10 TOP SITES FOR AUTUMN MIGRANTS
Now’s a great time of the year to get out and see some wonderful autumn migration
As in spring, east coast sites can be particularly good places to look for migrants, as birds stop off on their way south from Scandinavia and the Arctic, or from eastern and central Europe, and others are blown ashore by seasonal gales. But there are great autumn migration sites throughout Britain. Why not try one of these?
1 Ynys-hir RSPB
Renowned as a site for spring songsters, this reserve on the Dyfi estuary can also be spectacular in autumn, with the arrival of White-fronted and Barnacle Geese (pictured above) alongside Teal, Shoveler and Wigeon. Waders will include large swirling flocks of Golden Plovers, plus Lapwings and Curlew, and keep an eye out for passing or wintering raptors – Ospreys breed nearby but also fish along the estuary and nearby pools while on migration.
2 Minsmere RSPB
Another East Anglian classic, with scarcer birds such as Wryneck and Red-backed Shrike always more than possible, alongside regulars such as Ruff, Curlew, Brent Goose, and Bewick’s Swans (which tend to arrive in late October). There are often impressive Starling murmurations over the reedbeds, and Bearded Tits roam the reeds – listen for their tell-tale ‘pinging’ call. All this, and rutting Red Deer, too!
Britain’s most renowned autumn migration hotspot – look for commoner species such as Pied Flycatcher and Redstart, which can pour through in large numbers, plus ‘falls’ of passerines, including rarer birds, in the right weather. These can include the likes of Barred Warbler, Hoopoe and Red-backed Shrike. Large numbers of waders such as Knot and Sanderling will be present, too, and seabirds pass by, so take a scope.
4 Portland Bill
Jutting out into the English Channel, this is a great place to watch passing seabirds such as Arctic Skuas and shearwaters, as well as passerines who are funneled down the narrow neck of land before making the dangerous flight across the sea. Great reserves nearby include Radipole Lake and Lodmoor, and there’s a bird observatory, too, visit: bit.ly/2btizyy
5 Pagham Harbour
Fancy a change from the better-known (and admittedly wonderful) Dungeness? This site, in West Sussex (and nearby Church Norton and Sidlesham Ferry) has lagoons that attract waders, including scarcer species such as Curlew Sandpiper, but it’s also terrific for passerines, with the likes of Redstart and Wheatears pausing here to wait for the winds that will carry them across to the continent. Selsey Bill, nearby, is an excellent seawatching spot.
6 Cley Marshes NWT
The north Norfolk coast, of course, is legendary for migrants, thanks to its geographical position. The scrapes support large numbers of waders, such as Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit, and search among the former for the likes of Pectoral Sandpiper. Marsh Harriers will be over the reedbeds, which in autumn and winter are home to Bitterns and Bearded Tits. But anything can turn up, both on the reserve or just off the adjoining beach (look for Snow Buntings and Shore Larks).
7 Loch of Strathbeg RSPB
This north-east Scotland site is a great place to see huge flocks of Pink-footed Geese and Whooper Swans arriving – some stay put, while others gradually spread further south during the winter. But look for other wildfowl, such as Pochard, Wigeon and Goldeneye, plus Bitterns, and raptors are attracted, too – expect Peregrine, Merlin, Hen Harrier and Shorteared Owl.
8 Strangford Lough
Huge numbers of pale-bellied Brent Geese are among the main attractions here – up to 90% of the global population winter here, arriving from Arctic Canada, and check among them for Black Brants, which often tag along. Look for the likes of Black-throated Diver and Slavonian Grebe out on the water, too, plus scarcer ducks such as Red-breasted Merganser, Pintail and Scaup. Grey Seals and their pups should also be visible on islands in the lough.
9 Slimbridge WWT
Pectoral Sandpiper, a transatlantic vagrant, is a regular autumn visitor here among the more familiar species, such as Dunlin and Curlew Sandpiper, while a variety of warblers plus Wheatears and Whinchats use the grassland areas. Bewick’s Swans may start to arrive from the end of October (depending on the weather), while equinoctial gales can drive all sorts of seabirds up the Bristol Channel and Severn – from Gannet to Leach’s Petrel.
10 Your own patch!
If you can’t get away from home this autumn, don’t worry! The thing about migration that gets overlooked by many birdwatchers is that it takes place all around us. Gatherings of hirundines are likely to be the most obvious signs, but look for larger than usual numbers of common birds, such as Blackbirds and Robins, as birds arrive from Scandinavia and the Continent. Better still, go out and do a visible migration watch – turn over to find out how…
Pale-bellied Brent Geese