June is a month to unwind slightly from the rush of spring migration and enjoy some of our fine breeding birds, including the seabirds and heathland birds featured here. We also include a rare breeding bird among the five birds to go looking for this month. Remember, it may be summer, but some great birds are still on the move right now.
Arguably our prettiest auk (though Puffins may complain about this), the delightful little Black Guillemot is a bird of the rocky coasts of western and northern Scotland (especially the Northern Isles) as well as Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and Anglesey. Rather than being a cliff nester (like its larger cousins), it nests among boulders. There are nearly 20,000 UK breeding pairs. Black Guillemots are pretty unmistakable, with blackish plumage apart from a big white oval on the wing. The feet are bright red.
Another scarce breeder of the west, the Chough’s 250-400 pairs are found around the coast of Wales, Islay, Northern lreland and Cornwall; specialising in short-cropped grassy clifftops. They are handsome crows with broad fingered wings which allow them to be among the most spectacular aerobats of any of passerines.
A genuinely rare breeding bird, the Marsh Warbler looks very similar to the Reed Warbler (though a little less warm in colour). It comes into its own, though, in song. Marsh Warblers are top challengers for the prize for the greatest singers among British birds. The song is rich and powerful, but the real speciality is diverse and seemingly (to a human ear) incredibly accurate mimicry. Marsh Warblers incorporate songs and calls of birds they encounter on their travels (including African birds from the wintering grounds, as well as European species); usually scores of them! And they really do sound like the real thing. The downside is their rarity; there are fewer than 10 pairs in the country.
A couple of thousand pairs of Arctic Skua nest in the UK, mainly in the Northern Isles, but also in northern mainland Scotland and the Outer Hebrides. They are quite gull-like, but once you have had your head attacked by one near the breeding site, you will know they are much meaner birds than our gulls! There are two main colour morphs – pale birds, with largely white underparts, and dark morph birds, with largely dark brown plumage. The central tail feathers are long and pointed.
Despite recent declines there are still 1.5 million pairs of Sky Lark in the UK. The Wood Lark is nearer the other end of the abundance scale, with only about 3,000 pairs, all in the southern half of the country. They are much more specialised than Sky Larks in their choice of habitat, being almost exclusively birds of heaths in this country. So, they are found in such areas as the Surrey and Hampshire heaths including the New Forest, parts of Devon, and the Breckland and heaths of East Anglia. Shorter tailed than Sky larks, Wood Larks also have a more prominent pale supercilium (‘eyebrow’) and have a distinctive and beautiful ‘fluty’ song of descending ‘lululululu’ nots, delivered from a high point such as a tree top, or in a short song flight.