Rural Reading: Red letter days for redwingsBy Adrian Lawson
October 21, 2011
The first frosts of winter have coincided with the arrival of redwings, which have been flying over from the far north for the last few days.
Today in the glorious sunshine they seem to be everywhere, little flocks in the trees along the canal, more in the tops of the lime trees in my local park, many more passing over my house.
They fly at night too, and their thin little call on a clear night is as sure a sign that summer is behind us as any I know.
They are rather lovely birds, speckled brown breasts, a rich brown back and a distinctive pale underwing with that classic flash of chestnut red that gives them their name.
Thousands upon thousands will descend on Reading during the winter, but the amazing thing is their mobility. The flock of redwings feeding on the worms in the churned up football pitch, one of the best places to watch them in winter, is unlikely to be the same flock in a week’s time.
They roam far and wide and when they first arrive they are not alone. They are accompanied by countless other birds who flew here too. The redwings are obvious, as there are none here at all in the summer, but less obvious are the birds whose cousins are here in the summer.
The goldfinches on my feeders might have flown south to be replaced by other birds that have flown here from Scandinavia. It is hard to tell which is which. Last year though our garden was visited with a blackbird that arrived in the bitter cold, and looked different. The bird had a forehead that reminded me of a 1960’s communist Russian minister, for some reason. He had a brow that gave him a stern demeanour, and he was a tough cookie too, seeing off any bird including magpies and jays.
Where he was from, and where he went was a complete mystery of course.
That is one of the best things about the bird migration. For all our vast knowledge we still know very little about what the birds do, although we are gradually learning more and more.
For me though, watching these changes in our bird populations is one of the most fascinating pastimes, speculating about where they’ve come from or will go next.