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.

Thursday 4 April 2013

Migration still slow

By now the scene is normally set for the arrival of our summer visitors, the buds have normally burst on early leafing trees such as willow and Birch, and caterpillars have hatched to take advantage of the young spring leaves. Yesterday morning (Wednesday 3 April) I took a walk through the wood on Hengistbury Head, Dorset, an old local patch of mine, in the hopeful search of summer migrants. It looked and felt like it did when I walked there at the end of December, leafless trees and the biting cold giving not a hint of early April. The scene was the same in the double dykes area of the headland, a willow filled ditch that would normally, at this time of the year, provide tired Chiffchaffs andWillow Warblers with a good supply of insect food - right now they are leafless, insectless and without warblers.

Summer migrants are arriving though, and I did manage my first of the year, three male Wheatears and a lone Sandwich Tern. Warblers and hirundines were sadly lacking though, by now the Sand Martin colony the eastern end of the head would normally be occupied. Presumably the martins that arrived in early March have struggled to survive. We have been given a hint of this struggle. Over the last few days there has been an arrival of Chiffchaffs, particularly in the south-west. In the desperate struggle to find food these birds are searching in the grasses and along the tideline, and around the feet of their observers.

One of 15 Chiffchaffs feeding on flies on Wembury Beach, Plymouth.

Photos by Brian Nixon 

Despite the conditions the first Cuckoo was reported in Devon on 31 March and it looks like the first of our satellite-tagged Cuckoos won't be too far behind, as Chris's tag transmitted from northern Algeria just this morning, indicating he had successfully crossed the Sahara Desert.  Follow his journey and that of the other four birds as they return to the UK at

The first Yellow Wagtails have arrived, hinting at the backlog of migrants that are presumably held up in France and Spain. The forecast for the weekend could well be in their favour, particularly on Sunday, when light southerlies and slightly warmer temperatures are promised, at least in the south of the country. This could be the day that the floodgates open, and the day to be out vis migging.

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