August is always a curious time of year. Associated with hot summers and school holidays, it comes off the back of the often quiet month of July, yet holds so much promise, as autumn proper (at least in birding terms) starts to kick in. By the end of the month, chats, warblers, flycatchers and waders (and much more) will be passing through in good numbers. Time to put dragonflies and butterflies aside for a bit and go birding! Here are five birds to look for this month.
This month is a peak period for picking up Whinchats heading back south and east from their breeding grounds, or on passage from the continent. There is usually a mix of adults and ‘scaly’ juveniles. Remember, at this time of year, the plumage even of adult males is less clear-cut and striking than the bright spring plumage (which reveals itself after wearing of the buff feather tips which this season’s fresh birds sport). Whinchats, like Stonechats, like to perch high on small bushes and ‘weeds’. They love weedy fields and barbed wire fences.
Ospreys, especially unattached males, are prone to wandering the country throughout the summer. August sees them joined by juveniles starting their leisurely journey south, and they can turn up at inland lakes, reservoirs and so on. Juveniles have more even trailing edges to the wings and more obviously barred underwings, as well as having pale fringing on the upperparts.
Late summer is the season for noisy, hyperactive Greenshank juveniles to appear along the edges of gravel pits and other freshwater bodies. Often, you will hear their loud ‘tew tew tew’ calls as they panic, before you see them. Juveniles often seem to have ‘rough’ calls, like they are teenagers, just breaking their voices. Lanky and somewhat gawky, grey Greenshanks lack the brown tones of the smaller, slightly neater Redshank, as well as the red legs, of course (Greenshanks legs are grey-green at the greenest!). Note the plain wings in flight and the white rump which extends in a white V up the back.
A bird which is much less common on passage than it used to be, the Pied Flycatcher is a lovely little bird. Like Whinchats, don’t expect any you encounter to look like text-book, black and white spring individuals. Males, females and juveniles are all dark brown and white (rather than black and white). Often perched in full view on a small bush or fence line, but can also be perhaps surprisingly elusive, not so keen on obvious aerial sallies as Spotted Flycatcher, but more likely to glean from leaves or twigs. Can give itself away with repeated ‘echick’ call.
Ok, you can see Sparrowhawks in any month, but August is as good as any, and they probably won’t be quite as sneaky as earlier in the breeding season (when they seem to disappear into the foliage and are just glanced as speeding ghosts out of the corner of the eye). Sparrowhawks are usually seen soaring above or in low hunting flight, often near the ground then hedge hopping to surprise small birds. They have blunter wings and squarer tails than Kestrels and usually fly with a ‘flap flap glide’ pattern.