Wednesday 10 March 2021


Every spring, without fail, we enjoy an incoming flood of summer migrants. Millions of them. Chats, warblers, ducks, raptors, hirundines, terns...basically all sorts of birds head north to breed. Last year was the first that I really pondered the inevitability of it all. Trans-global movement for mankind had ground to a surprise halt, but not so for birds. And boy, was I grateful for that! Here we are a year later, still somewhat hobbled, but again not the birds. Migration is happening as I type.

It is pitch dark now and quite late at night, and as damp and blustery as it was yesterday. In fact Tuesday night's forecast was so grim that I almost didn't bother with the nocmig kit. But I did bother. And waders came. Curlew twice, and Oystercatcher three times, one of which sounded like multiple birds. The first little sonogram blips were made by an Oystercatcher just after 8pm, and the last by a Curlew at 03:15. Where were they off to? And where were they from? It's fascinating. All over the land, right now, birds are aloft with purpose. One or two of them might pass over my neighbourhood and obligingly make a noise loud enough for the nocmig recorder to convert into an exciting squiggle. And I am pleased to say that I do still find them exciting. I find the whole thing exciting! I'm nowhere near a renowned estuary or marsh or anything like that, and even last week's Coot will have come a few miles at least. The nocmig results of spring 2020 were a joyous revelation, and this year I'm starting more than a month earlier. Brilliant!

Birds, and the reliability of their movements, cycles and activities, are a reassuring anchor for us. Yet there is also plenty of room within that process for an annual dose of happy surprise, because so much is actually not certain. Will there be some Poms this year? A nice fall? Will I jam a rarity? The answers to such questions lie within the remit of migration, and will not be revealed in advance. Which is another reason why birding can be a bit addictive.

On Monday I went on a first-light migrant hunt along the beach and came across a pair of Pintails. I'll admit that early Wheatear was on the wish list, but the stunning drake was more than compensation...

It's 07:30, and my ability to take a photo that really does justice to these beautiful ducks is not yet awake.

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