November is an underrated month for birdwatching. Though it lacks October’s glamour, there are still many birds on the move, and many fine winterers to enjoy. Time to tick off those birds on your My 200 Bird Year list that slipped the net last winter. Here are five birds which may tickle your fancy this month.
Those speedy, dumpy, ghostly pale little waders that sprint along the tiny wavelets of the beach, like clockwork toys, are Sanderlings. Almost exclusively a coastal bird (with a few finding their way to inland sites on passage), the Sanderling is about the same size as a Dunlin, but with a shorter, straighter bill, paler plumage and that hyperactive shoreline running technique. In flight, the wings are obviously black and white, contrasting with the paler body. These are Arctic breeding birds which winter around the sandy and estuarine coasts of England and Wales (and south-eastern Scotland).
White-fronted Geese come in two styles in the UK. The largest proportion (about 13,000 birds) are birds from Greenland, which winter mainly in western Scotland, especially on the Hebridean island of Islay. These birds are slightly larger, with darker necks and orange bills. The remaining 2,400 birds, scattered mainly around East Anglia and south-eastern England, are European-bred birds, from Russia, and have paler necks and pink bills (below). Both subspecies are considerably smaller than Greylags and have a white facial blaze and variable, patchy black bands on the belly.
The Water Rail is one of those birds which are renowned for being much more frequently seen than heard. As a result of hiding away in reedbeds, it is probably massively under-recorded (surely, the ‘official’ breeding population of slightly more than 1,100 pairs is way off). They really are not uncommon birds, found in suitable habitat across much of the country. But they reveal themselves mostly by calling at dawn and dusk and only usually come out in the open at these times when they think they are not being observed. An exception is when there is a period of freezing weather, when they will emerge into the open in search of food and water. They are considerably smaller (and much slimmer) than Moorhens, with the same sort of cock-tailed ‘chicken-gait’. They are delightfully coloured in blue grey and streaked brown, with a long reddish bill and black-and-white zebra-striped flanks.
The tiny Teal is one of our most underrated birds. Drakes are really gorgeous looking ducks, from red, yellow and green head to black and yellow tail end (and with subtle vermiculations in between). And don’t forget that teal green speculum (panel in the secondaries of the wing). They also have a charming ‘breep’ call. Teal are even smaller than Tufted Ducks.
The most elegant of waders, the relatively scarce Spotted Redshank (which birders love to call the ‘Chewit’, not for its resemblance to sweets from the 1970s, but for its call) is really a lovely bird. In spring finery, they are (nearly wholly black (even the red legs go black at the breeding peak) and juveniles are densely barred in brown (with orange legs). But at this time of year, most are pale grey and white, with plain wings (no wing-bar) and an oval-shaped white lower back. The bill is longer and finer than a Redshank’s, and only has red on the lower mandible. The legs are longer, too, allowing deeper wading (often in freshwater).