6 frequent flyers to Berkshire
PUBLISHED: 16:22 10 February 2016 | UPDATED: 16:22 10 February 2016
From those who hide in the bushes to the noisy, downright show-offs, these frequent flyers to Berkshire have tales to tweet to Jan Raycroft
Cetti’s Warbler: something of a skulker, photo www.flickr.com/photos/ferranp
The female goosander likes to keep her cool. Photo by Tony Hisgett, www.flickr.com/photos/hisgett
What do you want? I’m not doing anything! Photo: Tony Smith, www.flickr.com/photos/pc_plod
A beady-eyed Little Egret fishing, photo: www.flickr.com/photos/smudge9000
You put these out for the bluetits? Photo: www.flickr.com/photos/75967700@N04
The smew is definitely a looker. Photo: Claire Spelling, www.flickr.com/photos/126463701@N03
Some are just popping in to freshen up before continuing long journeys, while others have ‘booked’ a longer break. And a number like the look of things so much they decide to settle.
With Heathrow just down the road this all sounds so familiar, but the frequent fliers here, of course, are the birds that choose to travel to Berkshire’s lakes, rivers and the woodlands near water. Many have opted to escape the harsh winters of Russia and Scandinavia. It can even happen that the only reason they leave home is because a larger than unusual population has snaffled up all the local food and travelling long distance for a feast of berries makes sense.
And you can’t always spot which of our feathered friends is truly ‘local’ as a number are simply staying with family here for a while. As the RSPB points out, even the blackbirds in your garden in winter could well be visitors from Eastern Europe. Let’s head for ‘Arrivals’ to meet some of our guests.
Consider yourself lucky if you see a smew, as the winter visitors to the UK from Scandinavia and Russia can number as low as 180 in total. Even so, they really seem to like Berkshire and some hop across from Holland and Denmark if it is too cold there. And every now and again a smew completely loses its sense of direction and ends up in North America.
The male is easiest to spot with its panda-like appearance, while the mainly grey female has a reddish-brown head and white cheek. Their hooked beaks with serrated edges help them catch fish when diving and smew also eat insects.
• Places they’ve turned up in during the past year: Loddon Nature Reserve, Moor Green Lakes, Wraysbury Gravel Pit, Theale Gravel Pit.
This nervy looking character tends to bob up and down when standing and fly off in a low zig¬zag pattern if disturbed. It likes to hang around the edges of ponds or even sewage works, and is not much of a mixer, even using an old tree nest of another species to lay its eggs. The rule seems to be nothing too showy. We are at the northern end of its holiday destinations as many migrate for winter to southern Europe, India or even tropical Africa.
• Places they’ve turned up in during the past year: Dorney Wetlands, Moor Green Lakes, Theale Gravel Pit, Holyport, Windsor, Dinton Pastures, Midgham Gravel Pit.
Ring necked parakeet
Let’s add a bit of glamour with these fancy friends. Our only naturalised parrots, they’ve been escaping since being kept as pets in Victorian times. They like city and town living where parks and gardens full of berries, nuts, seeds and even household scraps are available.
Gathering in tree top groups, they enjoy a good chatter and their sociable lifestyle has spread across the South since natural breeding really took off in the late 1960s.
• Places they’ve turned up in during the past year: Whitley, Sonning, Wokingham, Bray, Winnersh, Remenham, and this time last year two birdwatchers spotted two large groups roosting at Eton. Photographic evidence revealed around 1,900 birds… we think they were moving out of West London to smarter addresses!
Now meet a great survivor. In the 19th century the little egret was extinct in northern Europe, courtesy of mass hunting for its brilliant white plumage used to decorate hats. They’d already suffered here in the Middle Ages (1,000 alone were used in a banquet celebrating a new Archbishop of York). Conservation laws in the last century have eventually led to the little egret starting to breed here as well as other parts of western Europe with a coastline. They’ve even made it to Barbados, colonised England’s southern seaside and more of them are being seen around the Thames, arriving from the continent as winter sets in. The fact that it’s a bit of a wanderer has helped the egret to survive and while most are residents or visiting from nearby, northern colonies migrate to Africa and Southern Asia. They feed on small fishes, frogs, lizards and worms.
• Places they’ve turned up in during the past year: Dinton Pastures, Charvil Country Park, Woose Hill in Wokingham, Bucklebury, Tilehurst, Sandhurst, Pangbourne.
There is that question The Queen is said to ask people to set them at ease: ‘Have you come far?’ Well, if Her Majesty was able to talk to a goosander she might be surprised by the response. For although these handsome members of the sawbill family have a Scandinavian heritage they are partial migrants, tending to move south away from iced over water.
Our fish¬eating Berkshire visitors may only have travelled from Scotland, where they began to build up numbers a century ago. The last 40 years have seen goosanders flying over the border in winter – they tend to stay north of the Humber the rest of the time. So this month the MacGoosanders could well be on holiday in Berkshire.
• Places they’ve turned up in during the past year: Moor Green Lakes, Padworth Lane Gravel Pit, the lakes at Theale, Wraysbury Gravel Pit, Lavell’s Lake at Dinton Pastures, Streatley.
Now, this might be a somewhat nondescript little bird that is prone to skulking around, but that’s no reason to get the name wrong; it’s pronounced ‘chetty’ and is named after an Italian zoologist.
These warblers weren’t even seen in the UK until 1961 but, having arrived and decided they liked it, are now part of a European population of somewhere between 600,000 and 1,600,000 breeding pairs. That sounds a bit vague, but you have to take into account all that skulking around in damp areas.
One way they do show off is with a loud and distinctive song.
• Places they’ve turned up in during the past year: Dorney Wetlands and around the Jubilee River; Woolhampton Gravel Pit, Thatcham Reedbeds, Dinton Pastures, Eton Wick, Burghfield Gravel Pit.
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