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, 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.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Still summer-ish

The weather has been very much a mixed bag but on the whole relatively warm. So, it is probably unsurprising that there are several summer migrants still around. Swallows are still a long way north, with a handful of reports coming from Scotland, House Martin was also seen north of the border over the weekend. There are still a few Wheatears around and a Redstart thought to show characteristics of Ehrenberg’s Redstart (samamisicus, eastern race of common Redstart) is still present in Yorkshire, and a Common Redstart was seen much further north on Orkney. A Whitethroat is still being seen in London and there are still a couple of Lesser Whitethroats around. With the temperature dropping it will be interesting to see if any of these birds attempt to stay around for much longer.

Wheatear by Simon Gillings

With the temperature remaining relatively warm and very little sign of any frost, there hasn’t been any cold weather movements; it will have to get much colder before there is. However, Bewick’s Swans were reported flying over several parts of eastern Britain during the last few days which might hint at a small arrival of this species.

Bewick's Swans by Andy Mason


The forecast is for it to remain mild for the rest of the week and into the weekend. However, we are in for some easterly airflow, if this combines with falling temperatures on the continent we might see a few more birds on the move. Thrushes are always favourite this late in the season but we might see some finches arrive, Brambling in particular.

Monday, 17 November 2014

All quiet on the migration front - but maybe not for long.

Unsurprisingly it has been fairly quiet on the migration front this week and, with the exception of a reasonable showing of Pomarine Skuas moving through, there has been nothing much to report. However, as we are now into the winter period any serious drop in the temperature on the continent could result in a series of cold weather movements.

We could see a further arrival of Rough-legged Buzzards and Short-eared Owls and, who knows, maybe a Snowy Owl or two.

The BirdTrack reporting rate shows what an exceptional year it already is  for Rough-legged Buzzard. If it is cold enough, and waterbodies in Eastern Europe freeze over, we ought to see wildfowl on the move, Tufted Duck, Pochard and Goldeneye numbers could swell, and we might even see a good showing of Smew. Bewick’s Swans have been thin on the ground the last few winters but this could change with freezing conditions on the continent.

BirdTrack Rough-legged Buzzard reporting rate

In these conditions Woodcock and Snipe can also be forced across the North Sea. In some years more than a million Snipe make their way here. For more on this read the Demog Blog.
A small number of Waxwings were found in the north and east during the week and a small number of Little Auks were on the move, hinting at what might be if we do get a sudden cold snap further north.

Little Auk by Andy Mason

The forecast for at least the next few days is for it to remain mild, with a largely easterly airflow, which is good news for the handful of Swallows, Wheatears and warblers that are still in the country, we should also see further arrivals of Starlings and winter thrushes (Redwings, Fieldfares and Blackbirds) on the east coast. There is a hint of things cooling down for the latter part of the week, and if we do get any ground frosts we might see Lapwings and Golden Plovers on the move.

I received an email this morning from a friend who is working on a survey vessel 100 miles out in the North Sea, showing just how difficult the North Sea crossing can be even for the toughest of birds.

Hi Paul - a couple of hours ago 3 Bean Geese flew past my ship - we are more or less stationary- just riding out a nasty easterly F8/F9 gale. I lost the birds from view but 20 minutes later after battling the 33 knot easterly they returned. After circling the ship 3 times they managed a very rough and dangerous landing on the deck- after clattering and skidding into some stowed kit they shook themselves off, inspected their feet, did a brief preen then started roosting! I'm amazed they managed such a difficult landing in such a small deck space in 6-8 metre seas as well as the gale force winds!


Tundra Bean Geese by Andy Williams


I have some concerns about takeoff with lots of obstacles in the way but hopefully the weather will settle down tomorrow- I imagine they will stay put overnight as no one is allowed on deck on these seas.


These geese were extremely lucky and fingers crossed, they make it off the deck and on their way as soon as conditions improve - there must be lots of birds that get caught out over the sea that are far less lucky.  Check out Pelagic Birder's blog for more.

Paul Stancliffe