Birds to spot this Autumn

Tony Cummins, RSPB Guildford Walks Leader and Coordinator

The days are getting shorter, leaves are falling and mornings are chilly. Autumn is here! Birds are sensing a change in the weather and are becoming more active. Summer migrants are leaving and other birds are starting to arrive. So what should we be looking out for this Autumn and where are the best spots for bird watching?

Tony Cummins, our RSPB Guildford Walks Coordinator, explains which birds are arriving, leaving and just passing through.

“Many birds are migrants, but it’s not always obvious. Some migrants are just passing through and refuelling for a few weeks, others are here for the winter and some are internal migrants.

The passage migrants are travelling south from Northern Europe, where they go to breed during the short Northern summer. This includes many waders, who may stop off here on their migration route.  It can be an opportunity to spot some of the less common waders like the Curlew Sandpiper (which likes saltmarshes with muddy pools and shallow coastal lagoons) and the Little Stint (a tiny, wading bird). There is a plentiful food supply in the UK and birds will ‘refuel’ for a few weeks before moving on.

Photos courtesy of Ian Bollen

Then there are the winter migrants who spend their winter in the UK, like Redshanks (who may have travelled from Iceland), Curlews (the largest European wading bird), Godwits (Black-tailed and Bar-tailed) and Plovers. It’s also worth looking out for the juvenile waders, who often migrate later than their parents.

Birds migrating from the UK include swallows, sand martins and house martins who will start leaving any time soon. Swifts and cuckoos have already left.

So where are the best places to see these avian comings and goings? Pulborough RSPB is good for spotting small passage birds like Whinchats and Spotted flycatchers, which are both summer visitors and passage migrants. Also, there is a gradual build-up of water fowl. Wintering ducks include:

  • Shovelers – in winter, breeding birds move south, and are replaced by an influx of continental birds from further north
  • Wigeon – many birds visit the UK in winter from Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia, with large numbers of wintering birds at a few UK sites
  • Teal – in winter, birds congregate in low-lying wetlands in the south and west of the UK, many are continental birds from around the Baltic and Siberia
  • Pintails – can be seen all year round, wintering birds arrive from September with numbers peaking in December
  • Brent geese  – nest on the boggy Arctic tundra, by mid September they leave their breeding grounds and arrive on our shores in early October, where they will stay until April

Photos courtesy Steve Simnett

Coastal areas can be very good in Autumn and we have birdwatching trips to Titchfield Haven, Farlington Marshes and West Wittering. If you’re keen to see starling murmurations, there are 5million starlings in the UK in Autumn, and many can be seen at Farlington Marshes. Avocets can often be spotted at Titchfield Haven.

Closer to home, you’ll notice garden birds are sensing a change in the weather and their behaviour changes too. Tits start to form feeding flocks, often led by Long Tailed Tits who are particularly adept at spotting food sources. Winter thrushes will start to arrive. Many blackbirds are internal migrants, and after they’ve finished moulting often look for a new location to settle in.

Also, if you’re very lucky you may spot a rare Wryneck. As its name suggests, it has a very flexible neck. It’s a species of woodpecker and passes through the UK in Spring and Autumn.”

To see our full programme of Autumn birdwatching walks, CLICK HERE.

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