In some ways, August is an intermediate time of year. The breeding season is coming to a close for many species; the rush of autumn migration is yet to take off. Birdwatching in August has a summer holiday feel to it. But, don’t be fooled.
There is still a mass of activity out there. Young birds are still being fed and reared and some, especially waders, have long ago left the Arctic breeding grounds and are still taking a leisurely trip south through the country.
It is also the start of southward migration of small birds, such as scarce warblers, chats and Wrynecks. Anything can and does turn up. Things are getting exciting, and here are a few birds to get your birding teeth into this month. See if you can find them to add to your #My200BirdYear tally!
Pied Flycatcher (above)
As birds start their southward migration in late August, the Pied Flycatcher is one of the birds we all want to catch up with on passage. Your best bet is at scrubby, bushy east coast sites; but birds will also occur in smaller numbers inland, at a suitable site or even in a garden or park.Don’t expect these birds to be black-and-white stunners, though. In autumn, Pied Flycatchers of all ages and sexes tend to be in their fresh brown-and-white garb. Despite this, they are still lovely little birds, though!
The long-winged, elegant Icterine Warbler is a scarce visitor, mainly to the northern isles and the east coast of England. Beware Willow Warblers, which are often very bright yellow at this time of year. Willow Warblers are fidgety birds with a dark eyestripe, while Icterines are more robust birds with an ‘open’ face lacking a dark eyestripe, and an altogether more ‘lethargic’ manner. Most UK birds will be first-winters, which lack the intense colours of a spring adult, but still have a touch of yellow and green in their plumage.
Juvenile Greenshanks are noisy, easily startled, waders, who take off shouting out their ‘tew tew tew’ calls in husky teenage tones at the slightest provocation. They are not hard birds to identify, with grey and white plumage and long, slightly upturned bill and long grey-green legs. The rump is white, as is the back, unlike the smaller Wood Sandpiper and Green Sandpiper, which both have square white rumps.
The lovely, chipper, dapper country cousin of the familiar House Sparrow is a bird which has undergone a drastic decline. However, there are still some 200,000 pairs across the country, mainly in England (though not the south-west), so it is not exactly a rare bird, yet. It is localised though, and in many areas takes a bit of local knowledge to find. One place where it is surprisingly easy to watch Tree Sparrows in the summer is Bempton Cliffs RSPB, where they ‘chip’ around while you relax at the visitor centre.
Crossbills are exceptionally early breeders in the early spring and seem to spend the rest of the year wandering around in flocks looking for the best feeding grounds. They are most frequently encountered in areas of mature conifers, but during August, they may also be encountered flying over in small flocks, repeating their famous ‘chup chup’ contact calls.
Only adult males are brick red, with younger birds being various shades of green, like the females and the streakier, browner juveniles. As devourers of much seedy material, they need to drink clean water regularly, and even clear puddles in suitable habitat can be a good place to look for drinking birds.