Every autumn thousands of birds flood into the Cotswold Water Park, to spend the winter with us. Many are waterbirds, but two of the commonest are certainly happier on land; Redwings and Fieldfares.
These closely related members of the thrush family spend the summer in Scandinavia and Northeast areas of Europe; departing before the harsh winters make survival difficult. In Britain they are often referred to as ‘winter thrushes’.
Our winters are comparatively mild and food is easier to find, with berry laden bushes attracting huge flocks of these birds when they arrive during October and November. The old hedgerows between the gravel pits provide a massive larder, though this eventually runs out and they switch to searching for food in fields with short grass, where worms and insects provide nourishment. During extremely cold weather, when the ground becomes frozen, they become more vulnerable. Some will fly on further south, whilst others move into gardens to exploit berry supplies and other fruit (particularly apples); overcoming their usual wariness of humans as desperation to survive takes over.
If seen well the two species are reasonably easy to tell apart. Redwings are Song Thrush sized with brown upperparts, large white stripe above the eye and a rusty red colour on the flanks. Fieldfares are larger with a lot of grey in the plumage and a yellowy orange colour on the chest
As spring approaches the winter thrushes will gradually fade away, returning across the North Sea to their breeding grounds, with the last ones usually being seen in April.
Images ©Dave Kilbey