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 13 November 2015

"Plague Birds" bring joy

It might be the fact that we are in the middle of a prolonged spell of westerly weather, or that we are now approaching mid-November, but migration has been pretty slow during the last week.

Finches have had their moments with some respectable counts from coastal watchpoints. This included 1,078 Siskin, 771 Goldfinch, 113 Chaffinch, 202 Linnet, 79 Twite, 169 Lesser Redpolls, 15 Brambling and 18 Greenfinch counted moving through Spurn, East Yorkshire on 10 November. A couple of days previously around 2,500 finches (mainly Goldfinch) moved over Portland, Dorset. Thrushes have been less spectacular and it seems that there might still be a large movement of Starlings across the North Sea in the wings; we don't seem to have had any large arrivals so far this autumn.

Goldfinch by Stephen McAvoy

Woodpigeons are an often overlooked migrant, but autumn passage can be spectacular for the sheer number of birds involved. Several thousand were observed flying over Bristol on Thursday, as well as over Portland, Dorset on the same day.

Last week also saw the first reports of Waxwings* from Britain and Ireland this autumn. Given its proximity to Scandinavia, it was no surprise that the first birds appeared on Shetland, with at least two present on Mainland on 5 November. Over the next few days, Waxwings were found in Durham and Aberdeenshire and two birds even made it as far west as Northern Ireland on Wednesday. Hopefully this is only the start of a good winter for these amazing birds!

Waxwing by Adrian Dancy
The spell of very mild conditions associated with the southerly winds might have contributed to a late run of hirundines and swifts. This included several more reports of Pallid, Common and unidentified Common/Pallid Swifts from Kent, Northumberland and Warwickshire amongst others. Late Swallows and Sand Martins were reported as well, including one House Martin on the Outer Hebrides.

After a spectacular couple of weeks, the Yellow-browed Warbler invasion is slowly petering out, but the species was still being reported on a respectable 0.3% of all Complete Lists reported on BirdTrack.

Yellow-browed Warbler reporting rate on BirdTrack

Rarity of the week was undoubtedly the very unexpected Crag Martin in Chesterfield, Derbyshire present from last Sunday onwards. Giving great views flying around the centre of the town, this would only be the 8th or 9th confirmed record for Britain.

Looking ahead, migration is starting to slow down, but it is not quite over yet. Bewick's Swan, Bean Goose, Goldeneye, Pochard and Tufted Duck all peak in mid-November. The weather looks set to remain stormy with the remnants of Hurricane "Kate" likely to pass NW Ireland and Scotland on Sunday, with more low-pressure systems crossing the Atlantic close behind it. For Sunday, the charts look remarkably similar to the one on the 10 November 2012 when a Cedar Waxwing was found on Belmullet in western Ireland.

*The Dutch name for Waxwing is Pestvogel, which translates as "Plague Bird".

Paul Stancliffe & Stephen McAvoy

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