Although the exciting southern bound migration is beginning to slow down with the onset of winter, there will still be a movement through for a while yet. At the moment the county is enjoying a widespread irruption of blackcaps. Obviously having enjoyed a successful breeding season they have moved away in numbers, landing across the county and occupying every likely looking shrub as they forage and hunt. Along with them have come flocks of blackbirds and the start of the winter thrushes. There was even a flock of a thousand plus redwings and fieldfares down Burwick way recently!
I love to see the thrushes return; although many will be passing through we will keep some as wintering flocks. Redwings seem to stay in Orkney in bigger numbers than Fieldfares. It’s at this time that I look nervously at my rosa rugosa and wonder if all the big berries will survive the thrush onslaught before the rock stars of migration arrive on the scene. Over the next few weeks one of the most popular of all visiting birds – the waxwing – will pass through the county. This stunning looking beast with its red and yellow coloured feather tips and its bandit-like mask will enthral all who see them. They do have a tendency to seep into berry bearing bushes and hoover them dry. Apples and soft fruit spiked out in shrubs often draws them to gardens where they can be very obliging whilst there’s food. As waxwing fever spreads across the county it’s not unusual for the shops to run dry of apples! Be warned…
It’s a sobering thought that Christmas lurks around the corner. The clocks have already gone back and the darkness of winter is well and truly with us.
A lot of folks might think that this is the end of the birding year, but you could not be further from the truth. In these short days of low sunlight, some of our greatest wildlife spectacles shine. Although we still look for those interesting individuals it is populations in bulk that bring wonder now. In the fields huge flocks of wintering Curlew probe.
Golden plover in their thousands can turn the sky dark as they wheel about. Small birds of the fields are represented in the big numbers game with linnet and reed buntings often merging with the huge wintering twite flocks around the numerous bird crops and stubble fields. Another delight around coastal links and muddy holes in the stubble fields are the snow buntings, a mountaintop dweller here for our sea-warmed winter climate. Across the lochs and seashore wildfowl are spread in flocks. Taking advantage of still mornings, a flat calm surface combined with binoculars or a scope will reveal just how many birds are about. Along with huge numbers of potchard, tufted and greeb, there will be goldeneye, mergansers and goosander flocks of scaup, longtailed duck or the rarer pintailed duck and gargany to search for. Add to the mix six breeds of geese, 3 or 4 breeds of divers, little greeb, mute and whooper swans, not to mention the ever present possibility of an errant otter turning up to excite things. Well worth braving a little chill in the wind at the time to witness.