Wildlife Column: Autumn migration well  underway              

Meadow Pipit
Meadow Pipit

Whilst warmer weather may hold back a few species of birds from migrating, (I saw swallows quite recently for example), most of our summer visitors have now gone south.  They are quickly replaced by northern birds coming down to over-winter with us, and also huge numbers of birds simply ‘moving through’.

Whilst warmer weather may hold back a few species of birds from migrating, (I saw swallows quite recently for example), most of our summer visitors have now gone south. They are quickly replaced by northern birds coming down to over-winter with us, and also huge numbers of birds simply ‘moving through’.

Determined by wind strength, direction, and persistence there may be large numbers of commoner birds on migration and a smattering of rarities too. It is the latter that bird-watching ‘twitchers’ get so excited about as westerlies bring over North American birds and easterlies produce ones from Europe and even from Asia.

However, one of the mass movements often overlooked by the casual birder is that of the common birds moving within, through or to the British Isles. Around the south Pennines and Peak District for example, there are large numbers of birds moving over and these include many thousands of common species such as the meadow pipit. 

I always think that with their brown colouration and speckled sides these look rather like small song thrushes. Abundant in open habitats such as upland moors and heaths, the meadow pipits, with their soft ‘tissip’ or ‘eest’ calls, move north-east to south-west across out region as what is known as ‘visible migration’.

Flying at around five hundred to a thousand feet they generally pass well overhead unless you are up on the higher ground when they may come in at about head-height!

Much of the movement occurs early or late in the day, and many birds migrate at night guided by star-lit clear skies. Watch out for these birds and the less common species that also go through. Obvious ones as well are the large numbers of wood pigeons on migration. Listen at night for the soft ‘seeip’ of migrating redwings and generally  during daytime, the harsh ‘chak-chak’ of the fieldfare, both northern thrushes.

Another migration that is well underway now is that of the pink-footed geese moving from the north-west coast of Lancashire over the Peak and down to the Wash. Look for long skeins and listen for their loud calls.

Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues