Migration is in full swing and May is a time when rare birds go off course and come over here. Add the rush of bird song, the dawn chorus, the spring flowering and the warming of the weather, and this is a brilliant time to be out and about watching birds. Here are five birds to look for and enjoy during May.
Reed Bunting (above)
So much smarter than a ‘sexy sparrow’, the male Reed Bunting is a truly handsome bird, with
a neatly defined black head and bib, white moustachial stripe and collar and neatly striped upperparts. Females are more sparrow-like. Reed Buntings are well named, as they do spend a lot of time in reedbeds, particularly in the breeding season. Males may sing their simple song from a reed stem or a bush near their damp habitat.
This tiny, creeping calidrid looks like a mini Common Sandpiper, combining rather uninspiring colours with their dull greenish-yellow legs and a crouching stance and gait. Temminck’s Stints are always very scarce birds in the UK, mainly found at freshwater sites, creeping along the edge of shallow lagoons and gravel pits.
The song of the male Cuckoo is one of the most well-known bird sounds, yet few non-birders ever see the bird itself. Though very widely distributed across the whole of the UK, Cuckoos are not common birds (fewer than 20,000 pairs) and are painfully shy. They are most frequently seen by tracing the origin of the song of the male, which frequently sings from the top of a tree or bush or even a telephone wire. Females don’t make the ‘cuckoo’ song, but instead have a pleasing, excited bubbling call. Both sexes are quite similar, looking like a mix between
a slim dove and a falcon.
In North America, this wader is known by the much less demeaning name of Black-bellied Plover, and at this time of year, you get to see why. They are spectacular looking birds in full breeding plumage, combining spangled upper parts and jet black underparts. Though very much coastal birds, they will also cross the country, turning up at suitable inland sites.
Classically described as looking like a little clockwork toy running along the line where the smallest waves kiss the sandy shore, the Sanderling is a charming little wader. In spring, they sometimes wander inland, and if not inland patch-workers’ gold, are at least on the podium. They are particularly attractive as they attain their full spring breeding colours, when there are rich rufous tones, unlike the ghostly pale winter garb.