July is here and, with a little luck, there will be some warm weather to go with the long days and short nights. Here are five species which it would be great to see on one of these lovely summer’s days.
There are only up to 750 pairs of these colourful plovers nesting in the UK, on high mountains in Scotland. They are famously confiding, but nonetheless vulnerable to disturbance on the breeding grounds. They are also famous for having reversed behavioural roles for gender compared to almost all other birds. After the brighter females lay their eggs, it is the duller males’ role to tend to the eggs and rear the chicks.
The ‘official’ population numbers for the Dipper in the UK are slightly bizarre. There are between 6,000 and 18,700 pairs in the UK. That is a huge variance, which presumably reflects the unusual habitat of these delightful birds. Dippers are birds of shallow, fast-flowing streams and rivers, which are not the easiest places to survey (especially when they are halfway up a mountain). They are the only British passerine which readily dives underwater in search of food, swimming as well as clinging to the bottom with strong clawed feet. They do this to seek out little invertebrates, as well as small fish. Famously rotund, a Dipper looks like a giant, cock-tailed, black Wren with a white throat and breast, bobbing on a mid-stream boulder or whizzing over the water on short, whirring wings. Brilliant birds!
Tiny numbers of Wood Sandpipers breed in the Scottish Highlands. But this handsome and delicate Tringa sandpiper is much more well known as a passage bird. They are seen on the way north in May, then birds start returning south again in July into August and early autumn (when juveniles dominate the passage population). Slightly smaller than a Green Sandpiper and more lightly built with longer legs, they are also paler and have a distinctive pale supercilium (‘eyebrow’). Wood Sandpipers are freshwater waders.
The king of British birds of prey is even bigger and arguably more majestic even than the Golden Eagle. These are the flying barn doors of the raptor world, with huge square wings and a short, wedge-shaped tail (white on adults). The 100 or so pairs in the Scottish Highlands and western islands are descendants of reintroduced birds, released some 40 years ago.
Many of our rare waders are North American breeders which stray over here. The Broad-billed Sandpiper is unusual in that it is a northern European (and Siberian) breeder, with a south-easterly migration route, finding its way through the UK only rarely (a few per year), with a more or less regular late July passage occurring. They are little (slightly smaller than a Dunlin), dumpy, calidrid-looking waders, with dark plumage and longish bill with a down kink at the tip. The pale supercilium is notably ‘split’ into two.