Much as I love spending time in our garden and observing the daily goings on of the birds that visit, it’s at this time of year that I get the urge to smell the salt and surf and head to the coast. August begins an amazing two-three month period of bird activity around our coastlines that is as amazing as an Attenborough Wildlife Spectacular!
Surrounded by sea, our little island is a fantastic place to see many different species of seabird and you don’t have to risk sea-sickness or get your feet wet to do it.
Seabird colonies are dotted around our coast on islands and cliffs and the many thousands of Puffins, Shags, Auks and Terns that have bred throughout this summer are all preparing to make the long journeys to their wintering grounds, some as far away as Antarctica. Many of these seabirds will pass along our coast close to land and can be seen from headlands and watch points around the country.
In certain conditions and locations seabirds from other parts of the world can appear moving through our seas, sometimes moved thousands of miles outside of their normal range by storms or other adverse weather out in the Atlantic. Shearwaters from the Mediterranean such as Balearic Shearwater and Cory’s Shearwater occasionally appear amongst larger numbers of British-breeding Manx Shearwaters.
Tiny black and white Storm-Petrels the size of House Martins flit past dwarfed by giant straight-winged Gannets, the latter often visible to the naked eye a mile or two out at sea.
Four different species of skua, the pirates of our ocean can also be seen marauding offshore from late summer into Autumn. Skuas attack other seabirds for food, the smaller species often engage in lengthy chases of terns or gulls carrying food forcing them to drop the food that can then be recovered while the larger skuas may just predate weak or sick smaller seabirds entirely.
Bad weather can result in seabird ‘wrecks’ and they have been known to turn up in gardens occasionally but rather than wait for that to happen I would suggest a visit to the coast with your binoculars and a decent field guide. A change is as good as a rest and you’ll return to your garden birds refreshed after seeing some incredible travellers.
Our Garden Birder’s Diary is written by Northumberland-based birder Alan Tilmouth who has been birdwatching for over 30 years and writing about birds in various guises for the last decade. A keen garden birdwatcher, he also manages to unearth the odd rare bird on his travels. You can find Alan on Twitter and his Facebook blog.