Autumnwatch without taking a step

Sometimes it is necessary to simply sit back and wait for wildlife to come to you. To forsake the tendency to travel, far and wide, in search of wildlife, and simply wait in one place and allow nature to spring forth around you. This is what I have done on a number of occasions this week – choosing to test the “patience pays off” approach to things, and opting for some much more laid back birding around my local patch. My regular seat in the sand dunes that sprawl out along my small stretch of the Northumbrian coast, the perfect setting from which to enjoy the wonders of Autumn migration without taking a step. It really did work…

Perched amid the Marram fronds this week, coffee in hand, I found myself treated to a pleasant spell of migration watching. More of a trickle than a flood, by my own admission, but more than enough to keep me sated. The day beginning early with the familiar call of Meadow Pipits raining down from within the gloom. Innumerable birds passing overhead before the darkness finally lifted and a further 350 zipped over during the course of the day. Each and all heading South with some haste; in loose groups of ten or less at a time, often with another species secreted among their ranks. A Grey Wagtail, yellow tones and protruding tail standing out like a sore thumb amid the dulcet hue of the pipits; a few Pied Wagtail and, later, a small party of Siskin – all bound for more hospitable climes no doubt.

Waiting, the hours ticked by and the pipit passage gradually stilled, though other migrants soon took on their mantle. A dozen Skylarks, their melodic tones gradually fading as they too moved out of sight and next, a Great Spotted Woodpecker rising and falling above the beach. It’s undulating flight a clear giveaway, despite the distance between us. With these, a number of species I seldom see on passage. Species more often observed in my garden, within the local wood or patches of farmland. A Dunnock, four Bullfinch, a Reed Bunting and a Snipe: again, all heading South, followed promptly by the classic winter sight of a small flock of Mistle Thrush flying low about the waves – their machine gun rattle audible upon making landfall.

Speaking of the waves; with the passerine passage overhead soon wavering, my attentions inevitably turned to the sea. And, scope in hand, I soon set about observing the annual pilgrimage of some far larger characters. The first of which, a skein of fifty or so Pink-Footed Geese were quickly noted high above the surf. Followed, in quick succession, by yet more precursors to the forthcoming chill – ducks. Wigeon streamed south, some two-hundred of them to give a rough estimate. Most still looking somewhat drab, clearly moulting out of their less-appealing Summer garb. Later, a few dozen Teal, a female Pintail and two score Common Scoter, followed, finally, by ten Goosander trailing in their wake. Each and all resident species yes, but ones that increase tenfold during Winter. Visitors from Iceland, Scotland or the continent, though their origins matter not and all made for an interesting wait.

Gazing at the the white horses rolling, with some force, towards the beach, it was not just wildfowl on show, however. And species often associated with the more palatable climes of Summer and Autumn were also clear to see. Two Whimbrel headed South later in the day, as did a number of Sandwich Terns, and later, a large mixed flock of Hirundines – Swallows and House Martins – moving with purpose across the sea. Their numbers at the local roost sites – along the telephone lines of the nearby towns – having dwindled considerably in recent days. A pleasure to see, as always.

As the hours ticked by, my supply of coffee diminished and I began to fight the urge to depart, yet more migrants became apparent. Red-Throated Divers – not really a migrant, per say, yet a visitor to my patch nonetheless – came sporadically, one still bearing the vestiges of its crimson finery. Followed by a Great Crested Grebe and drawn-out string of Golden Plover – species which, like the divers, move on mass towards the coast in Winter. Though the real treat came in the dunes. A short stint admiring the local Stonechats – perched in somewhat stereotypical fashion on the yellowing stems of hog weed – revealing a less familiar character. A Whinchat, the first I have seen here no less, doing its best to blend it amid the aggregation of its commoner cousins. Not a sight that would set most birders hearts to racing, but good enough for me.



Departing, around midday, the steady stream of fleeing summer visitors, and arriving winter ones having ground to a halt, a few more titbits lay in store as I moved. A pair of Wheatear (not the one pictured above, that was taken a few weeks back) fed on the nearby footpath during a pause in the human traffic, and a Blackcap “tacked” from the brambles along the railway lines. A quick pitstop here revealing no less than eight birds, tossing back the now overly-ripe berries with a clear sense of urgency. Building up their fat reserves I suspect. With these, a few Chiffchaff and Whitethroat, and a Willow Warbler – potentially my last of the year – singing a half-hearted autumnal song from a nearby Willow. Perhaps the first time I have actually seen this species warbling from a Willow?

All in all, this weekend provided a welcome break from the normal, and somewhat monotonous travelling so often associated with my chosen hobby. Slowing down has its perks, and it was nice to witness the joys of migration first hand. Nothing overly rare, and as such many may scoff at my excitement, but all in all, a very enjoyable morning. And a welcome slice of avian respite before beginning my Masters degree this week.


    1. James Common says:

      Thanks Ben 😀

  1. Tony says:

    Hi James,

    I had a family party (presumably) of five to six Siskins fly over the housing estate only yesterday. They are breeding well in parts of Southern England as well now, so couldn’t be sure they were not locals. First Mistle Thrush for quite a while locally just the other day too. Some subtle signs of Autumn migration in action, it seems.

    Best Wishes


  2. It always surprises me how much I see when I just stop and look.

  3. Beautiful post. I only ever really get to do that (watching, waiting) in my garden and although I absolutely love it there, I can’t wait until I’m a little older so I can lose myself without my siblings telling me to hurry up! 😉 I really enjoy your blogs, James.


    1. James Common says:

      Thank you! I enjoy yours too – It’s quite fun just to sit down and watch, though that might just be my age and old bones speaking! Keep up the good work Dara 🙂

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