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The Turning of the Tide – September Migration

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Posted: Wednesday 20th September 2017 by WildBlog

By Matt Collis, My Wild City Project Manager 

Autumn is the time for comings and goings in the bird world. Those species which journeyed northwards in spring, from sub-Saharan Africa to breed on our shores, now make the return leg back. While some migrants leave, others are returning to spend the winter; winter thrushes, flocks of geese, swans, ducks, and my personal favourite, the waders.

For the majority of us, this change happens without us even noticing. Millions of birds drain out of the UK over months, like a slow flowing tap, and right from under of very noses including some which have lived in our gardens the entire summer long; blackcaps, willow warblers and chiffchaffs to name a few.

The majority will take advantage of the night, moving under the cover of darkness where they are less likely to be predated. Thousands upon thousands will stream over towns, cities and the wider countryside. This daily shuffle means anything can turn up anywhere with rural-loving birds, like the redstart, easily able to turn up in urban gardens. 

Not all migration is as invisible as this. As birds travel south, many follow set routes, often using distinct landscape features such as rivers systems or coastlines. A visit to any coastal area in September gives a good chance of catching up with one or two of these seasonal travellers and a chance to see migration in action.

Checking hedgerows or shrubby plants can yield birds like redstarts and whinchats. The first of our winter waders such as dunlin, greenshanks and sandpipers are already on mudflats having spent the summer in the arctic. With strong westerly Atlantic winds, we can even pick up the odd American wader, carried over on tropical storms and dropped on our shores. Something to get the twitchers excited!

My favourite place to go in September is an area known as New Passage and Pilning Wetland on the Severn Estuary. New Passage is a large area of intertidal mudflat i.e. a muddy patch of short looking grass which is intermittently flooded by the sea. Behind this is Pilning Wetlands, an area of fresh water pools and permanently flooded grassland. Together these habitats acts as a magnet for all kinds of birds on migration and you simply don’t know what you’ll find but there will always be something exciting!

You don’t need to be a birding expert to be out there and if you don’t know what bird you’ve seen, you’re guaranteed to see a friendly bird-watcher only too willing to help if you ask. So why not get out to the Severn Estuary during September and see what magical migrants you can spot.

Photography credits in order of placement: redstart taken by Pete Evans; dunlin taken by Damian Waters; common sandpiper taken by Margaret Holland.


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