AUTUMN IN THE GARDEN

PUBLISHED: 12:21 25 October 2016 | UPDATED: 12:31 30 August 2017

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While human inhabitants might migrate indoors at this time of year - there’s plenty of other wildlife to watch in your garden, writes John Rance from Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Wildlife Information Service

Autumn is a fantastic time of the year to record wild birds in your garden; their natural sources of food start to dwindle as the weather changes, and flocks move into our gardens in order to find alternative food sources. It is during this period that our native garden birds are joined by many thousands of visitors from continental Europe - partial migrants’- which cross the North Sea to spend their winters in our warmer climes. A great many of the common garden birds such chaffinches, robins, and song thrushes that you see passing through your neighbourhood at this time of the year will be migrants, some perhaps from as far away as Scandinavia.

Whilst these birds are the same species as, and to the eye identical to, their British cousins, one of the easiest and most reliable ways to tell if your garden bird is a newly arrived migrant is to look at the state and condition of their plumage. Birds which are about to begin migrating will moult before they set off, giving them a clean, strong set of feathers on which to make their journey. This means that when these continental birds arrive in the UK they appear bright, neat and tidy compared to our’ breeding birds of the same species whose plumage can appear pale, worn and tatty in comparison. These differences can be subtle, but are well worth looking out for.

The arrival of these autumn migrants on our shores revolves around our weather patterns, which can of course be extremely changeable at this time of the year. Periods of high pressure means calm, clear weather and it is during these periods that flocks will be on the move, sometimes passing high overhead; a good knowledge of their flight calls is certainly useful. Conversely, low pressure, cloud and poor visibility can cause falls’ of migrants, particularly along coast, when birds become disorientated and find it hard to navigate- often choosing to take shelter in the nearest available suitable habitat, be it woodland, wetland or even in our gardens. This is what makes this time of the year in Cornwall so interesting in terms of migrant birds. Rarities can and do appear in Cornwall each autumn, some from as far away as North America or Asia so it is always well worth keeping an eye out!

Of course, it is vital to record even most common of our garden visitors as it is this sort of data which allows us to identify population trends and to recognise those species which might be in trouble. One of the most effective ways you can aid Cornish wildlife conservation is to become involved in wildlife recording in the county.

The Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, ERCCIS (erccis.org.uk), is collecting and collating records for all species in the county. Information on what may be perceived as relatively common species is vital in order to determine their distribution patterns and population densities. Many species can be used as indicators to monitor the health of particular habitats and its impact on other more notable species. Local recorders are invaluable sources of this information and the wildlife trusts with all Local Environmental Records Centres are appealing for species records and are aiming to assist recorder’s efforts whenever they are able. In order to qualify as a record and to assist the processing of incidental reports, a record needs to contain four vital pieces of information. Namely these are:

What you saw – The species name (with scientific name where they may be some ambiguity between common names).

Where you saw it – giving the site name (with the nearest village, hamlet or town) and Ordnance Survey grid reference (preferably to six figures or greater).

When you saw it – where possible giving the exact date that the record was taken.

And finally who you are!

Information such as the description of the evidence seen/record taken, details of numbers and frequency of the species seen, and for animals - details of breeding where known as well as a description of the habitat can all be invaluable when considering the conservation of the species and to enable conservation officers to identify the site in the future.

Probably the easiest way to do this is via our wildlife recording website, Online wildlife Recording for Kernow & Scilly (ORKS) at orks.org.uk. Here you will be able to pinpoint the position of your sightings on the map and add any other details you think might be relevant. You can also upload photos to aid the verification process.

You can submit records without logging in, but if you register a user name account you will also be able to access many other facilities on the site.

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