If you’ve been outside on a quiet night this week you may have heard strange calls in the sky? Arriving in their thousands during the hours of darkness, only revealing their presence in the night sky as they fly high overhead by their frequent contact calls, a slightly high pitched ‘zsteep’ those sounds are of course Redwings and this week has seen a huge arrival from Scandinavia spread over several days with many grounded temporarily on the East Coast in wet or foggy conditions before moving on inland as the weather improved.
Redwings are the smallest of our regular thrushes and many thousands winter here each year, making the journey across the North Sea in a single hop to benefit from our milder climate. Slightly smaller than Song Thrush they can be identified by the bright cream supercilium above the eye, short tail and a rusty-red patch along the flanks, though occasionally this can be difficult to see.
During late September and October as Redwings arrive as well as being heard calling in darkness, many can be seen early morning continuing their journey in small groups often flying in a south-westerly direction. As winter progresses they can be found on higher ground often in mixed flocks with Fieldfares.
If hard weather hits Redwings will make short distance movements and frequently appear in gardens in search of fruit and other food. I’ve had Redwings in the garden several times, though almost always when there has been heavy snowfall in the preceding days. As soon as the snow begins to melt they are gone so perhaps they are yet to adapt to spending any significant time in gardens.
Not all our Redwings come from Scandinavia though, there are a few that winter here that arrive from Iceland, these slightly larger darker individuals of the race coburni are found in small numbers in Britain each year. Not easy to identify, good pictures are always helpful and they seem to have a westerly bias in their distribution. A tiny handful remain to breed in the North of Scotland some years, but these are a few are and far between.
If you’ve been watching Autumnwatch they’ve been talking about migration too. As they’ve moved over the Atlantic to New England this year it’s really interesting viewing to see many species that are similar to some of our garden birds.
The Blue Jay is brighter and bolder than our Eurasian Jay and is almost more Magpie-like in it’s habits. Look at the Nuthatches and Finches and the ‘Chickadees’ and it’s easy to see they have common ancestry with our own Nuthatch, Greenfinch and Tits.
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.