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Whether you’re a casual birdwatcher or a purist willing to camp out on the prom in harsh weather, this month guarantees some great spots. Stephen Dunstan tells us what to look our for on the Fylde Coast

September sees the peak of Autumn avian migration in Blackpool. Many of our summer visitors head south, a number of conspicuous winterers appear and even more just use the Fylde as a staging post on their journey.

Redwing (Creative Commons)

Beginning with the birds seeking refuge from harsher weather to the north, skeins of pink footed geese will begin to appear from the first week of the month. Their ‘wink wink’ calls will be familiar to everyone who lives in the town, and can be heard as they migrate or move locally between coastal roosts and inland feeding sites. Virtually all the thousands of pink feet we see are from Iceland, but a small number from Svalbard that should winter in the Low Countries also occur.

Sticking with arrivals, two winter thrushes – redwing and fieldfare – are a regular site passing
over or roving around trees and farmland. The fieldfare is a large thrush with a greyish head and russet upper parts that is very distinctive when seen well. The redwing, named for its scarlet ‘armpits’ that are usually not visible, Is a species that calls when moving over at night and can be heard on all but the most inclement of evenings.

Wheatear is basically a corruption of ‘white arse’, but seen well they are bonny birds and, with care, good views can be obtained.

On calm days the first few hours of the morning can see hundreds of small birds passing down the Promenade, in what is often referred to as visible migration (or vismig for short). These can include hundreds and, exceptionally, thousands of meadow pipits, good numbers of pied wagtails and also hirundines (mainly swallows and house martins) and finches including chaffinch, linnet and siskin. Depending on the weather conditions, the birds can vary between being low overhead or high in the sky. If the latter, knowing their calls can be particularly useful. Many of these birds cut the corner of the Fylde Coast to reduce time spent over the sea, so Lytham St Annes nature reserve and particularly Fairhaven Lake can be productive. Light winds after a run of gales can be spectacular as the floodgates open with birds impatient to move on.

Speaking of gales, one for the diehard nature observer is the opportunity presented by strong westerly or northwesterly gales. September is the peak month for leach’s petrel passing offshore, a species barely bigger than a sparrow named after St Peter for the way it walks over water. Delicate sabine’s gulls, grey phalaropes and four species of parasitical skuas can occur. There’s no getting away from the fact that this is one for the purist – realistically you need a powerful telescope and a willingness to sit on the Promenade for hours in exposed conditions. That said, tired birds will sometimes linger on the sea so the birds gathered near the Mirrorball or on Middle Walk at the end of Warley Road can show them to you if you ask.

Another familiar Promenade sight, though on it rather than from it, is the wheatear. This bird is usually first noticed as its white rump flashes and it begins a short bouncing flight out of harm’s way. Wheatear is basically a corruption of ‘white arse’, but seen well they are bonny birds and, with care, good views can be obtained. They breed on uplands to the north, but are quite happy on the rocky areas of the seafront when moving through.

Yellow-browed warblers from Siberia have turned up in, for example, the Pleasure Beach railway bushes.

Yellow-browed warbler (Creative Commons)

September is the best month for rarer species to turn up locally, as a rule but not exclusively young birds that have become adrift of the correct course due to inexperience. The most regular of these are yellow-browed warblers from Siberia, which have turned up in, for example, the Pleasure Beach railway bushes. Lemon striped pallas’s warbler, meanwhile, have turned up in Gynn Gardens and near Bloomfield Road stadium. Rare desert wheatears have appeared on Fleetwood beach, near Morrisons South Shore and by Starr Hills. Never be afraid to ask someone to check any unusual bird you see, either by getting photographs or sharing the location.

This has been a rather bird-centric part of this series up to now. That’s not surprising as they are the most conspicuous wildlife of the month, but there are still other things to look out for. A period of conducive weather can still see butterflies on the wing, and even migrating into the area whilst some of the vanessids (red admirals, peacock and small tortoiseshell for example) will feed up before trying to successfully hibernate. If otters have successfully raised young it can be a good month to see them before the weather gets more testing. Dragonflies are conspicuous on sunny days too. Many species have now disappeared but species such as common darter and particularly the migrant hawker have a later peak. Dolphin sightings are likely to dwindle away, but harbour porpoises are present all year round. Calm days can produce porpoises, seals and extensive rafts of scoter ducks offshore from South Promenade.

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