September / October
These are the months to expect the unexpected along the coast, so keep an eye on the weather forecast before planning your day out. A drizzly day with easterly winds can be very productive, especially if the weather conditions are fine at the migrants’ jumping off points on northern European coasts.
Mixed in among the commoner migrants, there is always a liberal scattering of rarer species. Yellow-browed Warblers are regular, especially on Holy Island, along with the odd scarcer relative such as Pallas’s or Radde’s. Also be on the lookout for Siberian strays, such as Red-flanked Bluetails, although the chances are that a gaggle of tripod-toting twitchers is most likely to alert your presence to such a jewel.
Late September sees the return of winter wildfowl. Pink-footed Geese often fill the skies, heading south in ragged skeins, while a barking honk can reveal the presence of Barnacle Geese en route to their Solway wintering grounds. The timing of the Barnacles’ arrival is remarkably consistent, almost always on or around the day of the autumn equinox. Occasionally, adverse weather conditions can persuade them to break their journeys here, when up to 10,000 sometimes cram into Budle Bay.
Pale-bellied Brent Geese, like the Barnacles, come to us from Svalbard, but they are with us for the whole winter. Lindisfarne is the only site in Britain which hosts Brents from this population, and numbers can get up into the low thousands. In recent winters, our pale-bellied Brents have been joined by an increasing number of dark-bellied birds from Siberia, offering a rare chance to see the two races side-by-side.