Golden Autumn




What drives these minute little birds to make the journey? Why do they take such a huge risk? Launching themselves across the cruel broiling sea in a seemingly hopeless attempt to reach more promising feeding areas, safe from the advance of winters bite. The odds are so severely stacked against them, but still they come. And for the past week or so they have arrived in their thousands; Goldcrests mainly, minuscule packages of feathers no bigger than your thumb. On our east facing coast every stand of bushes or trees has held several of these incessantly active bundles of feathers; busy stocking up with the slim pickings of autumnal insect life to replace the energy expended in their epic journey across the featureless waters.

A look at the weather chart, or indeed poking your head out of the back door, over the past week would show lowering, rain filled cloud driven by a strong North-easterly wind clipping eastern England. The low pressure area producing these classic autumnal fall conditions picks up migrants leaving Scandinavia and northern Europe, even as far east as Russia, and throws them westwards towards our shores. And that is a marvel, a marvel of nature that happens every year here in our county. This years cast of displaced waifs, yellow-browed warblers, Pallass warblers, red-flanked bluetails, other warblers and shrikes have not disappointed the crowds of birders that eagerly await such events.

Not wishing to join the obsessive throng however, I chose to see what I could find in the quieter area of the dunes at Waxham last week. It was very soon clear that a major influx of birds was taking place with restless flocks of redwings and fieldfares very visible. I ambled south past Shangi-la (a well-known birding landmark - a beach house surrounded by thick vegetation) and found a sheltered spot protected by low scrub to simply stand and wait for the birds to come to me. I was royally entertained. Goldcrests moved past and around me in a ceaseless stream, uttering their high pitched contact notes as they busily hunted for sustenance. Some of these delightful, innocent faced little creatures came so close I could have easily reached out and touched them. They were constantly on the move, twisting their inquisitive heads to peer into every nook, their dark, beady eyes looking for tiny morsels with which to pluck off the yellowing leaves with their dainty, pointed beaks. They would often hover in hummingbird style to investigate the underside of foliage and I tried to capture this behaviour on camera, but the poor light and deteriorating weather made that task most difficult. After a while I put the camera away and simply watched.


 
 
 
 


These October influxes vary in their intensity, sometimes numbers of migrants are relatively low, sometimes much more significant. It is a hazardous undertaking though, and I once watched goldcrests being picked off by greater black-backed gulls a few metres from the shore at Mundesley a few years ago. On that occasion I also followed the progress of an exhausted lapwing that was struggling to make landfall. This poor bird flew inches above the waves in a labouring attempt to gain the beach. When only 20 metres from dry land it ditched into the sea and drowned. So sad, but simply one visible episode of a much wider saga played out across the oceans; these dramas must happen a million times every year well out of our sight.

So, to answer my opening questions. I guess the reason these diminutive forms show up here is essentially an accidental consequence of adverse weather. No doubt small numbers do intend to winter in our relatively mild clime, but most are making their way into southern Europe or even further south and east. Ive just been looking through some ringing recovery reports which show goldcrests ringed in Norfolk during October seem to move back to mainland Europe (Belgium) as soon as conditions improve where they will presumably continue south to their intended wintering areas. Many will die here because they cannot find sufficient food, they are predated or simply too exhausted. Whilst they are an undoubted delight to observe, lets hope for their sake that conditions soon improve to allow them to reorient and live out their short lives in peace.
 

Great Grey Shrike

Another migrant appearing briefly at Waxham


Brambling

A fine male newly arrived at Minsmere last week

 

Comments

  1. Here's to self finding. was that goldcrest eater your find? hope so

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  2. Almost! I was tramping about thinking of heading that way when a fellow birder told me about the GGS just over the next section of dunes. It was very flighty and i couldn't get much closer for a shot. Seen another at Strumpshaw yesterday and I think there have been at least 5 in that area. The one I saw was indeed hunting small birds, but they'll soon move on to leave the mixed flocks in peace. Perhaps you'll find one on your patch soon.

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  3. Fantastic 'Crest images: they are sooooo hard to catch!

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  4. Cheers mate......you should have seen the 150 shots I binned!

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  5. Love the last Goldie shot...
    there are always all sorts of insects in the hawthorns...
    especially lichen-covered ones!
    And, in the shot previous to that...
    I think you got the hover perfectly...
    we have a pair of Goldies every year in a huge ex-Christmas tree next to our lime....
    seldom seen... but always heard!!
    They seem so fiesty in head-on shots...
    your description brings back memories of sitting near the clifftop at West Runton...
    I didn't see them fly in... but suddenly every bushy plant and clump of grass was used as a staging post for a quick meal....
    I kept absolutely motionless...
    no need for binos...
    too close for the lens on the camera...
    and one cheeky little sod checked out my beard for titbits...
    forget it... never!
    Photo... not needed... a post like yours brings it all flooding back!!

    Here, our best "hoverers" are the tits, most warblers and the Black Redstarts... all of whom seem to think our windows are perfect hunting grounds.... which upsets the cats no end!!
    Or, perhaps, they are deliberatly teasing the cats... knowing full well there are two layers of glass between them and teeth!
    I know the Great Tits do....
    they fly down next to where the big "tom"cat has made himself comfortable... tilt their head sideways to check him out then flap their wings against the glass....
    if that doesn't have an effect...
    vigorous tapping of the glass occurs...
    it is fun to watch... irritates the cat no end...
    and, obviously, makes the bird happy!!
    I'll never get a picture.. unless I buy some Google Goggles...
    or happen to be walking past with the camera at the time!
    Keep writing in you wonderful way,
    Tim
    Aigronne Valley Wildlife

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  6. Thanks Tim, your kind words are much appreciated. Wish I could see the antics between the great tits and your cat - brilliant!

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