At this time of year many thousands of birds are passing through the Mull of Galloway on their autumn migrations. Many will be moving from upland areas to milder lowland areas within the UK, many will be travelling to the UK from colder countries further north, many will be attempting to escape the winter chill by travelling to warmer parts of Europe and many more will be travelling thousands of miles and crossing in to different continents.
Africa is the winter home to many of our summer visitors including house martin, swallow, wheatear and many warblers. Swallows that summer in the UK will spend their winter in South Africa. They will start to leave the UK around September but some can leave it as late as November before departing. They can take around six weeks to complete their autumn migration, flying up to 200 miles by day at low altitude, feeding on the way and roosting in large numbers at night at traditional spots on route. They travel through western France, across the Pyrenees, down eastern Spain into Morocco, and across the Sahara. Despite accumulating some fat reserves before crossing large areas such as the Sahara Desert, they are vulnerable to starvation. Some birds choose to avoid the Sahara by following the west coast of Africa, and other European swallows travel further east and down the Nile Valley.
Swallow - Photo credit: Rob Conn
Meadow pipit, skylark and robin are among some of the birds that will move from colder upland parts of the UK to milder lowlands, some crossing the Channel in to France and moving in to Spain or Portugal. Many of the robin we see in our gardens in winter are in fact visitors from more eastern and northern parts of Europe. At this time of year vast numbers, often up to 1000 or more meadow pipit and skylark can be counted passing over the Mull of Galloway.
Goldfinch which can be quite numerous around the Mull are partial migrants. There are fewer birds around in winter than summer. Many will leave the UK and head to France, Spain and Belgium between September and November, returning between February and May. More females will leave than males and some will leave some winters but remain during others.
Goldfinch - Photo credit: John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
Goldcrest, despite being the smallest UK bird will mainly stay within the UK. Some birds from Scandinavia, Poland and Russia, especially in harsher winters will arrive in the UK around October and remain until March. The willow bushes at the Mull of Galloway provide a perfect stop over point for some migrants.
Another small bird that can often be seen at the Mull during the summer, the wren, remains in the UK all year round, often moving from their breeding areas to different habitats such as reedbeds. Wren will often roost communally to keep warm in tree cavities or nestboxes. These winter roosts will generally be in small numbers but can often be in several dozens with one record of 61 wren in a single nestbox in Norfolk, 1969.
Wren - Photo credit: Rob Conn