10 of the best places to spot migratory birds in the UK

Autumn is a brilliant time to see birds arriving and heading off in their thousands. Spectacular movements can be seen all over the UK, but we choose 10 special spots

Spurn Point, East Yorkshire
This narrow thread of land – actually classed as a sand tidal island – facing Grimsby is home to a bird observatory that records prodigious quantities of migrants and rarities. An easterly wind will bring thousands of birds passing through.

Dungeness, Kent

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 A view across one of the main lakes at Dungeness’s RSPB reserve. Photograph: Adam McCulloch

Given its lighthouses, miniature railway, nuclear power station, curious shacks and shingle, the peninsula is a unique spot even without the vast array of bird and insect life that uses it to launch off over the English Channel. A bird observatory and excellent RSPB reserve keep track of the comings and goings.

Portland Bill, Dorset

A huge flock of swifts under a bright moon.
 A huge flock of swifts under a bright moon. Photograph: Nick Moore/Alamy

Some 6,000 housemartins were recorded in one last week at Portland Bill Obsevatory, along with 3,000 swallows and 500 meadow pipits. A lofty narrow promontory with Grade II-listed lighthouse and an atmosphere all of its own make this a special spot.

Land’s End, Cornwall
Stancliffe says he likes to visit the Cornish peninsula to view the passage of skylarks heading to Ireland. Other birds seen here in numbers each autumn include meadow pipits, lesser black-backed gulls and sandwich terns. Temporary residents rocking up can include Lapland and snow buntings, Richard’s pipits and American golden plovers.

North Ronaldsay, Orkneys
This island is a bit remote, but it warrants inclusion because not only is it a stunning, other-worldly location, but September is its hottest month bird-wise. All the finches and thrushes pass through in this month and the seabird migration reaches its climax. In addition, waders and a wide roll call of raptors make their presence felt at this time.

Blakeney Point, Norfolk

Ornithologists carry out ringing of common terns on Blakeney Point off the North Norfolk Coast, England, Britain
 Ornithologists carry out ringing of common terns on Blakeney Point. Photograph: Rex Features

Another beautiful but somewhat bleak coastal location that not only attracts migrant birds in great number but plenty of twitchers desperate to add to their lists of rarities. The point itself – part of the Blakeney national nature reserve – has a breeding tern colony as well as its famous seal colony, but the surrounding vegetation harbours an array of migrants and vagrants such as brown shrikes, flycatchers, icterine warblers, wrynecks and so on.

Lough Foyle, County Derry
The RSPB-maintained mud and sandflats at this estuary reserve host large populations of pale-bellied brent geese and whooper swans as they return from their breeding grounds in Greenland and Iceland respectively. Flocks of more than 1,000 geese and 3,000 golden plover waders are regularly recorded here – an astounding sight.

Rutland Water, east Midlands

Rutland Water, Europe’s largest manmade lake, attracts waders, ducks and geese during autumn.
 Rutland Water, Europe’s largest manmade lake, attracts waders, ducks and geese during autumn. Photograph: David Sillitoe/The Guardian

Passage waders, ducks and geese are the stars during autumn at this huge inland lake, with 21 species of wader once recorded in a single day, and other regular migrants include glossy ibis, terns and wheatears. Up to 70 species breed over summer, including ospreys, some of which are about to set off on their long journeys south.

South Downs national park
Experienced Surrey-based birder Steve Gale is a specialist in North Downs migrations but admits that the South Downs have the edge when it comes to spotting at migration times. He says this is because the South Downs “have steep slopes on both sides and a narrower ridge so the birds are funnelled into a smaller space”. His recent sightings at Chanctonbury RingCissbury Ring and Chantry Hill include 700 housemartins, 2,000 linnets, a rich haul of flycatchers, wheatears, yellowhammers and corn buntings.

St Davids peninsula, Pembrokeshire
The whole of the Pembrokeshire Coast natural park is superb birdwatching territory with lots of varied terrain from ancient woodland to sea cliffs and river valleys. Being a headland, St Davids is used by birds transiting to and from Ireland and by visitors from Arctic regions. Wrynecks, buff-breasted sandpipers and ospreys also drop by at this time of year.

Source: 10 of the best places to spot migratory birds in the UK

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