BTO migration blog

Spring and autumn are exciting times for anyone who watches birds. Here on this blog we will make predictions about when to expect migrant arrivals and departures, so that you know when and where to see these well-travelled birds.



Friday, 20 March 2015

Still early but birds are on the move

During the last week there have been windows in the weather that have allowed birds to push north – Chiffchaffs, presumably held up further south arrived, not exactly in force but in numbers that made for some good counts at a few sites. Over 200 were recorded at Portland, Dorset on 18 March. Meadow Pipit migration is also a feature in March and it was beginning to look like it might not happen this year, however, taking advantage of the same weather window as the Chiffchaffs.

Chiffchaff by Amy Lewis

Meadow Pipits did finally begin to move in good numbers, over south coast watchpoints at least.
More Wheatears, more Sand Martins and a few more Swallows were also on the move, only a handful of the latter were involved though. The first Ring Ouzels were reported and a small number of Willow Warblers were also seen and heard.

So, what can we expect for the nest week?

The weather is forecast to be pretty similar to this week with the wind moving from the north through the whole of the compass and back to northerlies by the end of the week. At times there will be light winds which ought to provide more windows in the weather and, at these times birds will begin to move. It is still early in the season but we should see things stepping-up a gear. It ought to be a week of Chiffchaffs and Meadow Pipits but we can also expect a few more Willow Warblers and Sandwich Terns to crop up too.

Sandwich Tern by Andy Mason

Cliff-nesting seabirds ought to begin to increase as more and more return to their colonies, particularly during quiet periods in the weather, and seawatchers could be treated to some spectacular wildfowl movements – now is a good time for scoters to be on the move. It is worth checking out inland waters too, as a few Common Scoters do seem to migrate over land during March. Other wildfowl on the move will include Wigeon, Pintail, Teal and Shoveler, and flocks of geese should also be a feature, as Brent, Pink-footed, White-fronted and Greylag geese all start to make their way north.

Redwings and Fieldfares could also head out mid-week as the winds become more favourable for a North Sea crossing. The weather isn’t looking so good for those Redwings that are heading back to Iceland though. and along with Whooper Swans, Northern Britain could see good numbers of both gathering in readiness for more suitable conditions.

Scarcity of the week has to go to the immature White-tailed Eagle that did a tour of East Anglia during the early part of the week and is still present at the time of writing. At this stage it is impossible to know where this bird originated from. However, during the last few days it has visited several points along the Norfolk and Suffolk coast, perhaps looking for the ideal conditions to cross the North Sea, giving us a clue of its possible natal area. The bird is ringed but the ring number hasn’t been visible so far.

Bufflehead by Luke Delve

With the winds coming from all direction this week it is hard to hazard a guess at a rarity but it could well be a duck that has spent the winter further south. Of the sixteen Buffleheads that have been accepted in Britain, five occurred in March.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

They're here!

The first decent arrival of summer migrants arrived last weekend, on the wave of warm southerly airflow that the southern half of the country enjoyed. Over one hundred Sand Martins were reported, with a few birds making it as far north as Cheshire. Around half as many Wheatears with most being seen, rather unsurprisingly, in southern counties, a few did make it into Wales and at least one bird was seen in Northern Ireland. 

Sand Martin by Andy Mason

Other summer migrants arriving at the weekend included at least one Swallow, a couple of House Martins and Little Ringed Plovers, around a dozen Garganey and up to four Ospreys. The predicted Hoopoe didn’t show but there was a flavour of the Mediterranean with at least one, and possibly as many as three Alpine Swifts being reported, only one of these showed well, a bird that graced the skies over Wolverhampton on the 9th March.

Alpine Swift by Su Delve

Visible migration watchers also enjoyed some movement – A steady trickle of Meadow Pipits heading north was a feature of south coast watchpoints during the early part of the week, whilst northbound Pink-footed Geese dominated proceedings at east coast sites. West coast watchers were treated to some impressive auk movement, mostly Razorbills heading north. Check out the BTO ID video here.

Meadow Pipit by Nigel Clark


With stiff north easterly winds forecast for this weekend it will be quite different from last weekend – whilst a few southern migrants will still arrive most will struggle, however, that could all change during the early part of next week when the winds turn more southerly again. The east coast will be the place to be this weekend. More geese, divers and gulls should be on the move with the easterly wind pushing them close inshore, and wildfowl, Teal and Pintail could move in good numbers, it could also be the east coast’s turn to enjoy some auk passage. 

Once the winds turn southerly again we could see the first big arrival of Chiffchaff and more hirundines. On the rarity front and given the easterly winds and the fact that there have been a few March records before, Rustic Bunting could be on the cards, although later in the week something from the south is more likely.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Spring migration is under way.

The first summer migrants are here - just. A Wheatear was seen at Portland, Dorset on the 1 March, and Ospreys were reported in Dorset and North Yorkshire on 4 March. So, whilst it isn’t the best showing it could all change very soon.

Wheatear by Amy Lewis

The weather forecast for the next few days is showing a warm pulse of air coming up from southern Europe, with south-south westerly airflow. There is a taste of things to come with reports of plenty of House Martins in southern Spain and Greece, and Swallows moving through the Mediterranean. If the weather does what we are told it is going to, this weekend shows great promise, with Saturday perhaps being the better day. Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Sand Martin, and Little Ringed Plover are all early summer migrants to look out for.

Common Gull by Edmund Fellowes

Going the other way, Redwing, Fieldfare, Bewick’s Swan and Brent Geese should begin moving north, and back to their breeding grounds, taking advantage of the tailwind. Early March is also a good time to look out for divers and gulls as they leave their southern wintering areas and head north for the forthcoming breeding season. Gull migration at this time can be spectacular.

For those of us following the BTO satellite tagged Cuckoos, we can see spring is well on its way – three birds have already left their winter locations in the Congo rainforest and are at their stopover sites in West Africa. Later this month, rested and loaded with the fat that will fuel their journeys, they will head north across the Sahara. Fingers crossed for good weather and a safe flight.

Hoopoe by Edmund Fellowes


From a rarity point of view, March is a good month for Gyr Falcon, and with the forecast southerlies, a Hoopoe is always on the cards.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Cold snap movements

As is to be expected there hasn’t been a huge amount of bird movement during the last few weeks, however, the cold snap at the start of the year did see an arrival of Teal and Bewick’s Swans. There was also a small movement of birds into gardens, in particular, Bramblings, Blackbirds and Chaffinches.

Teal by Edmund Fellowes

Looking at the BirdTrack data there have been a few Great and Pomarine Skuas around but the cold and at times stormy conditions seem to have pushed most of them further south.
The number of Glaucous Gulls and Iceland Gulls seems to have increased too, and with the onset of northerly winds they could increase further. 

Pomarine Skua by Joe Pender

Until recently, Redwing and Fieldfare were still relatively thin on the ground but it seems they might have responded to the colder weather and are either more obvious as they move around in search of berries, or might have been bolstered by a fresh arrival of birds escaping the snowy conditions further north. On 23 January, 4,000 Fieldfares were counted flying south in a couple of Hours at Snettisham, Norfolk, with more birds moving through the next day.

Fieldfare by Trevor Codlin


The forecast for the next few days and possibly well into next week is for scattered wintry showers and fairly strong northerly winds – these conditions could well push birds around and some areas get snow cover whilst others escape – so, we could see localised cold weather movements of Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Skylarks, and a movement of birds into gardens; Brambling often start to move into gardens at this time of year but where snow cover persists they could be present in larger numbers that usual – of course, like the showers, not everyone will get one. On the coasts, there could be more Iceland and Glaucous Gulls found and we might even see a few Little Auks on the move.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Mid-winter movement

The weather has been all over the place this week, overnight frosts, strong winds, heavy rain, snow and even overnight temperatures that would rival autumn daytime temperatures but the most dominant factor in terms of bird movement has been the westerly airflow.

The predicted Ivory Gull turned up on the 13 December on the Outer Hebrides and there seems to have been an increase in the number of Ring-billed Gulls. However, the predicted Nearctic passerines failed to show, although I still think there could be a Dark-eyed Junco lurking in a garden somewhere in the UK.

Ring-billed Gull by Peter M Wilson

So, with westerly airflow dominating the scene for the next week or so what might we expect?
True migration is largely over now, although another big blow from almost any direction and a temperature plummet on the continent could result in new arrivals, involving windblown seabirds and gulls from the north and west (white-winged gulls are favourite but Ross’s Gull is still on the cards), Little Auks form the north and east and wildfowl from the continent.

Birds are still on the move within the UK; undergoing a ‘mid-winter’ redistribution. Some of the Pink-footed Geese that have been present in North Norfolk for the last month or so have moved into the Norfolk Broads area, as evidenced by the white-morph Snow Goose that has moved with them.   There have also been Pink-footed Geese heading south past Spurn Point, possibly moving from northern England or Scotland and heading for North Norfolk. Whooper Swans have also been seen moving in small flocks, presumably doing a similar thing.

GBW reporting rate for Chaffinch

Birds are also beginning to move into gardens with BTOGarden Birdwatch reporting rate for Chaffinch heading towards its winter peak and the numbers of Blackcaps using gardens going up.
The generally mild conditions forecast for much of the UK for the next few days will definitely help the small number of Swallows and Wheatears that are still present – if these conditions continue perhaps we could see one or two of these successfully overwintering.


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Storm driven arrivals

Last week’s freezing conditions in Eastern Europe and western Russia did push a few birds our way. Several sites around the UK saw an increase in Pintail and Teal, and a small arrival of Woodcock and Snipe was seen on the east coast. 32 Taiga Bean Geese also arrived at the traditional winter site in Norfolk. Despite the cold conditions here in the UK a few Swallows still hung on, the most northerly being in Troon, Ayrshire but it seems that the House Martins that were around have either succumbed to the cold or moved on. A small number of Wheatears are also still being reported.

Taiga Bean Goose by Andy Thompson

The Met Office are forecasting 80mph winds coming in from the Atlantic, arriving in the far north of the UK but affecting most of the west coast during the next couple of days. At this time of the year it is not impossible for the storm to bring the odd North American bird with it, Dark-eyed Junco, American Robin and Killdeer have all been found in December in the past.

American Robin by Luke Delve

A huge storm like this will almost certainly displace some seabirds and the northerly track of this storm could bring some Sabine’s Gulls and Leach’s Petrels with it. On the rarity front Ross’s Gull and Ivory Gull could be on the cards.

Sabine's Gull by Joe Pender

The cold weather here did result in a small movement of Golden Plover and Lapwing within the UK but Skylarks seemed to stay put and during the windy conditions this will probably be the case at least for the next week or so.


The forecast for the next few days is for relatively mild conditions, although in the wind it is likely to feel much colder. West coast seawatching should prove fruitful but it is worth keeping an eye out for unusual visitors to bird tables too.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Cold weather movement

It has been a fairly quiet week on the bird movement front but that could change with the forecast change in the weather. Large parts of the country are forecast to experience hard overnight frosts from mid-week, particularly in the north and the Midlands, and whilst this spell of freezing conditions will only last for a few days it might just be enough to make it difficult for some birds to feed.

Lapwings by John Harding

We could see Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Skylarks moving to the relatively warmer southern parts of the country, and we could see a small surge of birds into our gardens as ground feeding finches and buntings find it a little harder to find food in the surrounding countryside, birds such as Chaffinches, Bramblings and Reed Buntings.

Whilst the overnight temperature is forecast to drop to -3°C in northern England and parts of Scotland, this is relatively balmy compared to the forecast daytime temperature of -9°C that western Russian and Eastern Europe will experience over the next few days. Combined with easterly winds into the Netherlands this could prompt a movement of wildfowl, Teal, Pintail, Goldeneye, Pochard and Smew are the ones to look out for. A short spell of northerlies down the North Sea could also push Little Auks and divers further south, in particular Red-throated Divers, as a result seawatching could prove fruitful from the east coast over the next few days.

Red-throated Diver by Andy Mason

There are still several Swallows and Wheatears in the country along with a couple of House Martins, it will be interesting to see how many linger into the weekend.

Later in the week the winds will be coming from the west and northwest and could result in an arrival of white-winged gulls in the north, Glaucous and Iceland, and divers could be on the move through the Irish Sea, more likely Great Northern and Black-throated Divers.

We might also see the arrival of the Norfolk flock of Taiga Bean Geese, prompted to move by the falling temperatures on the other side of the North Sea.