There has been much talk these past two days about ‘the gathering’ and of the success of the Skyfest in Dublin. Now, I'm not knocking Dublin for a second…I am a northside Dub through and through….but who needs a ‘Skyfest Gathering’ when you live at Sycamore Hill in Wicklow?
What am I talking about? Well, myself and Hazel have enjoyed one of the most spectacular gatherings and our very own skyfest over the last few days.
Our Very Own Skyfest
On Saturday evening, just as the day was slipping into night, we were treated to something very special. It had been a glorious day…blue skies and sunshine. It was also a very calm day with little or no wind. As evening approached we began to notice lots of Swallows and House Martins gathering on the wires and circling over the house. In the past few weeks this is a regular feature as birds feed before roosting. Last week, I witnessed up to 700 Swallows fly directly due south over the house in the space of an hour.
However, Saturday evening was different. As the minutes ticked by, with the light beginning to fade, the whole garden and sky was illuminated by a bright half moon. More and more Swallows and House Martins gathered. The sound of the birds calling to each other as they flew overhead was incredible. They were everywhere, almost like locusts. I began trying to establish just how many birds might be present and my best conservative estimate was somewhere around 1,500 at a very minimum.
As darkness descended we could still hear the last few birds calling. It was a perfect night for migration…a calm, still night with moonlight. However, these birds were not intending to fly off during the night. Unlike warblers for example, Swallows are day migrants, only flying at night when crossing over seas and deserts where there is nowhere to land. Our birds were heading to some unknown roosting site.
Our Very Own Gathering
For other species that do migrate under the cover of darkness, Saturday night was a perfect night. However, there is always a risk in migration and the wet and windy weather that arrived overnight obviously proved a great problem of migrating birds. We awoke to a blustery, damp Sunday morning. Letting Suzie out for an early quick visit to the garden (Suzie is our Springer Spaniel), I instantly heard the high-pitched calls of Goldcrests and the distinctive ‘hoo-eet’ calls of several Chiffchaffs. It is a sound of autumn migration!
I picked up the bins and started walking around the garden. I have said in the past that our garden is like an amphitheatre at the end of a valley. Migrating birds seem to work their way down the shallow valley and into the garden. With old mature trees, over 200 recently planted trees and our hedgerows, it can be very attractive for birds with sheltered areas full of insects. The place was alive with birds obviously sheltering from the weather and feeding up. During the course of the walk I found at least 25 Chiffchaffs (one of which posed long enough for a shot…see above), a Willow Warbler, a male Blackcap, lots of Goldcrests (they migrate out of Northern Europe too), up to ten Song Thrushes and as many Blackbirds, and three Spotted Flycatchers. I also added a new species to the garden list…a female Stonechat that was sitting on the fence. Overhead were hundreds of Swallows and House Martins.
Our guests stayed all day but by late evening they had left. Their calls and movements kept us entertained throughout the morning and afternoon. This morning there are just four Chiffchaffs in the garden along with a female Blackcap. It’s hard to know if the Blackcap is a fresh arrival or simply a bird I didn’t find yesterday.
Inspired by Migration
I have been inspired by migration since childhood and I realise just how lucky I am to be living where I do. To experience the wonder of migration taking place right in my own garden is something very special indeed!
Speaking of migration…if you want to learn more, check out our weekend migration workshop in the events section of our site…perhaps 19th & 20th Oct will be a migration weekend to remember.
Eric D Birdman