Farewell to fieldfares

Posted on March 17, 2016 · Posted in News

This week, for the first time since November, I walked on the hills behind Bron y Llys without seeing a flock of fieldfares. These attractive thrushes winter in the UK, the majority arriving from Scandinavia. Large flocks appear in the Cambrian Mountains in late October or early November, but soon find their way into valleys and gorges where they feed on rowan and hawthorn berries. After raiding those food supplies they reappear on the hills to feed on invertebrates for the rest of the winter. This year, perhaps because of mild temperatures and fierce storms, we have seen small flocks in and around our garden more often than usual. There are often a few redwings among them, but these smaller thrushes (mostly from Scandinavia, Finland and Russia) seem to prefer lower, more sheltered areas. In February I came across a large flock moving through the woods at Allt Goch, just outside Llanidloes.

It’s unusual to hear fieldfares sing in the UK, but one mild afternoon in mid-February I heard a typically dull, scratchy warble coming from the top of our garden where a small flock were resting in the spruce trees; one of them was getting in some practice before the return journey to Scandinavia.

The departure of fieldfares and redwings this month doesn’t mean the hills are deserted. Skylarks and pied wagtails have already returned in good numbers to nest and meadow pipits are trickling back. These birds are mostly UK residents but prefer to spend the winter on lower ground. In fact meadow pipits and skylarks never desert these hills completely; it’s usually possible to find one or two doggedly sticking around in all conditions except deep snow. But their increasing numbers are a sure sign of spring, and it was a joy to walk up to Penycrocbren this week and hear four or five skylarks sing as they rose out of sight into a blue sky.