Never call Birders Twitchers unless you are referring to those folk who rush around the country in the hope of spotting some rarity that has lost probably lost its internal compass, flown in by mistake and wishes it was in a much more familiar place.   Some, but not all, of these Twitchers give Birders a bad name by wandering into private territory, flushing exhausted birds that are trying to feed up and displaying an arrogance to those of us just content to enjoy wildlife – so Birders please.

At this time of the year our breeding birds have either stopped singing or more likely have gone to better places to spend winter and so you might think winter is not a good time for us birders. Well that’s not necessarily the case – as ramblers well know, there’s always something to see in the countryside. As the weather declines in more northerly and easterly climes, birds in huge numbers descend on this country because of the relatively mild climate and feeding opportunities. Your gardens are probably full of squabbling blackbirds and many of these are migratory birds. In fact I reckon our local birds who stay at home, display a quite different personality compared to those from Scandinavia. Our birds are loners, trying to hold territory and are keen to keep away the competition; after all, if you possess a nice berry-laden mountain ash tree it might sustain you throughout the winter if you can keep away the competition and supplement it with worms. Well, the competition is great, huge numbers of these migrants descend on us and our resident birds  fight a lost cause keeping their mountain ash to themselves. Just as our birds are loners, the visitors are gregarious, happy to share the berries with their mates. It’s said you can tell these migrants from our resident blackbirds because they have black beaks and our resident birds have yellow beaks. This is only partially true because juvenile birds also have dark bills until, I believe, the first moult.

Blackbirds aren’t the only members of the thrush family you might see as you are out and about. Other migrant thrush visitors include the fieldfare and redwing, and both can arrive here in huge numbers. Mixed flocks of 500 are certainly not unheard of and they not only strip our hedgerows of berries, but also seem to like short grass such as pasture land and park land to hunt for invertebrates. Fieldfares are large thrushes, mistle thrush size, but distinguishable by their greyish head and upright gait. They are usually seen with other fieldfares although especially when large numbers are involved they may also be seen together with equally large numbers of redwings. Redwing are much smaller birds with a more uniform colouring and a red underwing or shoulder which is not always evident and is best viewed from close up. Another identification marker is the creamy white eye stripe. Redwings are considered classic night time migrants and most may already be here. If you are out at night and hear a high-pitched whistle descending from the skies, it’s probably a flock of redwings. I guess they call to one another to maintain contact, otherwise they stray of course and become a prey to twitchers in some foreign land.

We have six species of thrush in this country, sadly most of them have suffered a decline over the last forty years. Some of them, the fieldfare and redwing are visitors from Scandinavia. Mistle thrush, song thrush and blackbird are resident although their numbers are boosted by migration, again from Scandinavia and Continental Europe. The sixth species is the mountain blackbird or ring ouzel which is purely a summer visitor.