October is many a birdwatcher’s favourite month of the year. It is a time for rarity-finding, for welcoming winter visitors, and saying farewell to the birds of summer. And it is the season for catching up on the patch list and filling in the holes left in the spring. Here are four birds to enjoy this month. How many can you see?
Like many small birds, the Wheatear undergoes a transformation in its appearance in the autumn. Don’t expect to see crisp, pale blue-backed, black-masked males, for instance. The fresh buff feathers of both adults and first winter birds means they all look warm-toned, buffy and with buff fringes to the wing feathers. All Wheatears keep the striking black T on a white tail and rump which is so distinctive. Look for them wherever there is short-cropped turf or even on beaches. They are essentially ground birds, but will perch on fences, boulders or small bushes, when disturbed.
Just a few years ago, the Crane was a great rarity, isolated to a tiny population in north-east Norfolk, plus a few stragglers from the continent. Now, they are still very rare breeding birds, but can almost be expected at certain sites, well away from their traditional Broadland home, such as the Cambridgeshire fens, the Lakenheath area of Suffolk and some sites in the south-west. Cranes are magnificent and huge, dwarfing Grey Herons, for instance. In flight, they are even more majestic, with outstretched neck and legs and long wings held much straighter than a heron (more like a stork or swan). The loud bugling calls of distant Cranes is one of the great evocative sounds of autumn.
The Gadwall occupies an odd space in birdwatchers’ perception, largely owing to its origins as a widespread British bird. Though the current population has undoubtedly been boosted by introductions, most birders turn a blind eye to this and treat the subtly beautiful Gadwall as a ‘proper’ wild bird. Subtle beauty is what the drake Gadwall specialises in. A casual glance reveals a plain grey duck with a black rear end and perhaps a white panel in the rear secondaries of the wing. Closer inspection exposes delicate vermiculations and speckling which can only be admired.
Scandinavian Rock Pipit
Rock Pipits are widespread coastal residents around our shores, especially where there are significant rocky habitats. In spring and autumn, the UK population is boosted by migrants from Scandinavia, which may pass through inland sites where our resident birds would not stray. Though distinctions are subtle out of spring breeding plumage (when Scandinavian birds look almost like spring Water Pipits), the northern visitors may be slightly less heavily marked than British birds.