Autumn bird migration has rolled around again and our summer visitors are starting to depart as those who pause or winter here are arriving. Without today’s facilities or technologies, migration was a mystery to be explained and by, did some imaginations run riot.

Catching insects yellow wagtail style on the eastern reedbed.

In 1745, in “Inquiry into the physical and literal sense of the scriptures” the unknown author said because birds fly so high and not discernible, their flight cannot be horizontal. Ignoring that we do and did see them, he concluded their flight must be vertical and the only logical stopping place was the moon. This had been a popular medieval belief but now there was data to support it; two months to get there, three to rest and refresh, followed by two to return. As this coincided with birds absences (more or less) - job done!

There was also a transformation theory; in winter redstarts turn into robins, garden warblers into blackcaps, quail into water rail and in spring, sparrow hawks become cuckoos. Presumably no-one ever observed a transformed rubbing shoulders with an un-transformed in the same space.

Whoops; common tern juvenile not expecting fish that heavy.

In 1878, a German Adolph Ebeling was in Egypt and surprised to see wagtails. A Bedouin was equally surprised that he did not know how small birds deliberately wait in Europe for a passing stork or crane to a hitch lift on its back. The larger bird obliges because the smaller bird(s) twittering whiles away the long journey. Cranes were also supposed to swallow a large stone as ballast to cope with wind direction changes. It’s a wonder they anywhere with all those passengers and luggage but a least they had a form of radio for company.

Aristotle believed some birds migrated to warmer climes and cited the cranes that flew to the Egyptian marshes where the Nile originates, to continue their long running war with the resident pygmies. The Roman, Pliny the Elder found out more; the pygmies were armed with arrows and rode on the backs of goats or rams.

Juvenile sibling spoonbill rivals; fighting for possession of a stick and when lost, bill-jousting.

Up until the nineteenth century it was believed most birds hibernated. Aristotle said they go into a state of torpor when they hide in hollows, caves, mud and reported of swallows found denuded of all their feathers. Maybe not actually alive then? In 1555, the Swedish Archbishop Olaus Magnus in “Description of Northern Peoples” included that in autumn swallows congregated to sink and pack together like sardines below the mud in lakes. Inexperienced fishermen who netted the birds tried to warm and revive them, whereas experienced fisherman let them be. Hibernation persisted as the most popular theory because serious ornithologists were caught in a catch-22; insufficient evidence to refute but also couldn’t find anyone credible who had seen it.

But the prize for ingenuity goes to the middle ages belief that barnacle geese burst as fully fledged goslings from either apple-like fruits dropped from willow-type trees near the sea or from barnacles attached to beached timber or driftwood. This phenomenon was only noticed when the geese were returning. In 1187, an Italian arch-deacon saw Irish priests eating goose during meat-free lent as they confidently believed it was a fish dish. However, when it suited they also ate that other fish, the brent goose. It took a papal decree in 1215 to end the practice.


Recent Sightings:

As the long hot summer collides with the autumn migration, lots of young birds are becoming more independent and as they are less wary, also more obvious so it’s a good time to get out and see them, especially as some visits may be brief.


        After barking out a cough to call its young, this great-crested grebe went passed juvenile 1 to feed juvenile 2.

Wader representation has been good of late around the lakes, mostly at Astley and in the reedbeds; ruff, greenshank, black-tailed godwit, ringed plover, little ringed plover, snipe, redshank, dunlin, lapwing, turnstone, little stint, curlew/common/green & wood sandpiper, curlew, the odd whimbrel flyover and on the 2nd Sept a golden plover flew through.

Two ruff with Frankenstein boots of mud. 

Of the smaller birds being seen are grey/pied wagtail, yellow wagtail (with 50+ roosting), whitethroat, lesser whitethroat, cetti’s warbler, whinchat, stonechat, chiffchaff, willow warbler, reed bunting, meadow pipit, reed warbler, sedge warbler, blackcap, linnet, bearded tit, willow tit and goldfinch in flocks. Up to 9 spotted flycatchers dropped in for a few days. Still a few swifts, swallows, house and sand martins are zooming around.

A young reed warbler tries on a beret at a jaunty angle (it’s something on the reed behind).


There are increasing numbers grey heron, little egret, cormorant, still the odd bittern flights and a great white egret dropped by on the 2nd Sept. On the water are many great-crested grebe with juveniles and both black-necked & little grebe with young are being seen more. There are also more mute swan cygnets. Among the other wildfowl and gaining their post moulting plumage are teal, gadwall, shoveler, wigeon, pintail (up to 5), and the odd garganey, a drake common scoter (2nd Sept), female goldeneye, two goosander and a barnacle goose has been spotted with the greylags.

With ‘past its sell buy date’ breeding plumage; a little egret.

Other sightings on the increase are kingfisher, spotted & green woodpecker. A few common tern and their juveniles remain. Two juvenile black tern stayed for a few days at the end of August. In the reedbeds water rail and their juveniles are showing more. Plus their piercing screams are becoming more frequent as they jostle up against each other.

Juvenile black tern.

At the dragline little owl continues to make appearances, especially if it’s warm and not too breezy. Around the site raptors include marsh harrier, red kite, sparrowhawk, peregrine, hobby, buzzard and kestrel. A few flyovers of osprey as well lately.  

With Oddball in the background, a kestrel hovers.

Around the site, there are still plenty of insects; damsel and dragonflies race against time to ovi-posit (e.g. darters and hawkers) and also butterflies/moths (e.g. common blue, small copper, speckled wood).

Ovi-positing common darters at the east end of the main lake.

And finally:

This begs the question; where’s the rider and motorcycle that should be below this acrobat team?


Yours, K Sp-8 (18/09)