Summer is certainly over in Scotland, and autumn winds have replaced the gentle summer breeze. Heather Beaton, Uists Warden, shares the joys of spotting the species arriving with the change in weather.
Migrants arrive on autumn winds
The wind has changed in the Outer Hebrides now. Gone are the soft, warm winds of summer, with the gentle scent of salt and a longing to be outdoors and up in the high hills. In their place are the harsh winds of autumn. Winds that make you zip your jacket right up to the top, bury your hands into the depths of your pocket, and bring a shiver to the spine.
However, just as winds proverbially clear out the cobwebs, these winds bring new life to the islands, blow away the old and herald a new season of birds.
Photo Credit Heather Beaton
The summer migrants have almost all left. There are still occasional reports of wheatear, although these are few and far between. The swallows gathered in high numbers but it must be a week now since the last was seen. The corncrakes are gone, as are the warblers, and the red-necked phalaropes left for the open ocean long ago.
Now, however we have new excitement. There’s nothing like hearing that first skein of pink-footed geese flying in a victorious ‘V’ overhead. I’ve been delighting in the lochs filling up with whooper swans who arrive in family groups, calmly accepting their winter home with mellow satisfaction. The beaches are alive with waders that have bred in the high arctic. Species such as grey plover, turnstone, sanderling are all here for the winter and bring motion and life to the shoreline once more.
Sanderling group feeding. Photo credit Cliff Reddick
Not that the summer was quiet in this way, but the stand and dash feeding motion of the ringed plover has been superseded by the mechanically flowing run of the sanderling, elegant as land-bound murmurations, never once letting the sea touch their toes. The ringed plover are still present, but now the bird watching game is about counting the purple sandpipers. Spot one, and suddenly twenty will come into focus.
Gulls are often overlooked, but in this weather, this is when they come into their own. Their long, thin wings are a perfect adaptation for soaring, for riding the wind and the long length is not a compromise as there’s nothing to avoid when the sky is yours for the taking. Watch gulls in windy weather and you’ll be reminded of the joys of flight that were so attractive when you were wee.
This September has brought high winds to the Outer Hebrides, alongside godwits and geese. The islands have a new noise for the winter. The summer machairs may seem quiet, but the twittering twite will remain, the starlings continue to hum, click and whistle and the corn buntings will never forget how to sing their hearts out and bring joy to us all.
Whooper Swan. Photo Credit Cliff Reddick.
And more migrants are yet to arrive. The first chirping, blessed lapland buntings have arrived in Ness up the top of Lewis, and will make their way down the archipelago before long, with the barking barnacle geese following behind. Redwings are assembling in any of the trees that the islands have to offer. The red and black berries of the rowan and elder will soon disappear as the redwings feast, but these migrants will do an excellent job of spreading the seeds far and wide.
The winter brings many delights to the Outer Hebrides, from the dramatic skies to the stormy sea, but none are less adored or welcomed than the suite of migrants that these autumn winds bring in.
Balranald Shore. Photo Credit Heather Beaton
Find out more about our Balranald reserve in North Uist here. Also in the Outer Hebrides, visit our Loch Na Muilne reserve on the Isle of Lewis.
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