The seasons we experience in north Wales are quite distinguished, the spring and autumn times here are crisp, the summers are warm and the winters are grey, wet and cool. There are many migratory bird species that flock to the shores of Anglesey to enjoy our warm summers, where the climate is not to arid and extreme for them. Other bird species migrate here to escape the brutal cold winters of Europe and beyond. Food is abundant here on Anglesey with our fertile lands providing a nutrient rich biome that supports many insects, grubs, worms, crops and grasslands for them. Some species raise their young here, others fly in as a stop over, en route to other destinations. They are a pleasure to observe, and the more I learn of their incredible journeys, the more it captivates me.
I have been back here on Anglesey for four years now, and the more time I spend here the more I see the distinct boundaries between the seasons. The past two years the summers have been way way warmer than I have experienced in the past 25 years and the winters, well they have become amazing (if you love winter hiking and climbing like I do!) Last year the winter, was that cold, Aber falls froze up completely, and a friend John Ratliff (he owns and runs the indie climbing centre ) went and climbed it! That hasn’t broken since the 1980s I believe …
With the onset of these more defined and, for us at least, extreme weather variations, it got me hinking about the birds.. We live on this beautiful island, and where ever I go in nature, and I do spend a large amount of there! I see a huge different kinds of birds, most of the time I’m quite ignorant to. It really never interested me before (other than birds of prey), but for some reason, I’m noticing way more birds on my outings for sure. With this in mind, and the autumnal season now fully thrust upon us, I thought I would write a short blog on the migratory patterns and habits of birds. Now please bear in mind, I am not an ornithologist, nor an avid twitcher, I am learning just as the rest of you most likely.
One thing that I know well, is the marine environment, my life has been steeped in it, and so has my linage. Whilst out fishing in the summer months, I see the summer migratory fish arrive in to Anglesey and and then leave come the autumnal months. Right now, whiting, coal fish, cod and herring will be around for the fishing enthusiasts here on Anglesey and North Wales as the shores as the beaches get lashed with the westerly gales.
At the same time as the fish arrive at our shores in march, after over wintering in deep water over the colder months, the spring birds such as the swifts and swallows migrate here as well. Noticing these beautiful natural rhythms, you can’t help but think with wonder, on the impeccable timing of it all..
This blog is meant to cover mainland uk and the migratory patterns as a whole, as Anglesey is but a fraction of land that the migratory bird arrive to all points around the UK. But ill give reference where I can to species I see around and about on my travels.
We know that birds migrate but, not all birds do. Birds such as the partridge are known as sedentary birds. They never migrate from place to place. The partridge never moves away beyond a kilometre of its place of birth. At the same time there are birds that migrate from country to country or even continent to continent across thousands of miles of land and ocean.
Birds such as the blackbirds and the swallows are known as birds that migrate tens of thousands of kilometres. Swallows migrate to Africa in the winter but, they breed in Europe. Swallows land in Anglesey around 15-23 March each year and will arrive back at the same barns, in the same fields, each year even though they have migrated thousands of miles. I routinely see the same batch at the farms and estates that I do various bits of work on in the spring.
Blackbirds leave Eastern Europe prior to the onset of winter and migrate to other parts of the continent. Apparently most of the black birds we have in the u are mostly domicile to the UK, however other black birds from Scandinavia or easter Europe arrive here in autumn to make the most of our mild winters for feeding. Its hard not toes these guys in our gardens, they routinely watch you as you turn the soil for them, waiting for a snack.
Though all birds are not migrants, it is estimated that there are not less than 4000 bird species that are regular migrants. This is almost 40% of the total bird species the world over.
Migratory birds are greater in number in some parts of the world, and non-migratory birds are greater in other parts of the world. UK is a typical example of temperate climate. Almost 50% of the bird species in UK are migratory and these birds migrate mainly in search of food.
Most birds mainly feed on a diet of insects during summer month in other continents, but during the season of winter they don’t always get a sufficient quantity of food. Hence they migrate to other places in search of their food source. Interestingly, food is not the only reason for migration of birds. The intensity of the climate can also be the reason for migration. In places like Scandinavia and Canada, the winter is very severe and the birds from these places move towards the south before the arrival of winter to escape from the severe weather and plummeting cold temperatures.
In locations where the weather is more comfortable throughout the year and food is also available in all seasons, the birds will not require change of geographical location and hence most of the bird species in such places will not migrate. Only very few bird species from tropical regions migrate. The birds in Amazon rainforest are not migratory because they enjoy comfortable weather always and there will be no scarcity of food also.
Different types of migrants
In spite of the availability of good quantity of food, the birds may experience food scarcity when there is sudden growth of their population. In such a crisis situation the birds migrate. This type of migration is called Irruption which will not occur every year. The waxwings of the Scandinavian region mainly eat berries and these birds seldom migrate to UK. However, once in 10 years the waxwings from Scandinavia migrate to UK during the winter when they find that no more berries are left out in Scandinavia.
An Altitudinal migration is migrating from north to south or east to west instead of continent to continent, to escape from extreme weather and also in search of more food. These birds are known as altitudinal migrants or vertical migrants.
During winter, these birds normally migrate from upland areas to lowland areas for more food and milder climate. Though altitudinal migrants travel only short distances, as a result of the migration their lifestyle will be dramatically improved. Meadow pipits, skylarks and snow buntings of UK are examples of altitudinal migrants.
The process of shedding of feathers by birds to facilitate the growth of new set of feathers is known as Moulting. During this process the birds become unable to fly due to the absence of flight feathers. In anticipation of such a situation, these birds migrate to safer places and they are known as Moult migrants. Shelducks are moult migrants. Towards the end of summer the Shelducks migrate to the island of Heligoland in North Sea to ensure safety from predators during moulting. Some of them migrate to nearby Bridgewater Bay in Somerset also. All moult migrants fly back to their native places once the new set of feathers is grown.
Summer and winter migrants
The summer migrants move from south to north during spring and arrive on the shores of the UK, they spend the summer in northern latitudes. Most of them are insect eaters and then head back to the south come autumn. Warblers, swallows, martins, flycatchers, wheatears, nightingales, yellow wagtails, redstarts, whinchats, cuckoos, swifts, tree pipits, turtle doves, nightjars, ospreys, hobbies, Manx shearwaters and terns are all summer visitors. Gannets and puffins also move towards the seashore during spring and enjoy the winter at the sea.
A few birds from north and east migrate to UK in autumn and spend the winter there and return back to their breeding places in spring. These winter visitors include whooper swans, Bewick’s swan and different types of ducks, wading birds, geese, bramblings, fieldfares and redwings. Water birds such as scoters, the great northern divers and red-necked grebes are also winter visitors.
Passage migrants and partial migrants
Some of the bird species like the black terns and the green sandpipers stay in UK for a few weeks during spring and autumn to relax during their long distance migratory trip either towards the north or the south. These birds are called passage migrants. Small dunlins from Iceland and Greenland and large dunlins from Russia as well as northern Scandinavia are passage migrants.
The birds species that migrate in some places do not migrate in other places are called partial migrants. The starlings of UK spend winter also in UK only whereas those of eastern Europe migrate to UK in winter. Robins, lapwings, coots and chaffinches are also partial migrants.
These birds are the species that breed in UK, migrate to southern Europe or Africa to spend the winter and return during spring. Most of them are insect-eaters and the migration occurs in the months of March and April. These birds include cuckoo, flycatchers, swifts, garden warblers, martins, yellow wagtails, tree pipits, swallows, redstarts, willow warblers and blackcaps. Sea-birds like Arctic, Sandwich and little terns also migrate in spring. Other bird species that migrate in spring include puffins, razorbills, guillemots, gannets, hobbies, ospreys and honey buzzard.
In the month of June, the adult cuckoos move towards south and in July they start their journey to the central African rainforests. During July-August, the wading birds and also the terns start their journey back to south. The Arctic terns undertake the longest migration to reach Antarctica and they cover a distance of more than 5900 miles. In August and September, Swallows and Swifts also undertake their non-stop flight to South Africa.
Gannets, kittiwakes and auks migrate to the Bay of Biscay and the North Atlantic in autumn and spend the winter there. Swans and gees fly in V-formation in the month of October towards south. The very delicate goldcrest, the smallest bird in the world from Europe, will cross the North Sea to spend the winter in UK. The top autumn migrants are Fieldfare, Redwing, Short-eared Owl, Knot, Waxwing and Light-bellied brent goose.
Many birds arrive in UK in Autumn to spend the winter there. Many of them cross the North Sea due to cold weather and lack of food. Waxwings are a winter favourite migrants in UK. During December-January, smews also migrate to UK in large numbers.
In closing the blog out, id like to add a more localised feel again to the end of this one, in that there are numerous sites around Anglesey and north Wales as a whole to view and see our wonder full migratory birds, that come to our shores.. I wrote a blog earlier this year on The Seaside birds of Anglesey , this gave somewhat of an over view into the birds that I see and where, on my travels. But aside form this a coupe of places that a worth a mention for spotting wonderful displays of birds. Rhosneigr, on the west coast is amazing at various parts of the season, I personally love going to the foreshore to watch the various waders and Brent cheese. Other especially good places are south stack where there is an RSPB tower. On the other side of Anglesey, Cemlyn Bay is a hot spot for bird watching also.
Anyhow, enjoy the winter season as it unfolds and make the most of the short blue skied brisk days in-between the grey wet ones! Oh and don’t forget to leave some bird seed, sunflowers and other edibles out for the birds this winter, it can be incredibly tough for them to feed if we get a heavy one. So with that in mind, leave a few apples on the floor and get some bird seed in to help them out of you have them in your garden!
A bird watching Packing list
OS Map of Anglesey
Waterproof layers I use
Bag I personally use
Great choice of boots (I bought these for my father!)
Books and guides
Good old flask
Our blogging tools of the trade!
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Bit about the blogger : My names Nick Fraser and I’m a local Marine Geologist and Oceanographer. I have moved back to the island of Anglesey for the past four years having grown up here and moved away. I am a passionate outdoor lover with a penchant for all things natural. When I’m not blogging in ofter found climbing or out in the wild in and around north Wales.