Eyes Peeled!

What Will Autumn Bring Us?

We will be bringing you seasonal updates about the wildlife to be seen in the vicinity of the River Foss. Our first offering is from mid-October by Mike Gray, a contributor to the wildlife section …

As the seasons change, so will the variety of bird species we see along and around the river.

It seems to me that Pyracantha berries are fewer in number this year than for many years, as are sloes, hawthorns and some other autumn fruits, whilst there is a plentiful crop of rowanberries. It’s rather more difficult to assess seed numbers, especially vital tree seeds such as beech mast, and just looking around locally does tend to be less than statistically accurate!

We’ll have to wait and see what happens, but if food sources are poor on the continent, we will get waves of birds coming over here looking for food. If it is in short supply here too, some birds will continue on south until they find what they need, whilst others will stay around but move more and more into gardens, especially those with feeders.  Much will depend upon a combination breeding success and how cold it gets to the northeast of the UK, especially in Scandinavia and Russia.

Migration is often not as obvious in the autumn as it is in spring with summer visitors ‘disappearing’ gradually, often without notice. Winter visitors tend to arrive over a longer time period and are not in such a rush as spring migrants; the urgency of the breeding season is not there. It’s a really exciting time though, with winter thrushes, flocks of geese and swans arriving and the dispersal of raptors to their wintering grounds.

Swifts, Swallows and House Martins have already headed south to Africa for the winter and some of our winter visitors have started to arrive. Lots of birds are passing though too, heading south, and it’s a good time to see all sorts of unusual birds around, especially those that have been blown off course or otherwise diverted. Flocks of tits form around now too, and they can contains less common species, such as Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs.

One of the highlights of late autumn and early winter is anticipating how many Waxwings will reach our shores this year. The last few winters have seen only a handful of records and it is four winters since the last sizeable Waxwing influx.

So far, signs have been promising, with small flocks noted all along the east coast of Britain. These should move inland in the next few weeks and are likely to turn up virtually anywhere that has a plentiful supply of berries. To find your own Waxwings this winter, keep an eye on stands of rowan and cotoneaster and listen out for their trilling call.

A Redwing.  Photo by John Harding, courtesy of BTO

A Redwing. Photo by John Harding, courtesy of BTO

Some Redwings have probably already

arrived, and Fieldfares and Bramblings will not be far behind, again depending on food availability and weather on their breeding grounds. Look out for these and other thrushes in the fields around the Foss: they can sometimes be found feeding on the ground in fair sized flocks, often mixed up together.


A Fieldfare. Photo by Jill Pakenham, courtesy of BTO

Fieldfare. Photo by Jill Pakenham, courtesy of BTO

But it’s not only winter visiting species that are on the move. Our resident Chaffinches, Goldcrests, Robins, Starlings and Blackbirds will all be joined by their continental cousins. Many are indistinguishable, but sometimes, if you see them side by side, slight differences in size or colour can become apparent.

Our thanks to the British Trust for Ornithology for their permission to use these photographs. If you want to find out more about migrating birds, then visit their website.