Saturday, October 10, 2009

Autumn visitors to Robin Hood's Bay


From our home at the top of the bank I could see skeins of geese flying south, high in the clear blue skies un-noticed by the remaining visitors admiring the views from the top of the bank. And more came by that night calling in the moonlight in their thousands, unheard by customer sitting outside the Grosvenor Hotel.

The following day saw the first autumn gale and I noticed a pair of House Martins were still flying around houses along Mount Pleasant. Not all our avian visitors had left either. But these birds will make their massive migration south across the Sahara to southern Africa to join the swifts which left the village much earlier, a journey of several thousand miles without stopping!. But it’s nothing for a swift. One adult feeding young was ringed bird in the UK at it’s nest in a school belfry, was caught later the same day in Germany. Released a second time it was back feeding it’s young later the same day. A round journey of five hundred miles to feed it’s young.

When many of our human visitors go home for winter they are replaced by many thousands of other visitors, mostly unseen and ignored as they fly at night. Yet these birds have made some of the most dangerous journeys to get here. Even before they start some will have survived encounters with Wolves, foxes or Grizzlies in the great arctic tundra maybe only a week or two ago!

Brent geese, make the dangerous journey flying from Northern Canada over the Greenland icecap, across the ocean to Iceland and ending up in Ireland and the UK. A distance of over 4000 miles covering around 800 miles per day. It is a dangerous journey indeed. I wondered whether the geese overhead were the very ones we’ve heard Cree Indians in Northern Canada imitating to lure them within range of their guns whilst canoeing on a remote northern tundra river a couple of years back.

One radio tagged goose named Kerry was observed to have stopped flying near Resolute bay in the far north of Canada. Anxious to learn what had happened the trackers traced the signal to the home of an Inuit hunter. It was laid frozen in the freezer, food for winter, the tracking device still attached.

Geese have also been observed flying thousands of feet higher than Everest in air so rarefied and cold that would render us humans dead, and frozen in minutes.

Walking along the cliff path at Bay Ness I could see another visitor. Far below the walkers enjoying the late summer sun, a Red Throated Diver fished in the sea below. These too are visitors from the far north and one species even makes it to the shores around Ireland from it’s summer home in Canada. You’ve probably all heard these birds on TV as their eerie, evocative and haunting calls are often heard on programmes about Canada’s wilderness.

Walking on the beach today I saw some other visitors, Dunlins, Redshanks, Turnstones & Godwits, waders from also from the far north, busy feeding on the waters edge, most refuelling before continuing south to winter on the Humber estuary. A visitor walking too close scared them into flight not knowing or caring that these birds were tired and very hungry, having lost a large proportion of their body weight to make it this far. High above the cliffs of Bay Ness a pair of Peregrine falcons searched for likely prey. Some of these waders won’t make it through the winter and many will never make it back to their northern breeding grounds. Many will be blown off course and perish unseen at sea.

Soon our hedgerows, fields and trees will throng with Fieldfares and Redwings, visitors from Siberia and northern Europe gorging on hawthorn, mountain ash and other berries, hungry after their long journey. I have no doubt that one clear night soon I’ll hear these calling above our house as they cross the North Sea to safety in our fields. Some of the Redwings may have flown from Iceland, which will have required a night time flight over the sea of 800 miles. Many other winter visitors cross the North Sea to avoid the harsh central European winters including Robins Chaffinches, Bramblings, and Starlings.

So next time you think all our visitors have gone just spare a thought for those visitors passing overhead unseen in the dark or resting on the beach or in the fields. And the next time you look outside remember that the Robin or Chaffinch you see may have just flown in from Siberia!!

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