August is a time of wandering juveniles and returning passage. There will be adult waders coming back in their summer plumage, plus the first wave of juvenile waders. Seabirds will be raising the last of their youngsters and chats, warblers and flycatchers will be on the move. Here are five species to catch up with this month.
The abundant Sedge Warbler is one of the easier Acrocephalus warblers to identify, being also one of the few streaked warblers we have in the UK. The key feature is the bold, broad, pale supercilium (‘eyebrow’), which is usually the first feature you see on a Sedge Warbler, even in a fleeting view. They are birds of reedbeds and other damp habitats, though will also appear in bushy areas and even visit gardens and garden ponds at this time of year, when especially juveniles start to wander from the nest area. These are the things that strike you, even if looking at a flying bird, before you notice the outrageous bill.
Even in August, it is still possible to see Puffins around the clifftop nesting colonies, or on the nearby sea. Later in the year, they will head out to sea and become ‘rarely seen’ until next spring. So, see them while you still can. They are, of course, unmistakable, but to help you pick one out, look for a small auk with a pale face, for starters.
Like Puffins, many Gannets will also be about at or near the colony in August. The youngsters, though, will be growing up, and the first juveniles will be on the wing. Juvenile Gannets are surprisingly handsome birds. From a distance they look uniformly grey, but closer, you will see neat rows of pale spots on the body and wings. As regards adults, they are pretty unmistakable, being much larger than other seabirds and even at huge range, their gleaming white plumage and large size stands out. Watching Gannets plunging for fish is one of the great spectacles of British birdwatching.
King of the falcons in summer, the Hobby is almost exclusively an aerial feeder, specialising in picking off flying insects, but not averse to pursuing hirundines and Swifts which share its airspace. Hobbies look a little like small, slim Peregrines, but are much slimmer and relatively longer winged, giving them a famous ‘Swift-like’ appearance. At this time of year, summer’s dragonflies are reaching their peak numbers and, naturally, Hobbies treat this as boom time! They will even continue the aerial hunt to well after sundown. Despite the general decline in insect numbers in recent decades, Hobbies are flourishing, and there are now nearly 3,000 pairs in the UK, breeding across the southern half of the country, but largely absent from Scotland and the far west of England and Wales, and from Ireland.
Into early autumn, there is a return passage of Black Terns, along the coast but also at inland sites, dominated by juvenile birds. Juvenile Black Terns look quite different from breeding adults. The underparts are white, and the upperparts grey, including the wings and tail, with a scaly brown ‘saddle’ on the mantle. There is a black patch on the crown and behind the eye and another one (a ‘shoulder patch’) just in front of the wing, onto the flanks of the upper breast.