller group then reunite before the whole flock lands gently on the mud. In a moment, they’re off again, landing further away this time in a flooded depression. They bathe busily, the sound of wings travelling across the silent shore. Sanderlings hardly ever seem to rest, incessantly running over the mud at what appears full speed; they stop only for an instant to grab a morsel. Again, and with no apparent signal, the flock takes off and provides another marvel of synchronised flight as before disappearing out of sight to a distant part of the beach.