41. Hide the Birdie by Kevin O'Hara

Thursday 25th August 2011

© Amy Lewis

There are many changes afoot at the minute amongst our wildlife; it is the season for change, or at least the start of it. It can be a time of great excitement or even heartbreak as all the effort comes to nothing, but one thing for certain is that it’s never dull.

The dreaded mother-in-law said the other week, “There are no birds in me garden and I’ve seen that blasted hawk about again”. Quick as a flash I said, “Well he mustn’t have eaten them all because he’s still hanging around” - there was no reply, just ‘the look’.

There is, of course, a much simpler motive behind the perceived lack of activity in the bird world in her garden than an overly voracious sparrowhawk, and that is that they are all at the tailors getting a new suit. There is an abundance of recently fledged youngsters about at the moment from blackbirds to blue tits, all the birds common to our back gardens, all looking like untidy school children.

But why do they all suddenly disappear for a few days at this time of the year? The answer is simple - they are moulting and getting their new suit on. When their flight feathers (the ones on the wings) are moulting, they skulk about in thick cover avoiding detection, as they can’t fly away until the new feathers come through - until this occurs they stay well-hidden from preying eyes.

This week, however, all seems well. My garden is a mass of multi-coloured blackbirds in half and half uniforms which is revealing their future sex, there always being black males and brown females in the species. Hordes of marauding tits are pillaging all the insects they can find amongst the last of the flowering heads and vegetables, adding colour and noise to an often-drab late summer garden.

Elsewhere it is a time of exodus, with the first summer migrants like the swift already gone and the warblers are now wending their way south. Last to leave will be the swallows and martins who hang on until late September and sometimes early October before departing. All in all though, considering all the hardship bird species face, I think they have had (in terms of the more obvious species) a pretty good breeding year, with lots of young about. I can’t remember seeing so many blackbirds and tits before, which is good. This week on my travels I saw late broods of house martin and swallows still in the nest, and species like blackcap, whitethroat and chiff chaff all seem to have done well. Also, this past week I saw several family groups around the hedgerows of south east Northumberland.

They will need these extra numbers too, as harsh times lie ahead on migration, not least of which will be running the gauntlet of the Sahara desert. What is more problematic than the natural environmental hardships are the many Mediterranean islands they cross. Here ‘hunters’ lie in wait with gun, net and glue to ensnare millions of birds, not just songbirds but every species that migrate. We spend millions on wildlife protection and habitat enhancement across northern Europe only for the benefits of this to be taken in seconds as the birds migrate over Cyprus, Malta et al.

I took my own personal stand this year and cancelled my holiday to Cyprus. I have never been to Cyprus, and I really fancied going as I like the Med, but after consideration that up to 1.4 million songbirds are killed for an illegal food delicacy each year I said no and cancelled, and let them know my reasons why. Not sure what good my individual stance may have done, but at least I have made it!

So that’s me off to Bognor Regis then, bon voyage!