Birds at Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe NNR: Migrants of Note in Oct/Nov 2021

Cliff Morrison

Reserve volunteer and keen birder Cliff Morrison is back with his latest update from Saltfleetby in Lincolnshire, this time keeping a watchful eye on the migrant bird species arriving at, or leaving, the NNR this autumn.

The autumn has proved to be generally very quiet for migrant passerine bird species, even for wintering thrush species, which can normally be relied upon to provide some large-scale arrivals. There is evidence that with milder winters and global warming, many blackbirds that would have made the hazardous N. Sea crossing are now staying on the near continent. An exception to lower numbers has been starlings, where flocks have been evident arriving daily over the sea since mid-October, with over 1,000 regularly feeding on the saltmarsh and on buckthorn berries.

Since early October siskins, a small predominantly greenish coloured finch with prominent yellow wing bars, have been recorded on an almost daily basis flying south along the dunes. They have been seen singly to groups over 20, so that cumulatively this will  have been a very good passage year for this species.

Immature Red-backed Shrike at Sea View on a branch against the bright sky.

Immature Red-backed Shrike at Sea View, 13/10/21. Unlike many autumn warblers, shrikes are much easier to see as they hunt from open branches. Photo: Cliff Morrison

Whilst the extensive shrub cover along the dunes is excellent for breeding warblers in the spring, it can prove to be extremely problematic when looking for less common migrants and vagrants from the east in the autumn. On 6th October, a possible olive-backed pipit was heard to fly over with another on the 8th. The call is similar to that of the European tree pipit and can be hard to differentiate even with a clear recording. Also, on the 8th a single yellow-browed warbler was at Brickyard Lane (BL). The 9th, brought an immature red-backed shrike to the dunes at Sea View and the 13th, brief views of a red-breasted flycatcher at BL.

During November, a dusky warbler was briefly seen along the outer dunes, again at BL. This is a very skulking warbler, typically found by call, but a visiting birding couple  spent several hours, knowing exactly where the bird was in the buckthorn, before it briefly showed itself again.

On 11th, 2 Siberian chiffchaffs were at Crook Bank area, where one was caught and ringed. Two more were recorded on 11th and 20th at BL and just north. The only other scarce warbler was a Pallas’s warbler north of Churchill Lane on the 14th and probably the same bird at BL on 15th.

a male stonechat and chiffchaff on bush at Rimac 19/11/21

A male stonechat and chiffchaff on bush at Rimac 19/11/21. Photo: Cliff Morrison

Olive-backed pipit, yellow-browed, dusky, Pallas’s warblers and Siberian Chiffchaff are all species that are to be found breeding in Asiatic Russia and China and typically wintering south of this vast range from Arabia to India and South-east Asia. However, increasing numbers of yellow-browed warblers now regularly occurs in the autumn in Europe/UK and it is assumed that they have established a small wintering population somewhere in SW Europe. Siberian chiffchaffs likewise are wintering in SW Europe, with a few birds to be found in SW England at effluent treatment plants, where there is an abundant supply of insects.

a small brown bird with a white underside sits on a branch surrounded by green and yellow leaves

A Siberian chiffchaff north of Brickyard Lane, 20/11/21. Note the yellow, olive and buff tones of chiffchaff and distinct lack of such tones and grey/pale colour of Siberian chiffchaff. Chiffchaffs normally leave NNR by November. Photo: Cliff Morrison

Siberian chiffchaffs are much paler than common chiffchaffs, lacking the olive tones of birds breeding in Britain and can be distinguished on call for added confirmation.

Wintering snow buntings were first noted from the 4th November, with 16 south of Crook Bank, but by 19th, a flock of 52 was noted. They seem to be generally in good numbers along the Lincs. coast this year. Lapland buntings have also been noted in small numbers and 4 shore larks were seen briefly at BL beach before heading south high.

With winter approaching,  late swallows flying south were recorded on 18th and 19th November.


All records via local group, Neil Drinkall and Graham Catley.

A brown and white bird with a yellow and brown striped head sits in amongst autumnal grassland

Two Shorelarks reported south 09/11 and 4 on saltmarsh Brickyard Lane 14/11/21 which left high to south. Photo Owen Beaumont

a small brown and white bird with a yellow stripe over the eye sits in a leafless bush

Very mobile Pallas’s Warbler north of Churchill Lane 14/11/21. Photo Neil Drinkall