There are several species of birds that return to our locality each autumn, generally arriving during the latter part of October and staying until the end of February or in some cases, the middle of March. I take particular notice of those that visit the garden and have come to look forward to their arrival and the enjoyment of adding some ‘fresh’ birds to add to my garden sightings list.
BLACK REDSTART– Phoenicurus ochruros
Each year, sometime during the latter part of October, a female Black Redstart arrives to take up residence locally. It used to happen that she would quickly settle back into a routine and to spend much of her day hunting within the garden, and seeing her on various perches, the handrail to the swimming pool steps, parts of the garden furniture and the pomegranate tree quickly became a familiar sight. A couple of years ago however, a Robin claimed the garden as part of his territory and within moments of the Black Redstart first appearance, he was chasing her away. She persisted in chancing visits most days and occasionally was able to stay for a while when the Robin was otherwise occupied, but he was very vigilant and equally persistent at seeing her off. The same process has been repeated every year since, including this year, so although I see her still in the garden it’s only briefly. It’s such a shame, as I love to see both birds, but that’s the nature of birdlife I suppose.
Although I see far more of the female, there is usually a male Black Redstart around too, but although close by they maintain separate territories and are not seen together. He appears occasionally in the garden area at the back of the house and perches variously on the lemon tree, on the handle of the wheelbarrow or up on the corner of the roof.
Black Redstarts have a characteristically upright posture and a rusty-red tail which is rapidly quivered at regular intervals. The male is dark grey in colour with a variably soot-black throat and breast and sometimes also mantle, with a white wing panel. Females are like a more sooty or dingily coloured female Redstart but always with a darker throat and belly. The birds breed in the mountains but spend the winter at lower altitudes, arriving during October and returning in mid-March. Whilst amongst us in the winter they are very common and seen in a wide variety of locations, around buildings, in gardens, in shrubby areas, close to and even on beaches. Once back in their mountain breeding grounds they are much harder to find.
WHITE WAGTAIL – Motacilla alba
White Wagtails are probably the most abundant and frequently seen of the winter visitors throughout the general locality and in the garden.
In Europe there are two races of the Pied Wagtail, yarrelli in Britain and Ireland and alba in the rest of the continent, which is what we have here. Males have a black crown and nape that contrasts sharply with their grey mantle, and the female has a grey nape shading into a black crown (younger females may have a grey crown).
Pied Wagtails are smart looking and always delightful and entertaining to watch. They often announce their arrival in the garden with a melodious whistle, a pee-vit sound, then they may walk around the perimeter of the pool before strutting off across the grass, tails bobbing up and down, occasionally making an eccentric fluttery dash in pursuit of an insect.
GREY WAGTAIL– Motacilla cinerea
Grey Wagtails are resident here. They are tied to running water during the breeding season, but in the winter months they move from upland locations to areas lower down. They are lovely, elegant birds, and it is a joy to have them as visitors. Grey Wagtails are less frequent visitors to the garden than the Pied ones, but we have been lucky in that so far they have appeared here every year. They are much more wary than the Pied Wagtails and when startled take off with a loud alarm call. The Pied Wagtails will not tolerate the presence of a Grey either, if a Grey Wagtail is around when a Pied one arrives, it will see it off very quickly.
MEADOW PIPIT – Anthus pratensis
Meadow Pipits arrive here in huge numbers in the autumn and throughout the winter may be seen in a wide variety of habitats, often in flocks. Some usually visit the garden, either singly or sometimes two or three together. They peck around on the grass for varying lengths of time, maybe just for a few minutes, but sometimes for much longer, depending to some extent whether or not they are disturbed.
The length of the period over which I see them also varies from year to year. Sometimes it may be over the course of a few days, while in some years I have seen them in the garden every day over a period of weeks.