The Ups and Downs of Altitude Migration

2012_01_17 LN - Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta) 03
Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta)
We get many winter visitors from far away here in la Mancha, such as the Common Crane from far off Siberia or the Red Kite from Northern Europe. But we also get visitors from what´s called “Altitudinal Migration”. This is a seasonal movement where the change is altitude and not latitude but is still a form of migration to escape conditions which would be inhospitable at certain times of the year.
2012_01_17 LN - Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta) 02
Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta)
It can be a short distance that the birds travel from high in the mountains to lower valleys and fields covering maybe only a kilometre in distance but hundreds or thousands of metres in altitude. A classic example is the Wallcreeper which can descend up to 2000m metres changing mountain rockfaces for the sides of buildings in lower areas. This descent can also be a dispersion of up to 50km in some cases.

So let´s get back to our visitor, the Water Pipit. Now here´s a twist you might not know. Normally birds in the northern hemisphere when migrating head south in winter, and vice versa, those in the southern hemisphere head north in winter. The water pipit however is one of those altitudinal migrants and thus descends from the high mountains and can migrate some distance, BUT, going ‘the wrong way’, it heads north or north-west in the autumn. It swaps its mountain habitat for freshwater meadows and wetlands, sometimes as far north as Britain. I suppose it just goes to show that migration is not about going the right way or wrong way, but whatever way works for you.

(Information taken from Dominic Couzens book “Bird Migration”)

Go birding in La Mancha, Spain with Oretani Wildlife

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