Ring-necked Parakeet

Monthly Birding Calendar

The following is a guide to what might be seen in each month during a West London Birding Tour and may help you to plan your trip. However, as any birder knows, virtually anything can turn up, anywhere and at any time, so this is not an exhaustive list. Not all sites are mentioned below so if you want to visit a particular site during a particular month, e-mail us through our Contact Us page and we can give you an indication of what you are likely to see and arrange a suitable trip for you.

January

The start of the year means that many people are dashing around trying to kick-start their year list. As a result, species often not recorded later in the year are reported. These may include such species as Hawfinch at Lynford Arboretum in south-east Norfolk. Staying in Norfolk, January is the best month to see the flock of Taiga Bean Geese that spend only about 6 weeks in the country. This flock has also held a Lesser White fronted Goose for the past two winters, so a two or three-day bash around the county at this time of year should produce upward of 100 species. Nearer to London, gulls are very evident on the tips and the feeding flocks often contain “white-wingers” (Iceland and Glaucous Gulls). A cold snap can consolidate waterfowl numbers with Smew and perhaps a rarer grebe being found on inland waterbodies. Also, winter thrushes (Redwing & Fieldfare) can form large foraging flocks and in some years there can be an eruption of Bohemian Waxwing into the country (2011 saw birds virtually in every county, including sizeable flocks in London). Some regular spots also hold wintering Firecrest and Chiffchaff, the latter occasionally being joined by a eastern form (tristis or abientinus).

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February

Wildfowl numbers are at their peak in this month, with thousands of ducks, geese and swans on show at sites such as the WWT reserves at Welney and Slimbridge and the North Kent Marshes where there are also often good numbers of wintering raptors (Marsh and Hen Harrier, Merlin, Short-eared Owl and maybe a Rough-legged Buzzard). The North Norfolk Coast also holds huge numbers of wintering waterfowl along with thousands of wintering shorebirds such as Bar-tailed Godwit, Red Knot, Common Redshank and Eurasian Oystercatcher as well as good flocks of sea ducks and maybe an unusual grebe or two. This is also a good time to look for Smew around the London area and the rarer gulls such as Caspian Gull and Yellow legged Gull can often be found at the landfill sites around the capital including Rainham RSPB Reserve.  

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March 

March heralds the start of the spring migration season, with species such as Northern Wheatear, Sand Martin (Bank Swallow) and Chiffchaff arriving throughout the latter half of the month. Waterfowl numbers can still be high and our resident songbirds are in full song and setting up territories. More unusual species that may be seen include Ring Ouzel, Garganey, and Little Ringed Plover with  the first Ospreys passing through on their on way to their Scottish breeding grounds. A trip to Tring Reservoirs and Ivinghoe Beacon can be productive to find some of these species.  March is also probably the best month to look for and hear Woodpeckers. Several sites around the West London area can produce the scarce and elusive Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. It is also a good month to go and listen for (and hopefully see) Woodlark at one of the Surrey Heaths (e.g. Chobham Common), the New Forest or at Westleton Heath, near Minsmere.

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April

Migration really gets into full swing this month, with the majority of the warblers and other migratory passerines arriving. Any of the featured sites should guarantee a good and varied species list at this time of year. Shorebirds start arriving on their way to the northern and arctic breeding grounds – look out for summer plumaged male Ruffs at this time of year and auks and Kittiwakes return to their breeding cliffs. Seabirds are passing through to their breeding grounds and a trip to the south coast may produce Pomarine, Arctic and Great Skuas, a selection of sea terns and maybe the odd sea duck such as Common Scoter, or migrating Common Teal and Pintail. Terns can also pass through inland and Arctic, Common and Black Terns may be seen on the west London reservoirs (e,g, Staines Reservoir) during easterly winds, along with a passage of Little Gull. Mid- to late-April also provides the best chance of a trip of Dotterel staging at traditional sites (e.g. Chosley in North Norfolk) on their way north to their Scottish and Scandinavian breeding grounds. A tour to the Cairngorm area of Scotland during the summer months would be the only other likely place to encounter this species.

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May

May is probably the most exciting of the spring months and at this time of year it is a hard choice where to go. Migrant shorebirds are in abundance at coastal (and occasionally some inland) locations, a trip to sites near London (e.g. Wraysbury GP, Minet CP or Brent Reservoir) will be rewarded with a plethora of songbirds and this is the best month to try and see (Rufous) Nightingale at sites such as Minsmere, Little Paxton GP or North Norfolk. It is also a good month for scarce continental overshoots and Scandinavian passage species such as Wryneck, Bluethroat or Ortolan Bunting sometimes occur, especially on a south-easterly airflow. A trip to the Brecks from mid- May onwards may give the possibility of seeing Golden Oriole, as well as the common marshland species; Hobby and maybe a Common Crane or Bittern in addition to the breeding Marsh Harriers.   

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June

June is probably the best month to visit one of the UK’s seabird colonies (e.g. sites in North Wales, Yorkshire, or Northumberland) where there are literally thousands of birds, so what you may lack in number of species you certainly make up in the sheer numbers of birds. Many of the songbirds have now got independent young which are often easier to see than their parents, who are either getting ready to moult or are busy raising second broods, but a trip to Wraysbury GP should find most of the common species of warbler. There is also the outside chance of late passage migrants such as Red-backed Shrike or Common Rosefinch and Common Quail arrive in numbers during the month and can be heard at suitable sites, but seeing them is a different matter entirely!    

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July

July is one of the quietest months for summering passerines, many of which are now moulting prior to their return trip to various parts of Africa. Common Swift start leaving during the month and some good passage of this species can be observed. Shorebirds start returning from their arctic breeding grounds from mid month, many of which are still sporting their colourful breeding plumages. A trip to a coastal site is probably best for these. Auks have now left their breeding cliffs and along with other seabirds (Manx Shearwater and occasionally Storm Petrels) can be seen heading out to sea, especially from watch-points on the westerly facing coasts of the UK. Often there is a gathering of Balearic Shearwater off Portland Bill, Dorset during the month. July is a good month for turning up something really special and unexpected.

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August 

This is the main month for the exodus of summer migrants and sometimes migrant passerines can be difficult to find. On the plus side, resident species are undergoing post-breeding dispersal so flocks of tits and finches are commonplace. Often the tit flocks have a warbler or two mixed in with them. This is the peak month for seabirds off the Cornish headlands and shorebird passage reached its peak in this month at coastal locations such as North Norfolk. Tern roosts and flocks should be scanned for rarer species such as Roseate Tern.

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September

September is the peak month for autumn passerine migration, especially for those that enjoy their rarities. A fall can occur anywhere along the east coast from Kent to Eastern Scotland depending on the weather conditions, but a trip to Yorkshire or Norfolk usually turns up some unusual passerine. Seabirds are still on the move and skuas (Jaegars) and shearwaters are likely to be seen off the west or east coasts in this month. The late-leaving summer migrants, such as Chiffchaff and Blackcap are still to be found and visible migration starts in earnest this month with flocks of hirundines, pipits and fiches all on the move, as well as the first few winter thrushes arriving from mid-month onwards. A trip to Ivinghoe Beacon could be productive if “vis-migging” is your thing. Wildfowl numbers really start building up this month with the arrival of species like Common Teal, Eurasian Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Common Pochard from their Russian breeding grounds. The east coast can also play host to the now annual occurrence of Yellow-browed Warbler. Yorkshire or North Norfolk are the best places to see this species, though North Kent regularly turns up a few as well .   

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October

October sees the first large movements of winter thrushes and finches from Scandinavia and eastern quarters. Favourable conditions along the eastern side of the country can also produce falls of Siberian waifs such as Pallas’s Warbler and other gems such as Dusky or Radde’s Warblers, which arrive with sizeable flocks of Goldcrests. Goose numbers build up in Norfolk with Dark-bellied Brents and Pink-footed Geese arriving from Siberia and Iceland respectively. Visible migration can be rewarding and any coastal scrub should be checked carefully as you never know what might be hiding in there. October is also the peak month from Nearctic vagrants though in recent years these have turned up more in the Western Isles and on the western coast of Eire. Seabird passage is still underway with skuas and petrels still moving, though one is more likely to find a Leach’s at this time of year and there is often a passage of auks off both western and eastern coasts. Severe gales can blow seabirds to inland locations and there is a good chance of Sabine’s Gull in favourable conditions off the Kent, Norfolk or Cornwall coasts during strong onshore winds.  

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November

November continues much in the same vein as October, but with the summer migrants all but gone, we turn our attention to the wintering birds, but not before writing off vagrants from both the east and the west. Most of the wintering shorebirds have built up to good numbers at coastal locations and some sites on the Thames Estuary can hold wintering flocks of Pied Avocet, if you haven’t yet managed to see them on their breeding grounds in East Anglia (e.g. Minsmere or North Norfolk). Raptors such as Hen Harrier and Merlin become more apparent in lowland and coastal locations and there are sizeable flocks of European Golden Plover at both coastal and inland locations, often mixed in with flocks of Northern Lapwing on farmland. Pink-footed Geese have now arrived in number in North Norfolk as have European White-fronted Geese at WWT Slimbridge and numbers of Bewick (Tundra) Swans and Whooper Swans are building up at sites such as WWT Welney. Winter thrushes have now arrived in large numbers and moving around trying to find optimum feeding areas and finches including Brambling continue to arrive.

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December

As the year draw to a close, things start to quieten down, with the wintering species now all in and the summer visitors gone, December is a good month to sift through the flocks of wintering thrushes, finches and buntings. Coastal locations may provide a Twite in with the Linnet, whilst inland large flocks of Yellowhammer, Corn Bunting and Skylark can be found which in turn may provide opportunistic chances for Merlin. Short eared Owl and Hen Harriers can be found in regular sites and tits flocks visiting feeders may provide good views of Marsh or Willow Tit. Any larophile will enjoy seeing the larger flocks of gulls, especially on or near tips and the large Scandinavian-race Herring Gulls often outnumber the smaller British race, whilst also providing the chance of Yellow-legged or Caspian Gull. The tips to the west of London also provide excellent views and photographic opportunities for Red Kite and Common Buzzard. Duck flocks may contain Nearctic species, and recently there have been Red-breasted and Lesser White-fronted Geese recorded in December, usually from southern or eastern counties.              

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Huge numbers of wintering Red Knot can be seen at some coastal sites during the winter months

European White-fronted Goose is best looked for in February

Common Whitethroat arrive back in the UK in April

June is probably the best month to see Atlantic Puffin

Waders such as this juvenile Ruff pass back through Britain from mid-July through until September.

Dark-bellied Brent Geese arrive in numbers in October

Finches such as European Goldfinch arrive in the country from Continental Europe and Scandinavia in October and November and swell the native population

Winter often brings in birds from foreign shores. This 1st winter Black-headed Gull was banded as a chick in Poland and was photographed in Kensington Gardens in Central London.