Your summer rest is over! As far as many birds are concerned, it has been over for a while, with migration taking place in earnest for some weeks. But September sees a shifting of gears and a sizeable increase in movement. Birds of all sorts are on what is called ‘return’ passage, heading to their wintering grounds. Unlike spring migration, the autumn’s episode is a more leisurely affair, without the need to rush to claim a territory and find a mate. So, you may be lucky and see that birds can linger a while on their way through. Here are five species to catch up with this month, and perhaps add to your #My200BirdYear list. How many can you see?
Stints are cute and desirable little waders. They are so small, they look about the size of pipits or wagtails, and it is odd to think of them as cousins of gull-sized giants like Curlews. In a mixed flock of smaller waders, you can pick them out as being the next size or two down from Dunlins (which are pretty small to start with). Most Little Stints we see in the autumn are juveniles on passage. But, remember, plumages among the juvenile waders are often among the most attractive, particularly in autumn, as the feathers are fresh and neat and even, and the colours are pure. Little stints have neatly golden fringed wing and back feathers with ‘braces’ of white on the back and a curious ‘split’ pale supercilium (eyebrow). The bill is short and straight, the legs are black. Most are seen around coastal sites, particularly in the south and east, but they also turn up inland in small numbers.
The magnificent, powerful, elegant Sooty Shearwater is a prize for seawatchers. It’s not the rarest shearwater, but neither is it at all common. This is generally a scarce bird, seen at sea or from coastal watchpoints, shearing over the water (of course). They are dark brown, looking black, with an elegant cigar-shaped body and long, straight-ish wings which flash silvery on the underwing. Beware the similarly patterned Balearic Shearwaters (another scarce seabird), which can also be dark (though not usually as dark as Sooties), but are smaller, less powerful, and look a bit more ‘pot bellied’.
Formerly a widespread breeder, this anomalous, cryptically patterned woodpecker, which looks like a warbler mixed with a Nightjar (and nothing like other woodpeckers), is now only found as a scarce passage migrant, mainly to the east and south coasts. They are odd birds, with beautiful, subtle plumage and feeding habits a bit like a Green Woodpecker (ie shuffling about on the ground, hoovering up ants with a very long, sticky tongue).
A scarce passage bird, the Red-breasted Flycatcher is a prize find for migrant seekers. They are small, usually buff and brown, rather plain flycatchers with a striking black-and-white tail (black with white bases at the side). Most lack the orange breast/throat of adult males. They can be quite elusive birds, disappearing in trees, even when you know they are in there. So, you will need patience as well as luck and timing.
The Bullfinch is one of our loveliest birds. Males are gorgeous and, close by, you will usually find the toned down female. Both have blackish wings with a single transverse wing bar of white, and a white rump, contrasting with the black tail. And with their black heads they are pretty unmistakable. At this time of year, though, look out for the potential confusion presented by juvenile Bullfinches. They are a bit like females, with similarly toned-down olive hues, but they lack the black on the head, so have a plain face and staring eye. The wing bar is buff rather than white, but they do still have the white rump.