January 2011

There have been lots of exciting visitors to the Roseland over the last few weeks as the cold Nordic weather has swung south over the British Isles. Redwings have been seen and, as I mentioned last month, masses of fieldfares have joined our resident population of blackbirds and those at the bottom of the migration chain, to strip our berry trees. These birds breed up in Scandinavia and swing south when driven out of there by cold weather, so we only rarely get to see them in their breeding finery, but even in the depths of winter they are still striking. But, bright as they are, they pale into significance when compared to our latest visitor- the waxwing! Waxwings again reside high up in Scandinavia and the northern steppes, and it could be said that they are not truly migratory as they will only head south (and west) when forced to do so by severe winter weather. If Scandinavia has a mild winter then the UK can say goodbye to any hope of a “Waxwing winter”. I don’t have a photo of a waxwing to share with you but click on the link above and you will be taken to the RSPB’s waxwing pages. This winter has already seen the onset of arctic weather in Cornwall, so can you imagine what it has been like in Nordic Europe. Colleagues in Tampere in Finland have reported huge snow falls (and yes, their airport did close and their roads ground to a halt through lack of investment, so it isn’t just us!) and daytime temperatures as low as – 25°C. Have a look at today’s forecast for Tampere! No new snow, but think how long it lasts at these temperatures!

Anyway, back to the waxwings; it is quite a few years since we had a good waxwing winter this far south and west, If you have a look at this map you will see how most sightings are on the east coast as you would expect of a bird driven south and west towards us. What can also be seen is just how lazy these beautiful birds are- they will only go as far as they need, which is good news for us this year, because, although I haven’t seen one on the Roseland myself, they have arrived!

So what was that about chain migration? When we think of migration we think of birds, and mammals crossing huge distances, in the case of birds, spanning oceans and continents as they move back and fro, living in almost perpetual summer, but chain migration is a much more local effect. What happens is that a local population living say, on hill sides up north, is forced to move down into the local lowlands by encroaching winter weather, but still only locally. By the time they get down the hills the weather has improved enough for them to stay put. But, the local birds that were living down on the northern lowlands have also been thinking that things were getting thin on food, or a little parky (it means chilly as well as being a Yorkshire interviewer and chat show host!), so they head a wee bit south, maybe to the coast, but just somewhere a little mo re hospitable, and so it goes on with local populations all moving south, or at least to where the living is seen to be easier, but nothing moving very far overall.

I hope you have been enjoying the crisply cold weather we have had over the last few weeks. Our Tibetan terrier has given up on hunting down a Yeti in a snow bank but she still loves the snow!

Happy New Year to everyone.

Ian Bennett

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