The Wanderer of Fields

They are on the move; fieldfares, northern thrushes, now making their way through Norfolk and other eastern counties back to breeding grounds in Scandinavia and beyond. There has been a noticeable buildup of these colourful, nomadic birds on our grazing marshes and arable fields over the past week or two with groups hopping around the sodden ground teasing out worms, beetles and other invertebrates sheltering in clumps of grass or under withered leaves of root crops. But they are wary these creatures, sensitive to every movement and hard to approach. Most now sport smart breeding plumage with their russet, grey and ochre feathering glowing resplendent in the rays of this welcome late winter sun. But stealth is required to get close enough to fully appreciate the richness of their attire; in this respect a car serves well as a mobile hide. Slowly driving along the narrow lanes of the Yare Valley at the weekend I came upon lots of fieldfares standing upright and alert. By slowly creeping along the tracks I managed to get close enough, just once or twice, for a photograph before some clumsy movement or noise sent them chattering into the safety of a hawthorn or looping away to a point further from intrusion.

During clear autumn days these birds herald the approach of winter when their pleasant ‘chack- chack’ calls echo across October and November skies. They flood into the UK when their homegrown rowanberry crops are exhausted and waste little time setting about our hawthorn bushes, gorging themselves on the bright red fruit.  They move through the country and into Ireland as the winter progresses, seeking milder climes when the east wind bites. If hard weather hits the near continent further influxes will occur and it is then that they will enter gardens robbing the resident blackbirds of their precious holly berries and stripping withered apples from leaf- bare trees. Sometimes flocks, emboldened by hunger, will seek sustenance on garden lawns, pecking at fallen fruit or provender put out for other birds. But mainly they are spirits of open country, shunning human habitation and proximity. Strangely that’s not always the case on their breeding grounds where they will happily share public parks and gardens with us Homo sapiens. I’ve seen them hopping around in the middle of Stockholm amidst trams, buses and pedestrians as well as on village greens in Romania where they act just like our own songthrushes and blackbirds, digging for worms with which to feed their hungry young.

I always feel quite humbled to witness bird migration or movement. Most is subtle and goes unnoticed, but these wanderers form visual proof that winter is drawing to a close. Sure there will be periods of freeze; winds, rain, snow and frost have not done with us yet, but the birds are responding to some deep rooted instinct that prompts them to move north, go home to seek territory to foster another generation. For a little while they will tarry on our windswept fields but soon they will depart: I for one will be sorry to see them go.