The welcome immigration from the continent of huge numbers of birds, notably of Thrushes, Starlings & Finches, is a feature of October. This can be witnessed as the phenomenon of visible migration where flocks of migrating birds pass overhead during the day, sometimes in considerable numbers. In the case of Redwings, they can be also heard to do so at night (as was especially the case on the 27th). This phenomenon is best observed from dawn using a high vantage point where flocks of birds can be seen approaching from a distance. With some skill and a little more practice the flocks can be identified using a combination of “jizz” (general impression of size and shape), obvious field marks such as wing bars and probably most importantly call. Sometimes the birds are heard but not seen! Along with the regular species something rarer may be detected although the five Bramblings noticed overhead on the 14th were not entirely unexpected amongst the Chaffinch flocks. Seven Linnets flying south on the 29th are themselves scarcely seen in the Park. Of the Thrushes, hundreds of Redwings flew over on the17th, but only a few flocks of Fieldfare were seen with 30 on the 28th being the largest. The maximum count of Song Thrush was 62 on the 21st. A few grounded birds were seen to be of the colder toned continental race. A tight flock of 33 Stock Doves began their migration on the 18th by flying up from Conduit Wood and circling to gain height before heading purposefully south. A Snipe heading high to the south-west was a surprise on the 10th and another was seen in flight over Pond Slade later in the day. A flock of 36 Magpies on the 13th may have been considered unlikely migrants. Towards the end of the month Wood Pigeons were on the move.
Grounded migrants included a Wheatear lingering for a few days by the rabbit warren on The Bog, evading dogs and their walkers. Canine disturbance was also avoided by five Skylarks that took refuge in the riding ring and up to 40 Meadow Pipits that sought shelter in the two remaining patches of bracken. Up to 24 Skylarks were seen to come and go from Lawn Field on the 9th. Influxes of Blackbirds occurred on the 10th and 29th with 20 on each day found in Hawthorns in the Holly Lodge area. Six Pied Wagtails were in the Paddocks on the 5th and small parties of Stonechats were encountered in open areas during the month; some should remain to winter. Flocks of Redpolls, Siskins and Goldfinches were found feeding in alders and birches and two Linnets flew off from Pond Slade on the 19th.
The most unusual bird of the month was on the day of the autumn bird walk, the 17th. A Yellowhammer was unfortunately seen by only one of the group perched in the lone dead hawthorn on The Bog. This declining farmland bunting used to breed in the Park up until the seventies. What may have been an even rarer occurrence was that of a flock of nine large finches heard and seen in flight on the 19th that were thought by the observer to be Hawfinches. A species of Buzzard was seen heading west over the Park on the 17th, its identity uncertain, but the observer thought it may have been a Honey Buzzard. Coincidentally, one of these was seen a few miles west of the Park the same morning. Also on The Bog, on the 15th, was a Black Redstart perching on the riding ring fence, this species putting in its almost annual autumn appearance. The last of the summer visitors were four Swallows (10th), a Wheatear (14th), a Chiffchaff (18th) and a male Blackcap (29th).
Returning wintering birds included two Dartford Warblers, the first of these found on the 19th and five Common Gulls at the Pen Ponds on the 14th. Also there were a Little Grebe, a Kingfisher, 20 Pochard and two male Shovelers. The latter representing a poor showing of the once regular dabbling Duck species. Cormorant numbers built up to 20 mid-month – the birds trawling in tight packs. Sadly one of the young Mute Swans had gone missing, its fate unknown.
Jan Wilczur, October 2009