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Nutcracker sweet!

Soon after day break, the first flights of Scandinavian migrants reach the east coast, within minutes the hungry travellers gorge the fruits of sea buckthorn, hawthorn, holly and rowen. Sadly, not all survive the long over-night journey from southern Norway and during the following days many remains of fieldfare and redwings litter the tideline. Exhausted, they die or become easy prey to the waiting gauntlet of large saddleback gulls.

Only a portion of these Scandinavian visitors migrate; the remainder spend the winter months in their home countries, often in very large flocks. During periods of severe winter weather the number of migrants may be boosted by birds travelling from further east and may include flocks of waxwings.

A frosted or snowbound countryside may force many of these birds into our gardens to feed on berries; but they are wasteful birds, dropping almost as many berries as they eat. If severe weather is prolonged some will perish while others are forced to peck at farmland root crops.

Unless weather conditions become too severe normal emigration will have peaked by mid-November; thrushes depleting hedgerows of their berries and caste beech seeds gorged by finches, such as the handsome brambling. Then, and particularly if the fruit and seed crops fail in northern Europe, 'weather migrants' may arrive to our shore in December, even January. Many of these species are nomadic and show no allegiance to regular wintering areas. These so called 'irruptions' sometimes continue as far as Britain and on rare occasions may include nutcrackers. The UK is very much on the fringe of nutcracker 'irruptions', making them a very rare vagrant and prized by British birdwatchers. To put the chance of an irruption happening this winter into prospective, only eight confirmed sightings, all of single birds, have been recorded during the last 37 years. The unprecedented total of 315 nutcrackers recorded in the UK in 1968 must have been a birdwatchers dream come true!

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