We woke up to be greeted by a cold, freezing day with sleet and wet snow falling outside. An icy easterly wind added to the Baltic conditions. Our bird feeders were hopping with Chaffinches, Goldfinches and seven Redpolls. We were glad that we had spent time filling them last night in equally miserable weather.
Awe-Inspiring - Hundreds Of Thrushes
However, the real sight that was awe-inspiring was the hundreds of thrushes that were feeding in the field in front of the house. It seemed that the whole ground was moving with birds. A quick scan with the bins revealed at least 500 Redwings and up to 100 Fieldfares were on the ground and sitting in the hedges. They were everywhere! These so-called ‘winter thrushes’ breed in northern Europe and Russia. Redwings also breed in Iceland. They were accompanied by up to 100 Blackbirds and 20 Song Thrushes. It was such a wonderful sight to see these beautiful thrushes alongside each other.
Redwings are a little like Song Thrushes but show a striking creamy white supercilium over the eye and a splash of orange-red on the flanks. The larger, Mistle Thrush-sized Fieldfare has a grey head, a brown back, a grey lower back and a black tail. Both have heavy streaking and spotting on their underparts.
So why did they suddenly appear overnight?
The answer to that question is simple. These birds are part of a big movement out of Europe and Britain that is taking place at the moment. Europe and our nearest neighbour are gripped by Arctic weather conditions. These birds need to find worms and berries to survive and, in such weather conditions, they simply can’t find enough to eat. So the birds sweep westwards towards the milder, temperature climate of the Ireland in search of food. They often travel during darkness which reduces the chances of being attacked by predators. This morning and last night they arrived in a broad front all along the east coast and it is no small coincidence that they are feeding in the short grass of the fertile fields of Sycamore Hill (less than 1km from the Newcastle coast).
More interesting is the fact that the Blackbirds and Song Thrushes that appeared with them are also escaping the European weather. If you could speak their language, you would find that these common ‘Irish birds’ are in fact speaking Finnish or even Russian. They too are northern breeding birds that travel along with the Redwings and Fieldfares. They are true ‘winter thrushes’.
The birds spent the entire day replenishing their fat reserves and, as the afternoon arrived, many birds started to move inland. They will stay in Ireland for the next month, feeding on the wet inland fields. As the winter days lengthen, the birds will begin to move east again and migrate back to their breeding grounds, arriving there in early spring. I hope they stay around here for another few days. Such birds are a wonderful distraction from the cold weather.