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What To Look Out For - October 2016

  • Thu 22nd Sep, 2016

How time flies! It’s nearly October and we are well into migration, the Yorkshire coast wildlife airport is full of arrivals and departures. Swifts have gone, Swallows have almost all gone but many other birds have just arrived. So many migration mysteries still remain.  

Sparrowhawk © Dan LombardSparrowhawk © Dan Lombard

Virtually all birds migrate to some extent, especially when we consider short distances in that definition. A few years ago a friend of mine was bird ringing in my Flamborough garden in October; he caught and ringed a Blue Tit whilst trying to catch much rarer species. The following April he caught the same Blue Tit again but this time it was in his garden in Catwick, an amazing coincidence. This raised several questions. Was this Blue Tit born in Flamborough?  Did it spend the winter in East Yorkshire before returning to the coast or, was it born in Europe migrating to the UK and then return the following spring after wintering further south? So the next time you watch an innocent looking Blue Tit in your garden it may be just about to start an amazing journey!

Blue Tit © Dan LombardBlue Tit © Dan Lombard

Birds of prey also migrate to our shores from Europe in October. All our small winter species Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Merlin have been found to arrive here in autumn with results from bird ringing recoveries. Many of the Kestrel recoveries were of young birds ringed in the nest in Scandinavia. Some of these birds even reached Ireland before being found.

Kestrel © Richard Baines Kestrel © Richard Baines

Identifying these species can be tricky especially as the view is often brief. You can make it a little easier if you use this rule of thumb; in the great majority of cases a small raptor seen in a garden will be a Sparrowhawk. Merlins hunt over open land, often arable farmland in the winter. Kestrels also prefer open country but can come into gardens especially those on the edge of towns and villages. The Merlin is a very dark, small raptor; its hunting technique is all about agility, speed and surprise. Kestrels usually hover when hunting although they do adapt to other techniques.  So, if you see a small bird of prey in or close to your garden concentrate on size, hunting technique and habitat.

Merlin © Andy Hood Merlin © Andy Hood

Sparrowhawk © Richard BainesSparrowhawk © Richard Baines

Little brown jobs or LBJ’s is a phrase often used by birders when faced with difficult small brown birds. Linnet and Twite match that definition. Despite their brown plumage they are full of amazing character and great to look out for on the North York Moors National Park coast in October. Linnets have spent the summer nesting in our thorny hedges and shrubs. By October they will have joined into flocks often feeding on open fields after the harvest where there is left over grain.

Linnet © Dan LombardLinnet © Dan Lombard

Twite arrive from central Europe in search of food in late autumn and can be found in association with Linnets or in flocks of their own. Look out for them on cliff top fields where they can be found feeding on native flower seed such as Buckshorn Plantain. The best way to separate these two LBJ’s is to look for the yellow bill (a good winter feature) and white wing feather edges of Twite. Linnets have a grey dull bill and grey wing feather edges. Twite are also much darker brown in overall colour than Linnets.

Twite © Richard BainesTwite © Richard Baines

October is a great month for fungi. One of the largest to look out for is the Giant Puffball they can sometime be found in nutrient rich places such as grassy fields, parks and meadows. This is a good edible fungus especially when cooked fresh before the flesh becomes yellow.  Eventually the whole ball turns brown as the spores develop. A splash of rain is all it takes for the spores to be released.

Giant Puffball © Dan LombardGiant Puffball © Dan Lombard

Another very distinctive species to look out for in a similar habitat as the Puffball is the Shaggy Ink Cap. These are tall and well named; as they become older they develop a shaggy appearance and emit a black ink like liquid.

Shaggy Ink Cap © Dan LombardShaggy Ink Cap © Dan Lombard

They are also edible when fresh before they develop the ink. Whilst these species are easy to identify before eating any fungi it’s always best to check with an expert.   

Richard Baines