A few of our common warblers are notoriously shy. Lesser Whitethroat is one of these, spending the spring and summer hidden inside big hedges, betraying its presence mainly by brief snatches of rattled song, unseen. But, come autumn, when the need to stock up on body fat for the long southward journey becomes the chief priority, they start to miraculously appear in the open. They may be picking insects on the sunny side of a Hawthorn soon after sunrise; or perhaps gobbling blackberries from the tangle of a bramble. They are slightly smaller, shorter-tailed, more compact birds than Whitethroats, with colder-toned plumage, black legs and often dark ear coverts compared to the rest of the head.
Waders are great, but Little Stints are adorable! They are the very definition of tiny, looking like they could run through the legs of other shorebirds. The vast majority of the passage birds we see in autumn (which is c750 in total) are neat, warm, fresh juvenile birds, with beautifully fringed wing and back feathers, making neat white V’s on the back. Note also the ‘split’ supercilium (pale ‘eyebrow’), short black bill and black legs and feet.
The White-rumped Sandpiper is one of the birds called a ‘peep’ in North America; the term used for the small (and rather similar) calidrid sandpipers. Smaller than a Dunlin, and more attenuated looking (ie the wings look long), with a shorter bill and more prominent supercilium, the real giveaway is the small white rump, only generally revealed in flight. Check you local wader flocks carefully, this autumn.
Manx Shearwater is the only shearwater which actually breeds in the UK. The similarly sized Balearic Shearwater and rare Yelkouan Shearwater both breed in the Mediterranean. The larger species tend to breed further south, and in the case of the Great Shearwater and Sooty Shearwater, they are from the Southern Hemisphere. It is understandable that they are scarce of British shores, but are coasts are roughly on the massive clockwise migration route taken by Sooties each year. A bit bigger than a Manx, the Sooty is a dashing, cigar shaped, almost wholly blackish shearwater, with flashes of silver on the underwings. A real prize on a coastal seawatch.
Autumn sees the arrival into the UK several species of wildfowl which nest in the arctic but winter further south. White-fronted Goose is one of them to look out for. ‘Our’ birds come from tow broad populations, separated widely enough in their breeding range that they have evolved different appearances. Greenland-bred White-fronted Geese (13,000 UK wintering) are a little larger, orange billed, darker necked and found mainly on the west of Scotland, such as on Islay. European (or Russian) Whitefronts (2,400 UK winterers) have pink bills and less contrasting heads/necks, with scattered flocks across the UK. All adults have white patches on the face behind the bill (hence the name) and have variable amounts of black banding on the belly and orange legs. Remember, also, they are much smaller than Greylag Geese, which also sometimes have white fronts.