Last week I wrote of the subtle passage of migrants along the Northumbrian coast – of large flocks of swallows, meadow pipits and skylarks all heading south – the respective heralds of the changing season. Following on from that, and with the aid of some persistent easterly winds, the autumn floodgates have well and truly opened it now seems. And the past few days have been spent enjoying some of the very best wild spectacles I have ever had the pleasure to observe. From falls of migrant thrushes and eye-catching local rarities to vast skeins of jet-lagged geese inbound from the North. It has been truly wonderful.
Yellow-Browed Warbler (from last Autumn)
Wednesday morning began with more of a trickle than a flood, in truth, and 6am found me languishing amid the gravestones of a local cemetery in the dark. Listening to the constant “seep” of Redwings passing overhead as they breached the transitional boundary between surf and soil. A sound which, to me, epitomises the changing season, and, on this occasion, provided a fitting precursor of the joys to come. Further explorations around the local area revealing a few more treats. A male Brambling secreted amid a mobile charm of Goldfinches, a Woodcock hunched in a damp depression and innumerable Goldcrest uttering shrill cries from the many coastal thickets. Migrants each and all. My building optimism only amplified by the sheer number of Song Thrush and Blackbird dropping in as the morning progressed – much to the delight of the local Sparrowhawks. Three of which could be seen harrying the small flocks as they touched down, doubtlessly exhausted.
A few hours later and, quite frankly, sated for the day, I was ready to up stakes and leave when word broke of a monster autumn rarity on Lindisfarne – a short way up the coast. The day taking an exciting turn following a desperate plea to some local birders and culminating in me racing to get a look at the rather special bird. A bird which, since childhood, I had always stared at longingly in field guides, but due to their tendency to turn up on far-flung islands – Shetland and the like – had come to the conclusion I would never see. How wrong I was, the bird – a White’s Thrush – showing immaculately in a small stand of willows for the duration of my stay. It’s characteristic and rather beautiful scaled plumage alive in the Autumn sunshine as the thrush made a series of brief flights to and from its chosen perch. Seriously, if you do not know what a White’s Thrush is, Google one. They really are outstanding. (Or you can check out this photo by a friend of mine)
Lindisfarne is a place I seldom visit – just out of reach of my usual haunts and too far to travel absent a car. This day, however, satisfied with a touch of exotic glamour, I soon set about enjoying the bounty of autumn in full swing elsewhere on the island, making the most of my limited time here. The various sites visited alive with migrants, with each and every bush holding at least one bird, and more dropping out of the sky with each passing minute. Truly, before now I had not quite experienced a true “fall” of migrants, and what was to come proved nothing short of mesmerising. Even if most of the species seen were rather common.
Song Thrush were by far the most numerous species on the island, their sharp, single-note calls heard almost every minute, with some 111 birds noted during the course of the day. Their numbers rivaled only by the many Robins, Blackbirds and, to a lesser extent, Redwings, similarly fresh-in. Goldcrests were seen and heard with a similar degree of frequency while summer migrants too were prevalent. Chiffchaffs flycatching, Blackcaps squabbling over the few sparse berries not yet pilfered by the Thrushes and Wheatear hopping too and throw in the field margins. Sights rivaled only my the addition of Whinchat – a personal favourite – and later, another touch of scarcity in the form of a Yellow-Browed Warbler. A spritely little bird that breeds in Siberia, yet has flocked to the East coast in record numbers again this year. Beautiful, by any set of standards.
Of course the signs of Autumn abounding on Holy Island were not just limited to passerines, and during my time here, no less than three species of goose were observed on the move. Pink-Footed Geese inbound from the sea, flying with some haste towards their wintering quarters, and smaller flocks of wonderfully monochrome Barnacles. Their numbers matched only by the Light-Bellied Brent Geese which have, it seems, already made it back to the flats that surround the island. Feeding in a tight clump of some two-hundred or so bodies not far from the causeway. Later, ducks also began to move – with Wigeon, Teal, Goosander and Red-Breasted Merganser all passing high overhead, while wading birds too provided a welcome change of pace. Golden Plover by far the most numerous, with some 1500 roosting up in one particular field among a smaller number of Lapwing. The day concluding nicely with the whistling call of a Greenshank – another visitor – and a second Yellow-Browed Warbler, seen breifly in the canopy of yellowed Sycamore.
Lindisfarne and its bounty of birds certainly stands as the unrivaled highlight of the week, so far, though back at home yesterday the Autumn deluge continued. With Blackcap numbers increasing to almost a dozen in one now depleted stand of Elders and yet more thrushes plummeting from the sky as I watched, enthralled. A breif stroll along my local stretch of coastline providing another Brambling, a female this time, and a good haul of Lesser Redpoll, Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Skylark and more Brent Geese heading South. A breif spell of seawatching later culmuating in yet more geese, as well as a number of Common Scoter passing by with some haste. Alongside the winter vistors that remain here for the duration of the season – Red-Throated Divers, Great Crested Grebes and Sanderling.
Autumn is, without a doubt, my favourite season. And one never knows what you may see given the right mixture of luck and favourable weather. The last few days have been marvelous, and the productive trend of arrivals looks set to continue well into next week if the Met Office forecast is anything to go by. I will try to squeeze in a few more outings in between monotanous spells of university work but, if the worst comes to frutition, I stand happy already. White’s Thrush and a plethora of more common migrants, more than enough to keep me happy for another season.
Eyes on the skies guys, you never know what may be arriving in the next few days and weeks.
Lesser Redpoll – pretty in pink!