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Comings and Goings in Devon by Andrew Cooper

When days shorten and trees begin to lose their summer green, we know the softer colours of Autumn will soon be sweeping the land. For many people and birds alike warmer climes beckon at this time of the year. But temperatures are relative. For creatures that spend the summer in the arctic, Devon in mid winter must seem a bit of a doddle. While millions of warblers and wheatears have already left our shores, and most swallows long gone, wildfowl and waders are now arriving for their winter holidays.

On the South Devon coast, just twenty minutes away from us, a trip to Dawlish Warren at high tide is always worthwhile. Then just a gentle stroll along the back of the dunes, brings you to a large two storey bird hide beyond the golf course. Here hundreds, even thousands of ducks, geese and wading birds gather. The best time to see them close to the hide is when the water is too deep for them to feed out on the mud. Some birds arrive still smartly dressed in their summer plumage. Purple Sandpiper can be especially spectacular when they first arrive but moulting soon dulls their colours.

With Autumn migrants now packing our shores its timely that this week the Devon Wildlife Trust has launched a new appeal for winter. The aim is to get its 50 nature reserves across the county ready for the return of our rarest migrating birds. Cuckoos and Pied Flycatchers will be among them returning next spring to benefit. Now is the best time to carry out management of wild areas of moors, woods and lowland heath to improve the availability of natural food and breeding places. And in our gardens to put up additional nest boxes and food sources.We can all play our part by providing a mix of seed and mealworms. At times the variety of bird food seems almost as wide as the types of birds.

Indeed, the scale of bird movements worldwide in Spring and Autumn is incredible, not easy to see let alone appreciate. The UK is one the world's hot spots for migrating birds. But when it comes to concentrations of numbers, few places see more birds than Central America. When talking to a good friend and neighbour about our recent overseas trip, I mentioned that billions of birds pass through Costa Rica each year. On a single day it is possible to see over 200,000 passing overhead. His reaction was priceless. Remarking that if he were ever to go there he would be sure to wear a hat!

Andrew Cooper

Our Guest Blogger living in Devon