Villagers Article February 2023

By Andrea Hudspeth the 06/02/2023

Some birds flee our shores at the end of summer to spend the winter in warmer climes. Some species are resident year-round, taking the good weather with the bad and then there are other species from northern lands which join our resident birds to spend the winter here. Known as winter thrushes, these birds join our resident blackbirds, song thrushes and mistle thrushes and can be encountered in the woods, fields and even gardens throughout this season.

Redwings and fieldfares arrive from Scandinavia in autumn and are often seen together in loose flocks. The fieldfare is the larger of the two, bigger than a blackbird and is the most colourful of our thrushes with a grey head and rump, brown back, black tail and a buff speckled chest. It can easily be identified by its call, harsh chack-chack-chack which one writer likened to a large pair of garden shears. The redwing is smaller than a song thrush with a prominent pale eye strip and red flank and underwing. The call is a thin tseeip almost like the sound of a slipping clutch.

Flocks of these birds will feed on insects in fields, on berry-bearing bushes and trees and even in gardens on windfall apples, Pity the poor mistle thrush who has defended his berries all autumn only to be overwhelmed by the numbers of a flock of winter thrushes who will strip his tree bare!

Now to the river and loch where most will be familiar with the green headed mallard and his dowdy female as they dabble in the shallows or approach us for bread. Noticeable currently are two other green headed ducks which can be seen on the loch and making their way up the river. They do not have the broad bill of the mallard but long, narrow, red beaks with tooth-like serrated edges for catching fish which they pursue underwater. These are the sawbills: the goosander and the red-breasted merganser.

The goosander is the larger of the two, even bigger than a mallard and appears long and low in the water. The male is mainly pinky-white with a dark green head and black back while the female is grey with a chestnut head.

The red breasted merganser is a bit smaller, again with a dark green head but has less white especially on the breast which is rusty brown. It also has a spiky Mohican! Females are more difficult to tell apart, but the brown on the head of the goosander ends abruptly on the neck whereas that of the red-breasted merganser merges (a good way to remember) into the grey.

Next time you are taking a stroll around the village, look out for the thrushes in the trees and the sawbills on the river or loch and test your identification skills.