And so May is here, the finest birding month of the year. Most of our summer birds are back with us, the dawn chorus is at its maximum; many of our winter and passage birds are still here or passing through; and there will be rare birds turning up in the country. Enjoy May, and see if you can see these five great little birds.
Subtle, unobtrusive and declining in population at an alarming rate, the Spotted Flycatcher is an easy bird to overlook; toned down in plumage, but at the same time lovely to watch. Though a bird which will sit upright and still for quite long periods, it is at its best when swooping gracefully off its perch to catch a flying insect, then sweeping back to the same perch. They are found in a variety of wooded habitats, from mature woods with open glades, to cemeteries. Note that Spotted Flycatchers are often among the latest of spring arrivals, and may not be present until later in the month.
No, you don’t have to wait until May to see a Crested Tit; they aren’t going anywhere. But why not take the opportunity to visit their only breeding area, in the pine forests of the Highlands of Scotland during the month? You can do a lot worse than looking for these wonderful little tits, while enjoying the riches the region has to offer.
Our entire Cirl Bunting population is restricted to southern Devon and Cornwall (where they have recently established after reintroduction). They are similar in some ways to Yellowhammers, but males in particular have very striking face patterns, and greenish, not chestnut, rumps. Cirl Bunting songs are a bit like those of the Lesser Whitethroat, resembling the rattle at the start of a Yellowhammer song but without the wheezy ‘no cheese’ part.
A rare but regular visitor in spring in small numbers, the Red-rumped Swallow is a southern breeder in Europe, which may sometimes migrate a bit far and reach the UK. Red-rumped Swallows are usually found in typical hirundine feeding habitat, which often means over open water, particularly when there is cloud cover, which tends to mean swallows, martins and Swifts skimming low over water bodies, gathering newly emerged flying insects. Look for the pale rump and nape and for the lovely, elegant gliding flight style of Red-rumped Swallow, subtly different from that of a (Barn) Swallow.
May is one of the best times to listen for (and to) the strange, insect-like ‘reeling’ song of the Grasshopper Warbler. They most frequently sing in the crepuscular hours of dusk and dawn, but will also sing during the dead of night and the middle of the day. Grasshopper Warblers are shy and often hidden and hard to see. They like areas of tangled wild roses or brambles or similar scrubby bushes or rank vegetation; or they may sing from reedbeds. Beware: the song is so high-pitched that you need a good range of hearing to be able to hear it at all!