Whinchats and Lazy Birdwatching!

Just a short note today to acknowledge the great autumn migration happening all around us! Indeed, my lack of writing has been due to my own (temporary) migration to sunnier climes for a family holiday.

Back now I went on a bike ride across St Albans the other day in search of Whinchats. As you will see from the photo, these are small birds that like to perch on top of bushes and fences from where they can catch any passing insects, airborne or on the ground. I had noted from the local bird club website that a good many of these had been passing through Hertfordshire throughout August and so I headed to the most recent sighting location – Heartwood Forest on the edge of St Albans.



During the 80s and early 90s I had seen these pretty little birds without fail every August at the local gravel pits on the same hedge, but in recent years they hadn’t appeared quite so regularly. Heading down from their breeding grounds in the northern moors, like so many birds, they would stop off for a rest, a feed and a drink before moving south again. It seemed that this year many of them were doing just that right on my doorstep.

I had only cycled halfway to my destination when I paused along the track crossing some sheep fields. I noticed a small bird on the fence in the middle of the field. Tempted to ignore it as one of the many common ‘LBJs’ (Little Brown Jobs) that are always around I did however get the bird into focus in my binoculars. A Whinchat and as I watched another flitted up beside it!

From a distance the bird is small and brown but immediately noticeable is the distinctive white eye-stripe. If you get a closer view, particularly in Spring when the birds have fresh plumage, you’ll appreciate a much prettier bird with orange-tinted breast and mottled brown feathers. I was nevertheless excited, partly not having seen these little birds for a while but also because they were my discovery!

It might seem strange but it seems increasingly difficult to discover your own rare or uncommon birds thanks to the internet. With the advent of websites and mobile technology, bird sightings are reported and posted with great speed and efficiency allowing birdwatchers to simply observe the website and then go and find the birds! The positive side of this is that you get to find out about the presence and location of many more unusual birds than you would previously have been able to. The downside is that it can make for lazy and soul-less birdwatching where you are forever simply going to see birds others have found and not actually going out and finding them yourself, using your own skills and experience.

I had, however, now found my own, as yet unreported Whinchats – definitely better than the already reported ones I was on my way to see! No lazy birdwatching for me.


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