Posted by: Ross Gardner | October 21, 2013

The Winter Shift

Listen very carefully, whether among the quiet of the countryside or the clamour of the town, and hear the winter shift moving in.  It was last Friday, walking along a main road in Southend.  Chucking out time in the pubs; the sounds of beery merriment and cars and buses; the sound of a town on a Friday night.  Passing above, infiltrating the sustained din below it, comes the thinnest of sounds – a drawn out, squeak of whistle, no louder than the sounds beneath it, but of a quality such as to be heard among them.  This is the sound of Redwing flying in, perhaps from Scandinavia, or even further afield, escaping the northern extremities for a less exacting British winter to come.   I don’t have my own image of these little thrushes, so check out this one from Wikipedia if you’re not familiar with them.

Redwing (Turdus iliacus).  Andreas Trepte.

Redwing (Turdus iliacus). Andreas Trepte.

It is reassuring that they return, to occupy our town and country in place of others that have left.  Reassuring too, that even such a slight voice of reason can be heard in the middle of town.

Less mysterious is the coming of the Brent Geese.  They gather in their thousands at favoured haunts around the coast.  As Arctic breeders their motives are similar to those migrating thrushes, for a milder climate to spend the winter.  I saw them on the marshes at Leigh-on-Sea over the weekend, spread out across the estuary mud exposed by a low tide,  having  already arrived in their hundreds.  The flocks here number in the thousands.  Like the Redwing, theirs is always a happy return and one that suggests that some things are still working as they should.  Long may that be the case.

Brent Geese (Branta bernicula).  Ross Gardner 2012.

Brent Geese (Branta bernicula) at Leigh. Ross Gardner 2012.


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