Saturday, 28 October 2017

Woodpigeons......and more woodpigeons

Late October and early November is a great time, and for me THE time for watching the vis mig...visible migration. Any local spot on the cliffs will do and many inland possibly as well if it were ever tested. My favourite place for watching vis mig is Start Point, anywhere near the car park. An early start is essential, bit of cloud cover handy and no rain or to strong a wind.

Got out to Start before dawn yesterday. Beautiful to hear Redwings and Song Thrushes calling in the dark. Odd birds started to fly out of the cover in the twilight and eventually they totalled 108 Redwings and 47 Song Thrushes.  Sadly the vis mig never really got going, what birds there were flying in all directions. Highlights included around 3000 Woodpigeons, 40 Siskins, 15 Bullfinches, 12 Bramblings and 4 Reed Buntings. Elsewhere a Golden Plover called, a Merlin put in an appearance, 2 Firecrests were down at the light and 2 late Swallows passed through.
Female Reed Bunting by the car park yesterday. As well as their familiar call they can make some buzzing notes in flight which can catch you by surprise.   

This morning was another pre dawn visit. Not so many thrushes calling with the clearer skies. I set up north of the car park and the Woodpigeons soon started pouring through just after dawn. If you have ever witnessed birds pouring through like this morning then you will appreciate how hard it is to keep tabs on them, all the time listening out for other stuff. The commoner finches were in fairly short supply  though, also flying high  so many probably missed. I reckoned around 15000 Woodpigeons had passed by 08:00, headed south-southwest, many right over the car park others over the BBC field. The passage was then phenomenal for an hour , another 55000 through in that time, almost 1000per minute ! Some flocks must have mumbered around 5000 and been strung out over almost a mile.  Things started to quieten then and the movement was more inland, birds cutting across on a more direct line behind the BBC field towards Lannacombe / Prawle Point. By 10:15 the passage was starting to dry up and the total had reached an incredible 94000 birds. At this point I know some people are saying how the hell can you confidently say there were 94000 birds. Well you can't and it must be innacurate to a degree. All I can say is I have taken photos of odd flocks before, estimated the number in situ as you do and later accurately counted them on a screen at my leisure. It seems I always underestimate, sometimes considerably so another observer may have got a far higher total. All the same if the way I count the birds is consistant year on year, which I am confident it is, this is the biggest movement I have witnessed, I think my previous best is in the mid 30k's. Where are these birds from / going ? A source of much discussion. My personal opinion is that ringing has proved British Woodpigeons to be highly sedentary. Surely these late autumn birds are from Fenno-Scandia on their way to France and Iberia. Whatever goes on it's a great spectacle to witness on a local headland.
As suggested, in comparison the rest of the vis mig was unspectacular. Low numbers of Goldfinches and Chaffinches. Highlights did include 66 Starlings, 22 Siskins, 8 Greenfinches ( not always easy to pick out on vis mig watches, I don't know why ), 21 Bullfinches ( sometimes completely missing right through the autumn - any double figure count is excellent ) and a Reed Bunting. No Hawfinches yet for me in what seems to be a record breaking year for them but I did think a small flock got through, could not clinch them but there is plenty of time yet this autumn to see some. The hedgerows etc were fairly quiet. 12 Redwings, 5 Song Thrushes, the first 5 Fieldfares of the autumn, Blackcap, 7 Goldcrests and 2 Firecrests in the farm. Saw a Merlin which I think is probably the same female that has been around for a few days, a Golden Plover called pre dawn and a Great Spotted Woodpecker passed through.

Photo of a few hundred Woodpigeons passing overhead. Either that or some mould inside my camera lens

                         Backside of a Fieldfare atop a rock on the way to the light

Rough bit of filming from this morning here

For anyone interested in vis mig this website is superb. I would urge people to add their own counts to it. Information very lacking for the south-west.




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