Friday 31 August 2018

August - autumn birding moves into second gear

The Honey Buzzard of my previous post seen moving south along the South Yorkshire moorland edge at the beginning of the month was a little unexpected so early into the birding autumn season. Raptor migration takes shape later in the month in the UK and into September. August is a time when birders focus upon the arrival of passage waders, a time to take in seabird movement as it develops on the east coast, and with thoughts of adding continental passerine drift migrants to a year list as the month progresses.

Of passage waders - throughout August around 50 beautiful Black-tailed Godwits moved between the Thames shore and their high tide roost of Aveley Pools at Rainham Marshes RSPB on the eastern edge of London. One visit saw 2 Avocets and also 2 Greenshanks to be found on the same pools sharing the space with many eclipse ducks as well as 11 Dunlin, several Common Sandpipers, 3 Ruff and a lone Little Ringed Plover. Not to forget probing Snipe and roosting Lapwings. A Whimbrel remained faithful to the riverside at one stage giving an excellent flyby comparison alongside a Curlew.

Back up north at Old Moor RSPB, Barnsley, South Yorkshire the legendary Wath Ings held several waders towards the month's end, namely 10 Black-tailed Godwits, 3 Ruff and 3 Golden Plovers amongst a small gathering of Lapwings. There were 2 each of Ringed Plover, Greenshank and Dunlin and not to forget its signature Green Sandpipers.

Of drift migrants - nothing rare crossed my path, but inland the sound of the 'hoeet' of the 'Willow/Chiff' became a common sound were perhaps local breeders and not continental visitors.

Of seabirds - so what does the following bring to mind in August? 2 layers of trousers, a fleece and wax jacket, spare fleece with extra waterproofs and hat and gloves on standby...

Typical dress code for an August Bank Holiday seawatch at Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire! Whilst the wind had a favourable NW component throughout most of Saturday 25th, perhaps a few days of this wind was required for a big movement of seabirds. Nevertheless from 1000 to 1900 perched on the grassy side below the foghorn station a nice and varied seawatch was recorded. Full details available at the Flamborough - Trektellen site, but my own counts included over 50 Manx and 6 Sooty Shearwaters, with double figures of Arctic Skua and half a dozen Great Skuas. An adult Pomarine Skua close inshore flying north late afternoon was nice to see. A couple of summer plumage Red-throated Divers flew by and waders moving 'in off' included a lone Greenshank as well as a small group of Knot and some Golden Plovers. A Snipe flying over the sea looked a little out of place, with Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Turnstones more familiar with the rocky coastline.

Of any other business - the Godwits played second fiddle to the crowds on the 11th, but offered a beautiful backdrop as they glowed in the warm sunshine on flying past a group of over 200 folk gathered near to the Marshland Discovery Zone at Rainham Marshes RSPB. The gathering were listening to passionate, well delivered, and in one example, an impromptu speech all with one simple message, at this one of the many Hen Harrier Day 2018 events. I'll let the photos do the talking.

Scarcities or rarities. Yellow-legged Gulls may be scattered in some parts of the UK but along the Thames in July and August they are a dead cert, usually in double digit numbers. Some cracking views on the ebbing tide at Rainham Marshes RSPB.

Cattle Egret, always nice to see and several can be seen in the UK throughout the year, memories of twitching one during the 1992 influx are distant. A Cattle Egret in the SW may not raise a few eyebrows (where there are over 50 present), but it is still rare in Yorkshire. The lure of one at Fairburn Ings RSPB near Leeds was tempting at August Bank Holiday. When it finally moved away from its perch at the base of a favoured bush, it shared a pool with Little Egret and an adult and an immature Spoonbill. A sign of the birding times, and the same could be said of the two juvenile Red Kites tangling with Common Buzzards over nearby farmland.

Old Moor RSPB has had a cracking year for breeding Bitterns, one bird was seen in flight along the edge of Wath Ings on the Sunday (washout) day of the Bank Holiday weekend.

The South Yorkshire moorlands played host to a passage Marsh Harrier on Bank Holiday Monday, where Ravens argued with Common Buzzards. Away from the moorland ridge 5 Yellow Wagtails dropped in to inspect the insects around grazing cattle in upland pasture. A pair of Crossbills flitting between moorland plantations were nice, hopefully more to come when the birding autumn turns to winter.