In some ways, November is neither one thing nor the other. It is still autumn, but migration is much slower than in October. And it is on the cusp of winter, but without the potential freeze of the turn of the year. Birds are still coming and going, though, so there will be a few goodies to look out for. Here are five.
Golden Plover (above)
Golden Plovers are upland, northern breeders in the UK. In the autumn and winter, however, numbers are greatly swollen by birds from the continent, until there are approaching half a million in the UK. Like many waders, they like to feed in groups. Unlike many waders, though, they are often found in large flocks inland on agricultural fields (often with Lapwings). Smaller than the seaside-hugging Grey Plover, Golden Plovers are also notably ‘golden’. Searching through large flocks can produce one of the rare ‘lesser’ golden plovers (Pacific and American).
Notoriously secretive, the Water Rail is, like the Cetti’s Warbler, one of those waterside birds which are vastly more often heard than actually seen. This is a shame, because Water Rails are delightful little characters, beautifully marked but also very pleasingly shaped. They are much smaller and slimmer than Moorhens and may occasionally creep out from concealment among the reeds, particularly in the crepuscular hours, revealing their subtle and beautiful colours. Otherwise, you are more likely to simply hear the weird and wonderful screeching calls, which can sound unnervingly like someone is pestering piglets in the reedbed.
Scaup are relatively uncommon winter visitors to the UK (c12,000 birds), with most birds coming to the north, such as the Moray Firth, the Firth of Forth, and the Solway Firth. Smaller numbers winter elsewhere and odd individuals or parties may turn up at inland water bodies during the month. Slightly larger and more rounded-headed than Tufted Duck, with no crest, restricted black on bill tip and often a white blaze on face, as well as grey feathers on the back, all help identify out of place Scaup.
November is a time when juvenile Shags tend to go wandering and may turn up at unusual sites, such as inland lakes, reservoirs and rivers. Juveniles are brown all over with a small white throat patch and relatively fine bill (compared to a Cormorant’s) and usually a steep, high forehead. They are much smaller than Cormorants which helps pick them out; and they are usually much less inclined to flight when they see humans, often being positively approachable and fearless.
Consistently one of the nation’s favourite birds, the Barn Owl is an instantly recognisable beauty. The Barn Owl is the only white owl you are likely to encounter in the UK and even a glimpse in your car’s headlights can be enough to identify one. However, they may also come out when there is plenty of daylight, so you may get to watch one patrolling field edges and rough grassland in the middle of the day.