Au­tumn mi­gra­tion’s a won­der­ful sight to be­hold – and here’s what to look out for…

Bird Watching (UK) - - Marvels Of Migration - WORDS: MATT MER­RITT & RICK SIMPSON

Oc­to­ber sees au­tumn mi­gra­tion re­ally hit­ting its stride, with winter vis­i­tors such as swans, geese and ducks start­ing to ar­rive in large num­bers, some of our res­i­dent birds mov­ing around within Bri­tain, and some of our summer vis­i­tors such as House Martins still mak­ing their way south at a rather leisurely pace. In ad­di­tion, rare va­grants from east­ern Europe and Asia, and from across the At­lantic, will still be trick­ling in on the back of weather sys­tems. Have a look for all these species this month, and as the au­tumn pro­gresses, and re­mem­ber that most might turn up just about any­where now, while they’re on the move…

Whooper Swan

About 15,000 winter in Bri­tain (mainly Scot­land, northern English coasts, and around the Wash) and through­out Ire­land. Look for flocks on grain and potato fields as well as around large bod­ies of water, and keep an eye out for the sim­i­lar but smaller Bewick’s Swan, which win­ters in East Anglia and on the Sev­ern Es­tu­ary.

Great Northern Diver

Usually seen on its own, and of­ten fur­ther out to sea than other divers, but also turns up on in­land reser­voirs and lakes – about 2,500 usually winter in the UK. It has a large, heavy head and bill, with a dis­tinc­tive square fore­head, but keep an eye out for Black­throated and Red-throated Divers, too.

Pink-footed Geese

Large es­tu­ar­ies such as the Wash, Sol­way, Rib­ble and Tay play host to huge flocks of these at­trac­tive geese – about 360,000 winter in the UK. In Oc­to­ber, though, great V-shaped skeins can show up overhead any­where as they make their leisurely way to their win­ter­ing grounds, and check stub­ble and potato fields.


Get­ting on for half a mil­lion of these ducks spend the winter in Bri­tain, es­pe­cially at sites such as the Ouse and Nene Washes, and Rut­land Water, but look for them graz­ing on any grassy ar­eas near fresh water – the males’ chestnut heads and yel­low crowns are dis­tinc­tive, as is their white wing patch and at­trac­tive whistling call.


Vari­able num­bers of these gor­geous ducks winter in the UK, mostly in the south and west, with up to 200 some years. Although scarce, they’re un­mis­tak­able when they turn up on your lo­cal gravel pit or reser­voir – the male has a white and black ‘cracked ice’ plumage, while the fe­males are grey with ruddy brown heads and a white cheek.


Up to 30,000 winter in the UK, but they tend to re­main in small, lo­calised groups, es­pe­cially on sites such as the Dee Es­tu­ary, the Sol­way Firth, and on the Ouse and Nene Washes. Larger than a Mal­lard, their long neck and ta­pered tail gives them a dis­tinc­tive sil­hou­ette.

Na­ture Pho­tog­ra­phers Ltd / Alamy

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