Now that the summer is upon us,(?) we look up with eager eyes to the sky to try and spot the first migrant to arrive on Bute.
The first one is usually the" Wheatear" ,arriving mid-march and soon to be followed by hundreds more. A very colourful bird with the male as usual looking the smartest with blue grey back and head, black wings and mask. Prominent white rump and black and white tail pattern. The female and young more uniform buffish-brown with white rump .
The sharpness of the males colours makes them stand out ,and the white rump makes identification easy .A very active bird it they flit from rock to rock or rock to branch and if none are near they will hover above the ground for a short time .They also have very long black legs which is ideal for them as they spend most of their time on the ground , an upright position which makes them look proud as they search for their food which mainly consist of insects.
They nest in drystone dykes or amongst rocks or boulders and can have as many as 6 eggs to attend to, to hatch out and to feed . This creates a problem during nesting time as they go about their business of feeding their brood. "Humans”, If you walk along the shores you may see a pair flying along in front of you giving out their alarm call which is a harsh "chack” .They fly in front for as far as two hundred metres then fly around you to get back to their territory and their young .If you sit for a short time that is okay but if you sit and have a picnic for one or two hours? , remember that the chicks need a lot of food often .
Look out for the signs, - an agitated bird with a mouthful of food .It is easier for you to move a short distance away to give them peace and quiet .Sometimes you have other species in the same area giving you more problems, so watch the birds carefully, if you move on, you will eventually find a place to sit without causing problems.
When you settle down to eat, so will the birds and all will be well. These birds breed from southern England to the Shetland Isles and from Greenland across Europe and Asia to Alaska with them all returning to tropical Africa for the winter .The ones that go furthest north are the heavier of the species as they migrate over water .With wings 25mm longer than the southern ones required for their very long flight .Southern ones migrate overland only crossing water at the English Channel and the Straights of Gibraltar .The one in my photo is a male ,and as you can see it is possible to get close to them with a camera . Population is between 50,000 to 100, 00 pairs so you should see plenty during the season. Good Watching
First Published in the Buteman. 11-06-2009