Winter 2017
Winter migrant visitors

As temperatures plummet in Scandinavia, Eastern and Northern Europe and food is scarce or hidden under a blanket of snow and ice, winter migrants such as fieldfare, redwing and hawfinch spread their wings and flock to the UK. Each year their arrival date can differ depending on the weather conditions and when hunger strikes, but mostly they will appear at Bedgebury Pinetum from the end of October.

This year was no exception! rwWe caught our first redwing visitor during our bird ringing session on the 27th October and by the 1st November, more than 60 were counted flying in the Pinetum. These beautiful birds are just slightly smaller than a song thrush and are so named due to the rusty-red patches under each wing, but they also have a distinctive cream stripe above the eye and a speckled brown chest.  

fieldfareTheir larger cousins are fieldfares which have a light grey head, pale eye stripe and a dark brown and cream speckled chest. They often gather in large flocks flying from tree to tree eating berries and windfall apples and, after being spotted in the Pinetum from early November, a flock of around 30 birds were seen feeding on holly berries on the path leading towards the Leyland cypress collection. Fieldfares are noisy too; they ‘chatter’ together when gathered in groups making a loud cackle sound.                          

We are lucky that the elusive brown hawfinch with its distinctive parrot-like bill choose to roost at Bedgebury. They appear from around the end of October, but this year we’ve had more than usual as vast numbers flooded in from the continent due to crop failures in their winter feeding grounds. Birdwatchers have been letting us know when they spot one of these rare finches in the Pinetum and so far the sightings have been consistent and regular since late October-early November as they roost high up in the trees of our Thuja collection.

bramblingThe hawfinch isn’t our only finch winter visitor to Bedgebury. Brambling, chaffinch, siskin and redpoll have all been recorded in high numbers since October. In our first bird ringing session within the same month we also caught six goldcrest; although most will be residents here, it’s possible some could be winter migrants from Northern Europe.

siskin

You may be surprised to know that from October to March in the UK we also become home to thousands of overwintering robins, starlings, blackbirds and song thrushes escaping the extreme cold of Eastern Europe. In fact in October 2016, during an early morning bird ringing session at the Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory in Sandwich, Kent, a robin was caught with a ring already on its leg. When checked, the data showed that this amazingly hardy little bird had flown all the way from Russia!             

So, we’d encourage you to wrap up warm, grab some binoculars and get out there while you can to see some of our beautiful winter travellers while they gorge on a berry buffet. Before long they’ll have finished their winter holiday and flown back to their European breeding grounds.

Sarah Harrington-James

Did you know?
  • Waxwings are also known to overwinter here in the South East, although none have been recorded at Bedgebury. This striking reddish-brown bird comes from Scandinavia and descends in flocks to gorge on the berries of hawthorn, rowan and cotoneaster.
  • The crossbill is resident in the UK, but the smaller parrot crossbill can overwinter here from Scandinavia. These birds use their distinctive bills to their advantage by extracting seeds from conifer cones.