Yes, the best two months of passage (so far) are over. But fear not, return passage has begun! July is the early backwards extension of autumn, as far as migration is concerned. For instance, with waders, the failed breeding adults will soon be followed south by the first juveniles. There is no excuse to give up birding and turn to insect watching (though slotting some of that in, too, is always a mood lifter for quiet, warm, summer days).
Here are five birds to look for and enjoy this month.
The rare little Broad-billed Sandpiper is particularly unusual in being a northern-breeding wader which breeds in Europe (Scandinavia), yet is considerably rarer in the UK than some North American waders. Birds in May and June are regarded as spring migrants and from July to September as autumn birds! So, if one turns up this month, it is probably returning to the wintering grounds. Most (of the very few) are found in the east of the country. Broad-billed Sandpipers are notably smaller than Dunlins (though larger than stints) with similarly long bills with a slight kink down at the tip. The head has distinctive stripes, with a ‘split supercilium’ of pale stripes above the eye. They are dark and streaky, with white bellies and, of course, never the black belly of a Dunlin.
It is all about the flight with Spotted Flycatchers. They don’t go in for fancy-dan plumage, but look amazing when swooping from a perch in a smooth arc, snapping a flying insect, then gracefully back to the same perch. Spotted Flycatchers are birds of woodland glades among tall trees (with room to swoop and catch insects), mature gardens and even cemeteries. They are widely distributed but increasingly scarce summer visitors.
Smaller than a Redshank (but beware juvenile Redshanks which are not yet fully grown), the neat little Wood Sandpiper is the epitome of Tringa elegance. They are mainly freshwater birds, turning up at gravel pits and lagoons as well as flooded meadows. Note the bold pale supercilium, yellowish legs, brownish, streaked plumage (always paler than Green Sandpiper) and square white rump.
A bird which is always lovely to encounter, the Barn Owl is one of the most familiar British birds in books and magazines, but few of us are lucky enough to have them on our doorstep. At this time of year, you may be lucky enough to see one hunting in broad daylight.
The first adult Cuckoos may well have left the country by now, heading to Africa for the ‘winter’. In July and August their offspring will be being fed gigantic quantities of insects by their host families of Reed Warblers, Meadow Pipits, Dunnocks and so on. The plump giants in the nest make anomalously high-pitched squeaks to stimulate their foster parents to keep feeding them more and more. Young Cuckoos after fledging can look particularly like Sparrowhawks, being browner and more barred and spotted than their biological parents, and with wings that are initially blunter than adult Cuckoo wings (until the primaries grow fully).