What to look for in May


Bluethroat It seems an awfully long time since there was a spring 'dazzle' of this attractive chat (photo: Mustafa Erturhan).

May is one of the months that birders look forward to. Although our winter visitors have virtually gone there is a continued arrival of summer visitors and there is that constant feeling of 'anything is possible'. For those who aren't so interested in searching for scarcities, now is the time to get involved in survey work to establish what is breeding locally, or to get up and out early in the morning to experience a dawn chorus.

Red-footed Falcon Influxes of this super falcon can be a feature of May (photo: Steve Blain).

An easterly, or southeasterly, airflow and inclement weather are high on the wish list for many of us, especially those within striking distance of coastal hot-spots. During such conditions birds heading for breeding grounds in Fenno-Scandinavia become displaced, and sometimes exceptional falls can be witnessed, though such events have become few and far between in recent years. However, if the conditions are right species such as Bluethroat, Red-backed Shrike, Common Rosefinch, Marsh Warbler, Icterine Warbler and Wryneck may be hoped for, along with other scarce migrants that get carried along with the arrival. During such falls, particularly later ones, the next bush could hold anything, with the long days facilitating the search for those who have the energy to persevere.

Terek Sandpiper (photo: Available Light Images).

Scarce waders are also a popular quarry during the month, with sought-after species such as Broad-billed Sandpiper and Terek Sandpiper high on the agenda of self-finders, along with the more expected Temminck's Stint. May is also a good month for observing Dotterel, many of which pause at traditional stop-over sites, whilst far easier to chance upon are good numbers of Whimbrel passing through early in the month. Inland watchers are often on the look-out for locally scarce birds such as Sanderling, Wood Sandpiper and Turnstone, whilst tern passage can involves good numbers of Arctic Terns through inland waters under favourable conditions, plus Black Terns.

Long-tailed Skua The Outer Hebrides can sometimes produce exceptional numbers of this most attractive seabird (photo: Graham Catley).

The month can be a good one for seawatchers too, with skua passage observable from regular watchpoints, and some exceptional numbers of Long-tailed Skuas and Pomarine Skuas can be noted off the Outer Hebrides in the right conditions. Elsewhere Pomarine Skuas pass Dungeness (Kent), and other sites along the eastern part of the English Channel, during the early part of the month. Many observers will be hoping for the return of the Black-browed Albatross to Sula Sgeir in the Outer Hebrides.

Black-browed Albatross Will the bird return to the Outer Hebrides this year? (photo: Hugh Venables).

Collared Flycatcher The majority of records have occurred during May in the Northern Isles or along the east coast (photo: Derek Moore).

May can be an excellent month for Red-footed Falcons and overshooting herons, such as Squacco Heron. Of the rarities it is a good month for Collared Flycatcher, though many will be hoping for something a little bit rarer - White-throated Robin or Caspian Plover perhaps?

Temminck's Stint A species that can be hoped for by watchers of inland waters (photo: Russell Hayes).

Dotterel Always popular, and deservedly so! (photo: Kev Joynes).

Written by: Russell Slack