June

Starling © Mark Lewis

Although it may well feel like summer out there in early June, and with newly fledged birds apparently everywhere, some birds are still in the process of migrating towards their breeding grounds. Generally, the further north somewhere breeds, the later it needs to arrive – otherwise there is risk that a bird arrives onto its breeding grounds before insect numbers are high enough, or while there is still snow on the ground. Waders such as the Knot, Turnstone and Sanderling are great examples of this. They breed at very high latitudes, and as such, will still be en route in early June.

This can lead to scenarios like the same shingle shore shared between a group of migrating Turnstone, who would barely have started thinking about breeding, and a pair of Ringed Plover, nervously watching over their recently hatched young. It’s a great time to look out for these species, as they look fantastic at this time of year, with (literally) Red Knots, Sanderlings brick-red and white, and Turnstones a dazzling mixture of black, white, and rusty brown. They can also turn up in unusual places too, with either species potentially turning up on inland loch shores as they head towards the wild northern tundra.

From the wild to the perhaps not so wild – but fascinating nonetheless. We are entering the time of year when some very exotic looking species can occur – although we may not be so sure where they have come from. Both Bar-headed Geese and Ruddy Shelduck tend to start turning up around now. The geese are native to India and north of the Himalayas, so natural vagrancy for these is extremely unlikely – but the Ruddy Shelducks are native to eastern Europe so it’s possible that some of the ones that turn up here are truly wild birds. What is more likely though is that these birds are part of the feral populations that breed in places like the Netherlands and Germany. That doesn’t make them any less worthy of our attention of course. Recording occurrence of these birds may help piece together the jigsaw with regard to why they come, and where from. Likewise, it’s useful to keep tabs on non-native species, as they could be future colonists and with that comes the potential for ecological damage, and an obligation to monitor. Finally, although these birds are likely to be ‘plastic’ (a term birders use for escaped/feral birds), they are still extremely striking and will be a surprise when you come across one! I’ll never forget the moment a Bar-headed Goose whizzed past me through Aberdeen harbour – completely off the radar, a huge surprise, and great fun!

Now – to some exotic (and noisy!) visitors you can trust to be wild. Bee-eaters are very rare birds in Scotland but June is the best time to catch up with one. As bright and colourful as they are, perhaps the best way to find one would be to learn its call – an abrupt, bubbling ‘prrp…..prrp’ which the bird gives in flight – you can hear a short recording of one here. Equally as rare, but equally likely to turn up in June, and just as vocal are Common Rosefinch and Golden Oriole. I was lucky enough to bump into a singing Golden Oriole on Shetland a few years ago – you can hear that bird here- so odd to hear it against a backdrop of Shetlands breeding waders! I’m yet to find a singing spring Rosefinch, but this is the distinctive song I’ll be keeping my ears open for. Maybe it’ll be your lucky day?

By mid June we can officially declare spring to be over. There seems to be little happening in terms of migration at the moment – although for some failed breeders, it is time to start behaving like it’s autumn already. But, enough of that – let’s enjoy the summer while it lasts.

One thing that has becomes evident by mid June is that lots of our spring migrants have raised their first broods already this year. I’m intrigued by how synchronised these fledges are. Chiffchaffs could have arrived a good five weeks before Whitethroats and yet here they are fledging their first broods at roughly the same time. Have I missed a brood of Chiffchaffs already – or are things timed to coincide with abundant food resources? I don’t know – but what I do know is that recording and reporting these fledged birds to the Local Bird Recorder will help keep tabs on any changes in phenology (when birds do what they do, essentially), and will provide valuable breeding evidence, helping make population estimates more robust.

Lots of our seabirds have young by this time, but they are still far from fledging. This means that there is an awful lot of to-and fro, with adult birds completely immersed in the process of feeding

young. On some coasts, it’s a particularly good time of year to see Puffins, and other things that may be moving from even more distant colonies. Maybe the Great Skuas and Manx Shearwaters that can be seen far from their colonies at this time of year will be immatures or adults taking a ‘sabbatical’ from breeding? Perhaps that is more likely than these birds coming from one of the distant colonies! It won’t have escaped people’s notice that seabirds were impacted by Avian Flu in Scotland in 2022. Will the reduction in numbers at the colonies be reflected in the numbers of birds being counted offshore? Only time will tell – but you could help find out…

It’s getting towards the time of year when Rosy Starlings can turn up. In spite of coming from the east, they have a knack of turning up on the west coast, or inland. Also, they often turn up on bird tables, almost exclusively in non-birders gardens (as far as I can make out). Look out for them among starling flocks – they will, at this time of year, be adults or subadults, so very nice and pink and striking. A lovely easy one to identify! If only all rarities were as easy…

For some reason, mid summer seems to be a good time of year to pick up a wandering Spoonbill, and other ‘continental’ herons. While these birds are still rare, be aware that they are increasing and have, in the case of Spoonbill, even bred in Scotland. Surely it’s just a matter of time before Little Egret are regular breeders and then what’s next? Great White Egret, or maybe even Cattle Egret? Check your local estuaries and wetlands, and of course, keep an eye to the skies, for wandering birds but do exercise a little caution if you want to report these, or of course any other potentially breeding rare birds. Data submitted to Local Bird Recorders is good, either directly or via BirdTrack – but reporting these things on the usual rarity channels if you suspect that the birds are breeding should be done with extreme caution. Also, be aware of an ID pitfall. In the summer, Great White Egrets take on a breeding ‘plumage’ that consists of a dark bill, and sometimes pinky red legs – not all dark billed egrets are Little Egrets!

While we are on about birds with wet feet, what about Guillemots? By late June the first young birds have already jumped from their cliff ledges and will be squealing away at Daddy Guillemot. They have a long couple of months ahead of them, drifting out to sea and being fed by Dad alone, before they suddenly grow up and decide they don’t need any more help. On calmer days, it’s likely the first you will know of them is their very distinctive call. If you hear this (usually) three note squeal, look out for one obviously smaller Guillemot hanging around with a normal sized one. This early in the year, they may well also retain some of their fluffy juvenile plumage. However, sometimes Dad is under water and you can be faced with what looks like a very small auk. Don’t be fooled! There are usually a couple of Little Auks reported around this time of year and the smart money would go on them being young Guillemots!