Seize the op­por­tu­nity

Take full ad­van­tage of Oc­to­ber’s avian of­fer­ings in terms of owls and birds of prey if you need a few more ticks to com­plete your #My200birdyear

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents -

How many owls and rap­tors will you get on your tick­list?

The start of Oc­to­ber is a great time to take stock of your #My200birdyear list – many sum­mer vis­i­tors will be gone, some other hard-to-find species will still be go­ing through on pas­sage, and the first win­ter ar­rivals will be trick­ling in. If you haven’t al­ready, you’ll want to dou­ble-check which species you have seen, then make a list of those that you might rea­son­ably ex­pect to come across in the last three months of the year. That should give you an idea of whether or not you need to do a bit of ‘twitch­ing’, whether lo­cal or fur­ther afield, to boost the num­ber up to the magic 200. It’s a par­tic­u­larly good time of year to fill in any gaps where birds of prey and owls are con­cerned – the short­en­ing days and fall­ing tem­per­a­tures mean the busi­ness of find­ing enough food be­comes more dif­fi­cult, and so some species move con­sid­er­able dis­tances in search of new hunt­ing ar­eas, while oth­ers may stay put, but con­cen­trate more heav­ily on par­tic­u­lar parts of their ter­ri­to­ries. And there are one or two pos­si­ble ‘bonus ticks’, too…


Older field guides might lead you to think that Marsh Har­ri­ers all de­part th­ese shores in au­tumn, but warmer win­ters means that many now stay in the UK, es­pe­cially in breed­ing strongholds such as East Anglia and the Som­er­set Lev­els. And while some of our breed­ing birds do mi­grate south, oth­ers ar­rive here from parts of the Con­ti­nent, so any visit to the coastal marshes of Nor­folk and Suf­folk, to the Fens, to the North Kent Marshes or the Som­er­set Lev­els, should be re­warded with the sight of at least a cou­ple. Mon­tagu’s Har­ri­ers are very rare breed­ers in the UK any­way, and will gen­er­ally have left on mi­gra­tion be­fore the end of Septem­ber, but odd birds do linger around the south coast, while Pal­lid Har­ri­ers are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly fre­quent va­grants from eastern Europe – care­fully check any bird that doesn’t look quite right for a Monty’s or a Hen Har­rier. The per­se­cu­tion suf­fered by the lat­ter species at the hands of shoot­ing in­ter­ests in parts of Eng­land and Scot­land might give you the im­pres­sion that Hen Har­ri­ers will be very hard to find, but in win­ter they leave the up­lands and head to the coast and to low­land fens. De­spite the per­se­cu­tion, they’re our com­mon­est har­rier, so look for them in such habi­tats or as they move through. A male is un­mis­tak­able, while the ‘ring­tails’ (fe­males and young birds) can also be iden­ti­fied by their long wings, white rumps, and low-level hunt­ing flights.


The Buz­zard is now our com­mon­est bird of prey, and stays on ter­ri­tory year-round. In au­tumn, though, they can be par­tic­u­larly vis­i­ble, soar­ing in cir­cles on warm days (of­ten mak­ing their far-car­ry­ing mew­ing cry), as they look to ward off in­tru­sions from young birds look­ing to es­tab­lish new ter­ri­to­ries. Rough-legged Buz­zards ar­rive from Scan­di­navia in small and vary­ing num­bers as au­tumn draws on. Plumage dif­fer­ences be­tween them and Buz­zards are many and of­ten sub­tle (es­pe­cially as Buz­zards are very vari­able) but they’re also a lit­tle larger and longer-winged, and hover of­ten and well. Honey Buz­zards typ­i­cally head south in the first half of Septem­ber, but look for the odd lin­ger­ing bird in south­ern Eng­land. In flight, the down­curved wings and long, rounded tail is a good ID poin­ter.


Goshawks can be ex­tremely hard to find other than when they’re dis­play­ing (in Fe­bru­ary and March), but as au­tumn goes on, Spar­rowhawks may be more in ev­i­dence around your gar­den feed­ers. As small birds gather to take ad­van­tage of this vi­tal food re­source, they gather to take ad­van­tage of all that ex­tra prey.


The UK’S bur­geon­ing Red Kite pop­u­la­tion is non-mi­gra­tory, and young birds of­ten take a long time to stray too far from where they’re born, so this is one of the eas­ier rap­tors to tick, around any of its strongholds (the Chilterns, Rock­ing­ham For­est, mid-wales, and the area just north of Leeds among them). But some do wan­der, es­pe­cially in re­sponse to bad weather, so look out for that dis­tinc­tively deep-forked tail. Black Kites are mi­gra­tory, and birds from Scan­di­navia can easily find their way here as they head south – turn to page 28 to find out how to recog­nise a bird that may ul­ti­mately be­come a Bri­tish breeder.

Ea­gles and Osprey

The ‘bad’ news is that, if you want to see an ea­gle, you still pretty much have to travel up to Scot­land. White-tailed Ea­gles do some­times turn up on the coasts fur­ther south, but your best bet is al­ways a trip to the High­lands or the is­lands of the west coast, es­pe­cially Mull. If look­ing for Golden Ea­gles, keep an eye out close to herds of Red Deer – the ea­gles of­ten fol­low them. Ospreys will have mi­grated south by now, for the most part, but oc­ca­sion­ally birds hang around on south­ern es­tu­ar­ies. Th­ese are usu­ally young birds, which may ul­ti­mately only mi­grate as far as Spain or Por­tu­gal.



Rough-legged Buz­zard Marsh Har­rier

Red Kite Spar­rowhawk

White-tailed Ea­gle


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