Most people know that Swallows, Swifts and House Martins are summer visitors that fly back to Africa to escape our winter. They have to because we do not have enough of their food insects flying in the winter. Flying south to escape our winter is not just for the birds, some bats and butterflies do the same. A lady in Plymouth wrote on Facebook last week that she watched hundreds of Red Admiral butterflies heading out to sea from the Hoe.
Of course, if you spend summer in the north of Norway or even Greenland, flying south could bring you to balmy (relative to polar regions) southern England. Last year we had an article on the delightful Turnstones that live on our beach in the winter. One sure sign that the seasons are turning is the arrival of migrant Starlings.
I saw a flock of these beautiful birds feeding on the cricket pitch last week. We do have Starlings that live with us all year, but September sees the local population swollen by migrants. Nationally, there are about 1.8 million breeding pairs of Starlings, but that is half what there were thirty years ago. In September they are joined by several millions of migrants, mainly from north eastern Europe where the winters are really harsh.
The flock that visits our cricket field regularly in the winter will include local birds and numbers about 100, nothing like the mass flocks that take over some city centres and create the murmuration flights that can be seen in places such as the Somerset levels. These vast flocks swoop and weave as they come together just before roosting creating enchanting shapes in the sky like fluid sculpture.
Starlings actually help the ground staff maintain the cricket outfield. Their feeding removes pests and aerates the turf. They feed by stabbing their sharp beaks into the turf and then opening the beak to widen the hole as they search for food, particularly the leather jackets that damage the grass roots. I am glad to see them even if it does mean that summer is ending, to everything there is a season.
Image Credits: Chris Lockyear
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