THIS is an interesting time of year, as winter goes and spring comes – slowly and unsteadily, as we can tell from the spells of warm sun alternating with cold winds, snow and frost.
In the bird world our winter visitors are returning north to their breeding grounds; indeed, many have already done so.
The brent and barnacle geese which have wintered in the Holy Island area go back to Svalbard (Spitzbergen),the redwings and fieldfares to Scandinavia and the pink-footed geese to Iceland.
The party of 40 whooper swans which I saw on the sea at Bamburgh last week were also edging their way back to Iceland.
The turnstones and purple sandpipers which feed on the rocky, seaweed-covered parts of our coast, and the sanderlings and dunlins which feed along the sandy stretches, now too leave for their Arctic nesting areas.
Simultaneously with these departures are the arrivals of our insect-eating summer visitors from their winter sojourn in Africa: chiffchaffs, willow warblers, wheatears, swallows and sand martins have already been spotted, soon to be followed, hopefully, by flycatchers, blackcaps, garden warblers, redstarts and house martins – that is, if they survive the huge journey, which only the fittest and luckiest can do.
Much depends on the weather they encounter, the availability of food and water stopovers en route, and whether they avoid the illegal but still widespread and large scale slaughter by gun and snare in the Mediterranean countries as they pass through.
Fortunately, the positive effort of BirdLife International - a worldwide partnership of organisations working to protect our birds and their habitats for the benefit of all – gives hope that things will improve;( it’s worth looking up their website).
Meanwhile, please be ready to welcome back any swallows that usually (or might) nest in your garage, shed, porch, etc, by making sure that access to the site is available if they manage to return after their 6,000 thousand mile journey from South Africa – which, hopefully, will be very soon.