Scroll down to see ‘what bird to look for now’

Bird Watching
JUNE ISSUE

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  • Dominic Couzens on the complex love life of the Sand Martin

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What to look for, NOW!

every week we'll highlight what to look for when you're out birding.

This week it is: Temminck’s Stint

So far, the tips have been for relatively easy birds at least for keen birders. This week it is a tougher proposition: this tiny wader is not only very tiny indeed, but it creeps about unobtrusively and is decidedly scarce! If seen well, it is not particularly hard to identify, though, which is something in its favour. Like the Little Stint, the Temminck’s Stint is minute, looking about the size of a pipit, and so if any common small waders are about (eg Dunlin or Little Ringed Plover), they seem to tower over it. Unlike Little Stint, they are slower, more crouched feeders, with a long ‘tail end’, making them look like tiny, sluggish, Common Sandpipers (rather than tiny Sanderlings). The plumage also has something of the common Sandpiper about it, being rather plain, grey-brown above and with a dark breast and white underparts. The back and wings usually have a few dark spots in spring, but there is little else fancy about the feathering. Also unlike Little Stints, the legs are dull greenish-yellow (not black), though this can be hard to see. Temminck’s Stints are found around the shores of freshwater pools, shallow lakes, gravel pits and the like, often with a bit of short vegetation (behind which they can easily disappear!). Look for them in May, as they pass through in small numbers in spring.

Spring Temminck’s Stint

Spring Temminck’s Stint

Spring Temminck’s Stint

Spring Temminck’s Stint

Last week it was: Black tern

We make no apologies for talking about another tern this week, and another really beautiful, scarce inland passage tern at that. That is partly because this is THE time of year to find one passing through a water body near you. Black Terns are marsh terns and they do not breed in the UK, but they pass through particularly during May (and again in the autumn). And now is the time to see them at their finest: Black head and very dark grey underparts (apart from pale undertail coverts) and grey back wings, rump and tail. They are small, buoyant-flying birds, sweeping and dipping to pick insects from the surface of water. As mainly diurnal migrants, they can drop in at any time during the day, particularly in showers or drizzle on muggy days with a bit of a an easterly or south-easterly air flow. Catch them while you can, these are really great birds!

Adult summer Black Tern

Adult summer Black Tern

Adult summer Black Tern. Note plain grey underwings (the rarer White-winged Black Tern has black underwing coverts contrasting with the paler flight feathers)

Adult summer Black Tern. Note plain grey underwings (the rarer White-winged Black Tern has black underwing coverts contrasting with the paler flight feathers)

Two weeks ago it was: Arctic tern

The magnificent Arctic Tern is one of the great travellers of the natural world, with each bird migrating up to 20,000 miles in a single year. They are altogether more elegant, extreme and beautiful than the very similar Common Terns (don’t tell them that, though). In old fieldguides we were taught to look for the bill pattern and leg length to separate the two similar birds. However, it is far more reliable to look at wing pattern and the birds overall structure to identify them with confidence. Arctic Terns have longer tails, shorter necks and shorter (blood red) bills than Commons. So, the wings look like they are set further forward on the flying bird. Most importantly, the flight feathers of those wings are very neat looking and ‘translucent’ lacking any smudgy wedge-shaped marks seen in commOn tern wings. Also the underside shows a very neat , thin black trailign edge on the primary feathers. During the last couple of week so of April into May, Arctic Terns can appear in flocks on inland water bodies, feeding mainly on insects picked from the water surface, before heading to the coastal (northern) breeding grounds.

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern

Three weeks ago it was: Little Gull

In the last week or so, there has been a considerable ‘movement’ of Little Gulls through the UK. These tiny and frankly cute gulls don’t breed in the country (except extremely rarely) but regularly pass through in quite small numbers each spring and autumn. They may be seen passing at the coast, but they also drop in to feed over inland freshwater bodies, such as lakes, reservoirs and gravel pits. They are very small, with notably blunt wings and a buoyant dipping flight, to pick insects from the water surface. Adults in summer plumage are very clean looking with jet black head and bill, pale upperwings and dark grey underwings (plus bright red legs and feet). First-summers have a black W on the wing and second-summers resemble adults but have a few black spots near the wing tips.

Two adult Little Gulls in breeding plumage

Two adult Little Gulls in breeding plumage

Adult breeding Little Gull

Adult breeding Little Gull

Feeding first-summer Little Gull

Feeding first-summer Little Gull

four weeks ago it was: BRAMBLING

The Brambling is the sexier, northern or north-eastern cousin of the abundant Chaffinch. Chaffinches are pretty (males in particular), but Bramblings are prettier still, especially the males (though Brambling females are still leagues ahead of female chaffinches in the looks department). Early April sees them gather and start their return journey to continental Europe, where they breed in Scandinavia, Finland and Russia. At this time of year, you may find them eating blossoms or buds (as well as picking insects). So, look out for these beauties on the move, and listen for the nasal ‘dweeb’ call.

Male Brambling

Male Brambling

Male Brambling. Note white rump, ‘scaly’ mantle and orange shoulders

Male Brambling. Note white rump, ‘scaly’ mantle and orange shoulders

Female Brambling

Female Brambling

Images above by Alamy


message from the editor...

Welcome to Bird Watching, the UK’s best-selling bird magazine. Every issue is packed with ideas, tips, advice, news and reviews, including binoculars and scopes, for anyone with an interest in wild birds, whether they simply enjoy watching their garden birds, or prefer to travel the country and world in search of more unusual species. Our mission is to inspire you to enjoy the world of wildlife that starts right outside your back door. Find out more and sign up to our annual birding challenge #My200BirdYear here.
Matt Merritt