Bedfordshire Birding in October
October in Bedfordshire is a month characterised by the movement and arrival of our winter visitors. Observations of visible migration give a glimpse of this movement for those who find a suitable watch-point early morning and with favourable conditions, while overnight changes in the number of birds on our water bodies may also be notable. The month also offers the potential for a real county rarity, with a rare species list larger than other months of the year.
Summer visitors have mostly departed, with the exception of the last remaining migrant swallows, martins and chiffchaffs, and attention turns to the arrival of winter visitors. Most visible and numerous of these are the finches, thrushes and waterfowl.
Arrivals of thrushes can occur in waves dependent on weather conditions with earlier in the month arrivals of the characteristic smaller, greyer Song Thrushes from northern Europe, then Redwings, Robins and, towards the end of the month, Fieldfares. Any autumn Ring Ouzels are most likely to move with the Fieldfares, maybe lingering on a hilltop or amongst the larger areas of berry-bearing shrubs where the arriving birds drop in to feed.
Finch flocks on the move and feeding in the woods and fields may include the first Bramblings, an increase in Siskins and the first Redpolls, now virtually absent in summer, for some months. Visible migration watches have also revealed a few Hawfinches moving through in recent late autumns which will be high on the wish list of optimistic watchers climbing the hills in the mornings. Top of the wish list may be a second county record of Richards Pipit or a twitchable Common Rosefinch (following the first in an inaccessible garden) though a very thorough description to get through the rarities committee could prove tricky unless the bird is on the ground.
Regular observations on our larger lakes will reveal arrivals of increasing numbers of wintering duck species, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler and diving ducks being the most visible. Bewick’s and Whooper Swans are visitors most autumns when poor visibility in particular may bring us some birds that were intending to make an arrival on the Ouse Washes. Similar conditions would be needed to encourage a lost skein of Pink-footed Geese to become visible, probably passing through our airspace as they aim for the Norfolk coast.
This is also a key month for birds such as Slavonian Grebe, Long-tailed Duck and Grey Phalarope, the latter most likely after gale force winds which could bring other seabirds our way. A large overnight storm will bring memories of the hurricane of 1987 and Great Skuas, Sabine’s Gull etc that arrived on larger bodies in the few days following this momentous event. Shorelines of the lakes should not be neglected either as Rock Pipit is regularly in the county during October and there is always the chance of a passing, usually coastal, wader.
Other favourite species that can arrive during the month include Great Grey Shrike, Merlin, Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl. Some of these may settle in for an extended stay though a reduction in the amount of set-aside in the county could make it more difficult to decide where best to search.
A look through the rarity archives for October gives an indication of other possibilities in the month. The following species have only occurred once in the county: Blue-winged Teal (1987), Long-tailed Skua (1997), Whiskered Tern (2001), Radde’s Warbler (1991). The records also show three of the four Shore Lark records in October with the other in early November.
Following an increasing number of records of Yellow-browed Warbler, which is now annual, this is a species for which more records could be expected while a first county Dusky Warbler is also possible, most likely detectable initially by call.
So in October its worth getting up in the mornings whatever the weather, but an eye on the forecast for the night before and the coming day is vital to being in the right habitat at the right time.