Everywhere I’ve looked this week there have been signs that for many of our birds the hard work of the breeding season is reaching its end. In the garden the adult Blue Tits visiting the drinking pool have been well past their best, feathers looking scruffy with gaps visible here and there on close observation. In a shaded part of the garden a male Blackbird hops furtively across the lawn looking very strange, as it appears in better light I realise that it has lost all its tail feathers and looks almost like a Dipper in body shape.
Both the Blue Tit and Blackbird highlight a key time for garden birds as they begin to moult old feathers and grow new ones after they’ve finished breeding. We’ll all notice that many of our garden birds will go absent over the next four-six weeks as they moult. They are still around but spend much more time under cover to reduce the chances of being predated whilst they are not in optimum condition to make an escape.
Away from the garden some waders are already arriving back in lowland and coastal spots post-breeding. I’ve encountered several small flocks of Lapwings, Curlews and Golden Plovers while out birding this week. Many of these early returners may have not bred successfully though some could have been early starters, their young now able to fend for themselves. This mini-migration from breeding sites back to coastal and lowland wintering sites will gather pace during July and August and adults will soon be followed by juveniles.
Elsewhere, we’ve had news from Greenland that many wader species have failed to breed entirely this year due to the late thaw of snow on the breeding grounds. Sanderlings, Red Knot and Dunlin – many of which may winter here in Britain – were observed to be missing from the normal breeding sites by scientists monitoring the waders each year. Birdwatchers involved in coastal wader counts here in Britain are being asked to carefully monitor the numbers of juveniles this winter to see if the lack of breeding in Greenland translates into lower winter numbers here.
Our Garden Birder’s Diary is written by Northumberland-based birder Alan Tilmouth who has been birdwatching for over 30 years and writing about birds in various guises for the last decade. A keen garden birdwatcher, he also manages to unearth the odd rare bird on his travels. You can find Alan on Twitter and his Facebook blog.