Great conkers hang between the fading leaves of the horse chestnut trees, which means it’s definitely changeover time now. Most of the summer migrants seem to have left, and there are more reports of arrivals than departures. Out and about today, I noted only a couple of chiffchaffs and a wheatear. Migration will continue for a little time yet, and there are still interesting reports of birds on the move, but it’s now more of a steady trickle than a mass exodus. There are always oddities that raise the pulse of the rarity hunters. My son called late last night excited that a bobolink had turned up not far from here. His dilemma was whether to get up at dawn and try to see it before work, mine was whether to grab a field guide, or relive the last time I saw this unusual looking bird in Maryland a couple of years ago. I chose the memory.
It’s the time when jays begin to arrive from Scandinavia, and a good sign that they’re coming in is when I begin to see odd ones frequently flying across the road. They’ll arrive in numbers soon, and small flocks will then be commonplace. On arrival they gorge on the rich crop of acorns already falling from the now turning oak trees. During the next couple of months these continental jays will hide millions of acorns on woodland floors as a food store for colder times during winter. Jays are an integral part of the survival of our oak woodlands, since many of these buried acorns are not found, and will germinate into young oaks next spring.
Continental blackbirds are also arriving. In some winters they can be very common indeed, joining our home-grown birds competing for berries in parks and gardens. They arrive earlier than other winter thrushes, and are naturally difficult to distinguish from our resident blackbirds. Redwings and fieldfares will be also here soon to mark the beginning of winter proper.
Some common birds are forming into flocks. Meadow pipits, skylarks, chaffinches and especially goldfinches, all seem to be travelling about in larger groups now, and over the last week or so, the goldfinches at our garden feeders have increased to at least 20. The cooler weather is not too far away.