I love migration. Birds, butterflies or moths, the privilege of being able to observe it happening is never lost on me. Every session out in the field that coincides with a movement of birds overhead is a treasured session. We are now in the middle of the best time to witness such movements. So, pick your site, go and stand there, look up, and count the birds. Simple. Well, to a point it’s simple, but finding somewhere to stand where you have a good chance of seeing numbers of birds flying through - that isn’t as easy as it might seem.
Anywhere can turn up a good bird. Anywhere can provide you with a bit of visible migration. But those sites that regularly host such avian spectacles are fewer. Logic suggests hills and river valleys are the likeliest spots, but even they can be hit or miss. My own search for a North Downs hot spot, on the scarp slope, has been one of failure. Reigate Hill, Colley Hill, Box Hill and Denbigh’s Hillside have all been given the once, twice and thrice-over with mixed results. My birding colleagues at Leith Hill (Greensand Ridge) and Thorncombe have much better results, and Wes out on the flats at Capel does very well too. So, do the birds not fly ‘along’ the North Downs but pass over on a broad front? What about the Mole Gap? Do they not funnel through there? I have also sat at the break in the hills where the river flows through but to little reward.
My best local visible migration sites are seven miles further north, on a spur of high land. One is Canons Farm, the other my back garden. Both have provided memorable watches with thousands of hirundines, Redwings and finches. In fact, our Banstead garden was as good as anywhere for me last autumn, even throwing up the odd surprise.
But... even if you finally do identify and adopt a site - and the weather conditions are good for bird movement - you can miss out by being a mile or two to the east or west. This past week has seen heavy House Martin and Meadow Pipit movement. I have had my eyes to the sky as often as I could. Sometimes the birds have flowed through. At other times I have seen little whereas an observer not four miles away has been filling his boots. This has been played out across the county, birders rejoicing while others bemoaning their lot. Localised movement has been the way it’s panned out this autumn, very little on a broad front. Another aspect of birding that keeps us guessing. It could be down to the position of a rain band; direction and strength of wind; or even the direction that you are looking in!