Friday, 1 October 2010

A passage to Africa

When I got up and looked out at the dark skies this morning, well before sunrise, the wind, thrashing through the trees, foretold what we were going to be in for at the cliff top.

Having covered and stored my moth traps for later examination I arrived at the Monument at about 7.20am and straight away I was aware of a group of Swallows moving south, into the wind. A minute or so later Jack joined me and we found a sheltered spot to watch the movement along the cliff top. It wasn't one of those exciting mornings when the anticipation of a scarce bird is satisfied by the arrival of a Yellow-browed or Radde's Warbler, it was far more basic than that. The thrill of watching waves of migrating Swallows and House Martins, moving quickly into a head wind is that fundamental feeling that made me become a life long birder. I suspect it is the same emotion that stirred the curiosity in Gilbert White and other pioneer naturalists in days gone by. Seeing rare birds remains exciting for most birders, including me, but often it only requires the ability to read a pager, a map and drive a car. Witnessing the force of nature as it happens is a far more basic experience.

As we watched a Peregrine hung in the air, almost stationary, for several minutes, as if surveying it's Kingdom below. I didn't see it hunting, it was as if the skill of remaining in one place, with hardly a flap, while it faced into the wind, was enough for it.

Herring Gulls progressed slowly into the wind, again with hardly a flap, rather like a yachtsman sails his boat into a headwind. At one time one drifted past the Peregrine, only yards from it, but neither deviated an inch from their paths. We watched the visible migration for a hour, counting the birds that passed by our immediate vicinity. Looking inland it was clear that this hirundine passage was on a wide front and that we were probably just catching the tip of an iceberg. Nevertheless we had counted over five thousands Swallows and House Martins in the hour with Swallows comprising about 55%. At the same time Derek Faulkner was witnessing a movement of House Martins on Sheppey, but unlike us he also have a good number of Sand Martins, while we only saw one (doubtless we missed a few). There were also smaller numbers of Meadow Pipits and Goldfinches on the move. The weather didn't improve and on our walk round we found far fewer birds than yesterday, it seemed as it many of the Chiffchaffs and other migrant warblers had moved on. By late morning the rain set in and I retired to sort through my moth traps, an exercise that wasn't too taxing as the catch had be rather disappointing.


Derek Faulkner said...


Basic birdwatching as you describe it can be every bit as rewarding as say twitching, unfortunately many birdwatchers have lost the ability to enjoy such simple treats and get hung up on the rarer species.

Warren Baker said...

Still more coming through today today Tony (sat)