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 16 November 2012

Autumn migration 2012

Birds migrate in their millions every autumn, leaving the UK for warmer climes, arriving in the UK to escape the colder north and east, or just passing through on their way to their winter quarters. However, no two autumns are the same. For instance, the autumn of 2011 will perhaps be remembered for the flocks of Buff-breasted Sandpipers, with a flock of 26 birds frequenting Tacumshin, Wexford. Whilst they did arrive this year it was in much smaller numbers, the largest gathering being a flock of four at Carrahane Strand, Kerry.
So how did this autumn stack up?
The last week of September saw an impressive arrival of birds from the east. Over 100 Yellow-browed Warblers and Red-breasted Flycatchers, and over 50 Barred Warblers were found. These scarce migrants were part of a larger movement of Goldcrests, Robins and Redstarts. More than 300 Redstarts were seen at Spurn, East Yorkshire during this period.

Goldcrest by John Harding
As September rolled into October it became apparent that an unusually large movement of Jays was underway. On  4 October 278 were noted flying over Cley, Norfolk, not known for being a Jay hotspot, whilst a whopping 668 were counted passing over Hunstanton cliffs, Norfolk on 6 October.

Blue Tits, not normally thought of as a migrant bird, were on the move in plague proportions on the eastern side of the North Sea. 87,400 were counted migrating over Nabben, southern Sweden and this video of 21,660 Blue Tits migrating on one day at Falsterbo, Sweden gives a great impression of what this must’ve looked like? Two of these continental birds turned up on Shetland, one of them bearing a Norwegian ring. We can only guess at how many more turned up on the east coast but were ‘lost’ amongst our resident birds.
Northerly winds during the last few days of October prompted a large movement of Little Auks. As this movement petered out, high pressure over Scandinavia and light winds over the North Sea prompted a huge arrival of thrushes. Spurn provided a good example of the scale of this, with counts as high as 21,000 Redwing, 10,000 Blackbird, 9,000 Fieldfare 800 Song Thrush and 57 Ring Ouzel on a single day, though the spectacle was spread up and down the east coast.

Ring Ouzel by Tommy Holden
Early November is Woodpigeon time but no sooner had their migration started than it was over and they haven’t moved in the numbers expected. Sometimes the migrating flocks can be 50,000 strong. The largest single migrating flock reported this autumn was of 12,000 birds moving west over Hengistbury Head, Dorset.
It has been a fantastic autumn for rare birds, both from the east and west.  North American treats included a first for the Western Palearctic in the shape of an Eastern Kingbird on Inishmore, Ireland, Britain’s second Magnolia Warbler on Fair Isle, Shetland, a Belted Kingfisher and the arrival of at least three Yellow-rumped Warblers.
The east also delivered a first for the Western Palearctic, a Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Britain’s second Chestnut–eared Bunting and another Siberian Rubythroat, following on from the popular 2011 bird.
As the weather turns colder we are still waiting for the arrival of some of our winter visitors. Waxwings are here in force, we still await the first big arrivals of Bewick’s Swan and Woodcock.

The percentage of BirdTrack complete lists featuring Waxwing has rocketed over the last week. In a Waxwing winter the main arrival of birds often occurs during December and the Waxwing BirdTrack reporting rate illustrates this perfectly. Whether or not this will be a 'Waxwing winter' remains to be seen but the early signs are that the arrival has been on a par with the last big winter for Waxwings, 2010, and well above the 7-year average. Waxwings can be recorded as part of the BTO Winter Thrushes Survey. To find out  where Waxwings have been seen in the local area, as well as to record your Waxwing sightings, download the BirdTrack Ap here.

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