Birds on your doorstep

THE unprecedented winds and flooding we experienced in the last week of September were 
catastrophic, but they at least gave a bonus for anybody interested in witnessing bird migration, as the strong easterly winds accompanied by heavy rain forced migratory seabirds close inshore along the coast, enabling close views of them.

At Annstead Point, south of Seahouses, I watched hundreds of gannets and guillemots at close range, with at least 22 great and seven long-tailed skuas, common and velvet scoter, red-throated divers and Manx Shearwater.

Small passerine land mig-rants crossing the North Sea, most on their long journey from Scandinavia to Africa for the winter, were also caught up in the adverse conditions and driven off course. Though many would not survive, many were able to take shelter in the hedges and bushes along the coast.

Holy Island, for example, hosted large numbers of continental song thrush, blackbird and goldcrest, with smaller numbers of 
willow warbler, blackcap, redstart, pied and spotted flycatcher, and wheatear.

Being exhausted after being buffeted by the gales they were fairly easy to approach without disturbing them, as they tried to find insects among the leaves or feasted on the hawthorn berries down the Lonnens.

Migrant birds such as these 
face a literally incredible task of reaching Africa for the winter (and back again next spring) without map or compass, but weather like this drastically reduces their chances of success.

But that is not the end of their problems because those that do survive to reach the Mediterranean face an indiscriminate barrage of illegal guns and traps as they fly over countries like Italy, Malta and Cyprus. This carnage is particularly regrettable this year when exceptional rainfall swamped nests, eggs and fledglings, resulting in widespread breeding failure.

Birds know no geographical boundaries: the birds shot and trapped species that breed in the UK, like swallows and turtle doves, are of direct relevance to our own declining bird populations.

To learn more about this shameful situation, which is drawing more international condemnation, visit www.lipu-uk.org.

GRAHAM BELL