Good and bad chat news

Flanders Moss NNR


Whinchat on Flanders Moss – the white eye stripe tells you it is a whinchat rather than a stonechat.


This week the whinchats are back at Flanders. They are a small robin-like bird that lives on rough, scrubby grassland and bogs and Flanders Moss is very much to its liking. Going round Flanders on Monday there were at least 8 males singing away on the tops of bushes and trees. I say singing but it is a bit of a scratchy stop-start song and sounds like they never finish their sentences and switch voices from harsh churrs to high squeaks. These birds have wintered in sub-Saharan Africa and have moved back up to Scotland to breed and it seems like they have all arrived in the last few days. Whinchats are declining due to loss of rough ground breeding habitat to intensively managed farmland and also problems in their wintering areas so it is really good to see so many back on the moss.
On the other hand their close relative the stonechat seems to be very thin on the ground at the moment. Unlike the whinchat, stonechats spend the winter in Scotland and it seems like the harsh winter weather has reduced the population.
It is an interesting contrast of strategies between these two similar birds. If you stay around for the winter and it is mild then the population does well but with the risk that a hard winter could kill lots off. On the other hand you could head south and survive the winter in warmer places but against that you have the problems of poor habitats where you winter plus migrating has its dangers with Mediterranean countries shooting a lot of migrant song birds and it uses a lot of energy. We are hoping that a reasonable breeding season for the stonechats and a mild next winter will see the population rebounding.

A wander around the boardwalk at Flanders with a bit of careful listening and you might get to hear a chat or two.

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