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, 28 August 2015

Migration moves into another gear

If you are interested in scarce migrants, the east coast was the place to be this week as it was set alight with Icterine Warblers, Barred Warblers, Wrynecks and Red-backed Shrikes, courtesy of a few days of easterly airflow. Wryneck led the numbers with around a hundred being reported from over sixty different sites and whilst the number of Icterine Warblers was much lower there was still around fifty birds reported. Surprise of the week has to be the mini-influx of Red-footed Falcons.

Wryneck by Jill Pakenham

Common migrants were equally as impressive, led by a huge fall of Pied Flycatchers on the east coast, accompanied by good numbers of Whinchats, Yellow Wagtails and Willow Warblers.

BirdTrack graph for Pied Flycatcher

It was also an amazing week for Wood Sandpiper, with the peak counts of 34 individuals at Seaton Marshes in Devon and 22 together at Pennington Marshes, Hampshire. Swifts have all but gone from their breeding areas but a small number are still moving through coastal watchpoints.

The weather forecast for the next week is looking mixed but with a dominant westerly airflow. However, there is a small window of easterly airflow on Saturday into Sunday so we might see a few more migrants drifting across the North Sea. Red-backed Shrike, Wryneck and Greenish Warbler are all possible but we could see good numbers of Pied and Spotted Flycatchers once again.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Migration stepping up – guest blog by Ben Moyes

In terms of migrating birds in the UK, it’s a similar story to last week, with several Shearwaters being seen on the south-west coast and Isles of Scilly, including a very rare Fea’s Petrel amongst the Great, Cory’s, Manx and occasional Balearic Shearwaters.

Fea’s Petrel by Joe Pender 

There are also still a some Skua’s being seen of coastal points, with Arctic and Great Skua’s being the most abundant, but Pomarine Skua’s are still being a seen with a couple of Long-tailed Skua’s starting to be seen.

Waders are still on the move across the country, with more Wood Sandpipers, Ruff, Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint being seen, with the odd rarity mixed in, as White-rumped, Spotted and Baird’s Sandpiper have been seen this last week across the UK.

Little Stint by Tommy Holden

As autumn has really climbed a lot closer (if it isn’t here already), passerines are coming through, with 138 sightings of Redstart, 177 of Pied Flycatcher, 21 of Wood Warbler and 258 of Whinchat. A few scarcities have been seen too, with a small number Icterine and Barred Warblers, Red-backed Shrikes, Wrynecks, and even a Bluethroat has been sighted.

Redstart by John Harding

Our Hirundines are starting to pack their bags, but some have already headed off, with several Swifts being seen flying high south past coastal bird observatories, with over 4000 past Landguard, Suffolk in one morning. As for Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins, they are feeding up ready for the big journey south to Africa.

Another migrant bird in the UK is the Osprey. They have already bred in Scotland, Wales and some parts of England, but are now on their way south to their wintering grounds in Africa. In the past week or so, there have been 64 sightings of Osprey across the UK, so there are definitely signs of migration happening right now.

Osprey by Hugh Insley

As for the week ahead, the winds are staying a constant South, South-Westerly, so you can expect more sightings of Shearwaters along the south west coast, but in terms of migrants, maybe we will see some more Pied Fly’s, Redstarts and Whinchats, but the weather isn't looking promising for any rarities along the east coast, but you never know! On the scarce and rarer front, maybe a few more Wilsons Petrels that have been sighted on the Isles of Scilly Pelagics and south-west Ireland, or maybe even a rare Shearwater, like a Macaronesian Shearwater or another Fea’s Type Petrel.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Shear delight

With the right weather conditions - low pressure weather systems crossing the Atlantic - August is the best month to get to grips with a few shearwaters, and the south-west and southern Ireland is the place to be. During the week there have been small numbers of Cory’s, Great and Sooty Shearwaters off Cornish headlands and Isles of Scilly pelagics, along with Manx Shearwaters and small numbers of Balearics.

Cory's Shearwater by Joe Pender

Now tern numbers have started to build skuas have started to move too, Pomarine, Arctic and Great Skuas have all been seen on the move in that last few days.
Waders are still on the move and the adult birds that have been around for a few weeks are being joined by juveniles. There has been an increase in the number of Wood Sandpipers on the move and Curlew Sandpipers are turning up too.

Pied Flycatcher by John Harding

On the passerine front, Pied Flycatchers and Redstarts are being seen at coastal watchpoints and Sedge Warbler numbers are growing in southern reedbeds.
Highlight of the week on the rarity front has to be the three or four Black Storks that have been found, two of them, one in Aberdeenshire and the other in east Yorkshire, are youngsters from the same nest in northern France.

Wryneck by Jill Pakenham

The weather forecast for the next week is a bit of a mixed bag. During Saturday into Sunday we should see some southerly airflow, courtesy of high-pressure extending well into France, this may well bring the odd southern European migrant with it. Maybe one or two more Black Storks, or Hoopoe and Alpine Swift. As the week progresses the winds will turn south westerly and westerly, possibly good news for west coast seawatchers, and by the middle of the week the wind will be coming from the north east, perhaps it is a little early for Barred Warbler and Wryneck but you never know.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Look to the sea

The conditions during the last few days have meant that any early passerine migration has been somewhat supressed. However, there has been a steady movement of seabirds offshore. Terns have started to head south, mostly Common and Arctic but also a good smattering of Black Terns too. The forecast unsettled weather should see more seabirds passing close to the coast. When terns are on the move skuas are not too far behind, so we should see more Great Skua, a few Arctic and the odd Pomarine being logged in the next week.

Pomarine Skua by Joe Pender

Scoters have also begun to move, mostly Common but one or two Velvets have also been seen. The highlight has probably been the movement of shearwaters. The southwest has enjoyed a few Great and Cory’s, whilst Manx Shearwaters have been moving down both the west and east coasts, and a few Balearics have been seen from the south coast.

Wader passage has begun in earnest, with passage migrants joining our breeding waders and the relatively small numbers of non-breeding species like Bar-tailed Godwit that over-summer on our estuaries.  For most wader species, it is failed breeders and adult males that leave the breeding grounds first, so these make up the majority of individuals here in July. Small numbers of adult Curlew Sandpiper, many still in their fine breeding plumage, and Little Stint are among the non-breeding waders logged in the last week. Moving into August, females and then juveniles will form a growing proportion of the waders passing through.

Post-breeding dispersal is well underway too, with mixed flocks of tits and warblers – including lots of juveniles – roaming the countryside. Although many of these will be locally-bred birds, migrants from elsewhere do pass through as well. Keep a look out for species like Sedge and Reed Warbler appearing in hedgerows and other ‘out of place’ habitats: a sign they may be individuals from further afield.

Finally – and even though it isn’t even August yet – five BTO-tagged Cuckoos are already in Africa!

Friday, 24 July 2015

Waders are go!

Waders are definitely on the move, or at least northerly breeding adults are. Numbers are beginning to build for a few species. Small flocks of moulting Spotted Redshank are being seen at several sites around the country, Green and Common Sandpipers are being recorded from many inland sites and the number of Dunlin, Knot, both Godwits, Whimbrel and Grey and Golden Plover are growing steadily in the Wash.
Spotted Redshank by Mike Weston

One or two Crossbills are still moving over coastal watchpoints, Swifts are still on the move but numbers seem to have stalled a little, however, those that are moving have been joined by small numbers of Swallows and Sand Martins, and the first Wheatears of the autumn are also turning up.
Great and Cory’s Shearwaters have been moving through the southwest approaches in small numbers and the first of the season’s Wilson’s Petrel can’t be far behind. Small numbers of Balearic Shearwater have been seen off Portland Bill.

Great Shearwater by Joe Pender

With all the wader activity it is hardly surprising that the odd rarity has been found, arguably the best of which is the Least Sandpiper that was found on St Agnes, Isles of Scilly, followed by the Broad-billed Sandpiper at Snettisham, Norfolk.

The weather forecast for the weekend looks promising for one or two more American waders to turn up. A fast-tracking low pressure system will arrive on the west coast of Britain on Saturday evening/Sunday morning. More White-rumped Sandpipers and the first Buff-breasted Sandpiper has to be on the cards. The southwest could also see more shearwaters and the odd Sabine’s Gull

Sabine's Gull by Joe Pender

Friday, 10 July 2015

Migration under way already

The small but steady trickle of Crossbills down the east coast of Britain is a sure sign that autumn migration has begun. Small flocks have also been popping up on the northern isles. Swifts are also on the move, an impressive 3088 were counted passing through Spurn, East Yorks, on 4 July, with 2845 through the same site a couple of days earlier.

Crossbill by

The BTO Cuckoos are on their way. We are currently following 18 birds as they make their way south. All of them have now left the UK, the last, David from Tregaron, Wales, left during the evening of 9 July. On the same day the first of them, Dudley, reached Africa. He is currently in southern Algeria. You can follow all of them here.

Cuckoo by Edmund Fellowes

Waders are also on the move, Common Sandpipers have started to turn up in southern locations, along with a few Greenshank, Spotted Redshank and Curlew Sandpipers. Inevitably a few rarer waders have turned up too. Pride of place has to go to the Terek Sandpiper that was found in Northumberland. Tresco, Isles of Scilly, played host to an American Golden Plover, and a White-rumped Sandpiper was found at Beacon Ponds, East Yorks.

Terek Sandpiper by Andy Mason

Surprise of the week has to be the touring flock of 10 Bee-eaters that have settled in Suffolk for the last few days.

According to the weather forecast, next week is likely to be more unsettled than the last couple of week, with most of the weather coming from the west. This shouldn’t stop the wader movement though and we should see a few more of these global travellers passing through. With the direction of the winds, maybe a Stilt Sandpiper will be found somewhere but even if not, I am sure there will be one or two unusual waders found somewhere.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Migration slowing down – or is it?

The weather has been such a mixed bag during the last couple of weeks it has been difficult to disentangle and work out what effect it has had on migrant birds. The almost autumn-like westerly fronts that have been tracking across the Atlantic do seem to have brought some Nearctic birds with them – Great Blue Heron, Hudsonian Godwit and Dark-eyed Junco are all incredible spring birds.

As the fronts have passed over Britain they have introduced sporadic southerly and south-easterly airflow, which at times has been quite productive. Spring 2015 will go down as a ‘southern herons’ spring, particularly in the south-west. If you were on the Isles of Scilly last week it was possible to see up to five Night Herons, two Little Bitterns, a Squacco Heron and a Purple Heron! It must have felt a little like being in southern Europe.

Squacco Heron by Derek Belsey

So, migration has continued apace but there are signs that it is slowing down; counts at coastal watchpoints are returning diminishing numbers. However, it does seem like some of the common migrants are still a little thin on the ground and that there are still plenty more to arrive. Perhaps we are in need of some warm southerly winds to test this out. Certainly here in East Anglia there seems to be fewer Cuckoos than were around last year and the BirdTrack reporting rate seems to reflect this nationally. Willow Warbler and Whitethroat are showing similar reporting rates, and if Spotted Flycatcher is to get anywhere near the BirdTrack historical reporting rate there are a lot more to arrive yet.

BirdTrack reporting rate for Cuckoo

Skuas have been on the move past the Outer Hebrides during the last couple of weeks; the highest count has been of 1,307 Long-tailed Skuas flying past  Aird an Runair, North Uist on 12 May, and accompanied by 353 Pomarine Skuas must have been an amazing sight.

Pomarine Skua by Joe Pender

Quail have begun to turn-up in small numbers. These enigmatic little birds can be quite common in some years and almost absent in others. As Quail can still turn up in early June, it is still a little too early to tell whether this will be a Quail year, or not.

So, what might we expect this weekend? Initially it looks like we will have light northerly winds at least on Saturday into Sunday morning, and again on Monday. At this time of the year these conditions can be quite productive. Migrants birds can and do migrate into light northerlies and if there is going to be a late push, Saturday and Sunday morning look good. On the rarity front, something from the south east is always on the cards this late in May – Red-footed Falcon is the obvious candidate but a spring male White-throated Robin would really set pulses racing.