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, 17 March 2017

Spring has almost sprung!

The southerly airflow during the latter half of the week produced the first noticeable flush of migrants, the most obvious being the number of Garganey that made landfall and quickly moved north. The largest group was a party of 10 that were seen on 11 March at Grove Ferry, Kent. These were joined by Sand Martins, a few Swallows, House Martins and Little Ringed Plovers.

Little Ringed Plover by Marc Albiac
Mid-week saw a huge overnight thrush movement in the eastern half of the country with lots of observers reporting Redwings and Fieldfares heard going over during the hours of darkness. Interestingly, among these were reports of Wigeon doing the same.

The first southern overshoots arrived in the form of Alpine Swifts in Co Cork and Kent, and the first Hoopoes in Co Kerry and Dorset. Pride of place has to go to the Baillon’s Crake that was seen coming in off the sea in Cornwall and spending a short  time walking around rocks on the beach at St Levan before heading off west, never to be seen again.  This is a migrant with less than 100 records in the last 100 years!

Hoopoe by Richard Nuernberger
Several early birds were also seen that included a few Willow Warblers, the first Redstarts and Yellow Wagtail, a few Ring Ouzel and the first Cuckoo (in West Sussex). Our seven satellite-tagged Cuckoos are all still south of the Sahara.

Cuckoo by Edmund Fellowes
The forecast for the next three or four days isn’t very conducive for much migration. Wet and windy weather from the north-west will seemingly dominate but there will be moments of quieter weather in between the weather fronts when birds ought to move.

So, what might we expect? The weekend isn’t looking great but early next week we should see some migration. Wheatears are tough little birds and will take any opportunity and we could see them arriving in better numbers than has been the case so far, along with more Sand Martins and Swallows, and the first real movement of Sandwich Terns. There has been a small migration of Painted Lady butterflies too and we can look forward to seeing more of these over the next week or so.
Painted Lady by John Harding

Monday, 13 March 2017

Redwings at night!

Last night saw a major movement of Redwing in eastern England. Several hundred birds were counted in under an hour from 10pm onwards in Thetford, Norfolk. With few reports from anywhere west of Cambridge, it looks like a band of cloud with some very light drizzle may have concentrated birds that were already on the move.

BirdTrack reporting rate for Redwing
Observers also noted small groups of Fieldfare, Snipe and Song Thrush, as well as less expected species in the form of Teal, Wigeon and even Coot passing overhead in the dark. With similar conditions forecast for this evening and the rest of this week, it is well worth having a listen after sunset for Redwing on the move.

Redwing by John Harding
If you are not familiar with the flight calls of Redwing, here is a good example:

Fieldfare call:

Later this week could see another movement of migrants, with southerly winds on Wednesday likely to help birds move across the Channel. Some more unusual arrivals could well put in an appearance, perhaps more Alpine Swifts after last weeks sightings?

Friday, 10 March 2017

Migration stutters a bit

The pulse of weather fronts that we have experienced during the last week have had a stop-start effect on arrivals and departures. In between the days of wind and rain there have been a few fairly settled days with light winds. During these more Sand Martins have arrived, along with the first Ospreys, Garganey and Willow warbler of the season.
Osprey by Sarah Kelman
Those leaving have also taken advantage of the calm between the storms. Pochard, Goldeneye and Common Scoters have been on the move, as have Brent Geese and Red-throated Divers; 335 of the latter were counted flying past Spurn, East Yorks on the 4th. Whilst there are still Redwings and Fieldfares to be seen, the BirdTrack reporting rate graphs show the steady departure for both.
BirdTrack reporting rate for Fieldfare
It looks like we are heading into another week of unsettled conditions but there will be odd days when there will be a window of opportunity for birds to move. Saturday looks like one of these. The front that has been blocking migrants in northern France for the last couple of days should have moved further east and the relatively light winds and settled conditions on Saturday should see held-up migrants move north.
Wheatear by Amy Lewis
We might see the first real arrival of Chiffchaffs and Wheatears, along with a few Blackcaps and more Sand Martins, Little Ringed Plovers and Garganey. The weather further north in the UK, and across the North Sea, is forecast to be a little more unsettled, so we might hang on to some of our winter visitors for a little longer. 

Now is the perfect time to brush up on your warbler identification skills so don't forget that we have video tutorials to help you separate Willow Warbler from Chiffchaff and Blackcap from Garden Warbler. If it's Swallow, Swift, House Martin and Sand Martin which cause you more of an ID headache then take a look at our Hirundines and Swift ID video

Friday, 3 March 2017

Spring migration gets underway

It has been a week of arrivals and departures. Parties of Bewick's Swans have been reported heading east, continuing on to continental Europe. Pink-footed and Brent Geese have been heading north too, as have Redwing and Fieldfare.

Reporting rate of Fieldfare on BirdTrack

 A short spell of southerly winds in the last day or two seems to have encouraged the first arrivals of hirundines, with three House Martins, a handful of Sand Martins and a Swallow reported.

The weather patterns look very unsettled for the week ahead, with the wind switching between southerly and westerly. More hirundines could start arriving if the wind remains southerly, as well as potentially the first Wheatears.

Wheatear by Paul Hillion/BTO

These could be joined by the first Chiffchaff from wintering sites around the Mediterranean basin joining our wintering birds. The historical reporting rate of Chiffchaff on BirdTrack shows a noticeable increase in early to mid March.

Reporting rate of Chiffchaff on BirdTrack

Paul Stancliffe and Stephen McAvoy

Friday, 13 January 2017

Cold-weather movement

With most birds settled in their chosen mid-winter sites, it can take unusual weather conditions to make them move. During the next few days, strong winds and freezing temperatures, as well as local heavy snowfall could well start to force birds from these areas.

Birds who are dependant on clear ground to feed, such as Lapwings, Golden Plover and Skylark will move to find areas clear of snow and frost. At times these cold-weather movements can be spectacular and can be witnessed anywhere in the country, not just along our coasts.

Lapwing by Jeff Baker/BTO

As smaller waterbodies freeze, wildfowl will be forced to search for new and as yet unfrozen sites. It will be well worth checking any local gravel pits or lakes for new arrivals - Goldeneye, Tufted Duck and Pochard may well be on the move, along with surface feeders such as Teal and Wigeon.

Drake Goldeneye by Jill Pakenham/BTO

Geese, being grazers, also struggle during prolonged snowfall, and Bean and White-fronted Geese have been on the move during the last couple of days. Further geese (amongst other species) may also arrive from central Europe as snowfall covers previously clear areas, in what has been a relatively mild winter so far.

Iceland Gull by Michael Bell (via BirdTrack Flickrpool)
Iceland and Glaucous Gulls have been increasingly noted along coastal areas in the north and east of Britain and Ireland, including up to 37 on Shetland alone. Strong northerly winds over Friday may push birds further south and even to inland areas. Indeed, single Iceland and Glaucous Gulls have even reached the BTO Offices in recent days. Any large congregations of large gulls will be well worthwhile checking for 'white-wingers' over the weekend.

Reporting rate for Glaucous Gull on BirdTrack

Ivory Gull by Chiddy Mark (via BirdTrack Flickrpool)

At coastal sites, there is an outside chance of even rarer gulls, such as Ross's or Ivory. One of the latter has already graced the North Sea coast of Germany this month so could well put in an appearance anywhere along the east coast of Britain.

Paul Stancliffe & Stephen McAvoy

Friday, 11 November 2016

Birds still on the move

We are nearing mid-November, a time when you begin to feel that autumn migration has pretty much come to a close, and, while that may be the case for some species, it still feels like this autumn has more to give.

Waxwings have been on the move all week with new flocks noted on the east coast. Smaller flocks have so far been noted further inland, but numbers should continue to build in the coming weeks and Waxwings should reach most parts of the country. There may be further arrivals from the Continent as berry crops run low.

Waxwings by Jeff Baker/BTO

Reporting rate of Waxwing on BirdTrack

Another feature of the week has been the number of inland waterbodies that have hosted Scaup. Like Waxwing, the current reporting rate is well above average suggesting a wider arrival, perhaps as suitable waterbodies became scarce in last weeks cold snap in Scandinavia. Perhaps Smew could follow suit.

Drake Scaup by John Proudlock/BTO

Reporting rate of Scaup on BirdTrack

One of the better spectacles of the late autumn and early winter so far has to be arrival of Shorelark. Up to 100 birds have been seen at Holkham in North Norfolk in the last few weeks, with smaller flocks elsewhere along the east coast. A few have reached further afield, including singles on Anglesey and Hampshire.

The last of the summer visitors are still trickling through, the mega-rare Cliff Swallow at Minsmere, Suffolk last weekend shared the sky with eight Swallows and a very late Sand Martin. There has also been a flurry of Ring Ouzel records during the last week.

Predictably for the east coast, the easterly and north-easterly winds brought Little Auks with up to 14 recorded at seawatching sites. Long-tailed Duck and Velvet Scoters were also logged at many spots, as well as the more expected Great and Pomarine Skuas.

Little Auk by Morris Rendall/BTO

For the weekend and beyond the weather looks to be dominated by westerly winds originating from north-eastern Canada. There is a small chance of some late Nearctic rarity turning up on a remote headland in Ireland or Scotland and Mourning Dove, Yellow-rumped or Blackpoll Warbler being typical November arrivals. Commoner birds that will continue to arrive include Starling and Blackbird from Scandinavia and beyond, and keep an eye out for Woodcock which reaches peak reporting rate in BirdTrack in late November.

Paul Stancliffe and Stephen McAvoy

Monday, 24 October 2016

Still plenty of eastern promise

The low pressure system that crossed the UK during the latter part of this week looked like it might bring the run of easterlies to an end. However, with the high-pressure system forecast to linger over Scandinavia, the easterly winds will feature in the middle of this week at least.

A brief dally with westerly winds during mid-week produced some spectacular seabird movements along the west coast that included 2,433 Razorbills, 4,068 Kittiwakes, 898 Gannets, along with a few Arctic, Great and Pomarine Skuas past Bardsey, Gwynedd, on 18 October.

Kittiwakes by Martin Cade

As would be expected at this time of year, finches are still on the move, with Linnets and Goldfinches predominating. The first real movement of redpolls, Mealy and Lesser pretty much in equal parts, have also been a feature of the week, along with Brambling and to a lesser extent Chaffinches and Siskin.

Thrushes continue to pile in, although mainly Redwing and Fieldfare, we might have to wait until next week for Blackbirds to arrive in force.

The highlight of the week has been the arrival of several flocks of Tundra Bean Geese, in higher numbers than we would normally see and a little earlier too. Shorelark, another scarce Scandinavian winter visitor, have equally been noted in above average figures for recent years. Flocks of 28 of the latter have been noted in Lincolnshire and Norfolk for example.

Shorelark reporting rate on BirdTrack

Swallows and Wheatears continue to trickle south, but House Martin observations have fallen dramatically, with most birds now probably on their way to as yet unknown winter quarters.

Following on from sightings in Shetland and Yorkshire, several more Siberian Accentors were spotted in Britain. The bird in Easington, East Yorkshire drew large numbers of admirers with several thousand birders making the journey in the course of the Accentor's seven day stay.

The Easington Siberian Accentor by Andy Mason

Associated with the Siberian Accentors was a notable arrival of rare warblers and wheatears, in particular Dusky Warbler and Isabelline Wheatear. No less than seven Dusky Warblers were found at Spurn, East Yorkshire last week and five Isabelline Wheatears represent an above average return from a species seen only on 30 previous occasions in Britain and Ireland.

Reporting rate of Dusky Warbler on BirdTrack

After peaking at almost 8% of BirdTrack complete lists in early October, reports of Yellow-browed Warbler has dropped off in the last week and were logged on only 4% of lists this week. The equally diminutive Pallas's Warbler has partially filled this gap, being noted on just over 1% of complete lists.

Waxwing by Andy Mason

Finally, Waxwings are on the move across the North Sea, with small flocks reported from all along the east coast of Britain. Will this year see a repeat of the last good Waxwing winter in 2012/13?

Paul Stancliffe and Stephen McAvoy