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 22 April 2016

Spring has sprung, although a little reluctantly

Pretty much all of the long distance migrant species we would have expected to arrive in the UK by mid-April have done just that. But it still feels a little slow and that there are more individuals yet to arrive.

The good weather and associated easterly winds during the week produced some interesting movements of birds. Most notably, Monday and Tuesday produced some good counts of Wheatear at several sites, including 235 on Fair Isle, Shetland and 100+ on Bardsey, Gwynedd. Willow Warblers were also on the move on the same days with 500+ noted on the Isle of Portland, Devon and 200+ at Hengistbury Head, Dorset, with smaller counts at other sites.

Ring Ouzel by Neil Calbrade

After a slow start, Ring Ouzels were noted at many coastal and inland sites during the week, including seven on Bardsey. Spring migration of Ring Ouzel is reaching its peak in the next week or two and the species can turn up in gardens as well as coastal headlands. Listening out for their distinctive call is the best way to find your own Ring Ouzel on your local patch.

Reporting rate of Ring Ouzel on BirdTrack

Pied Flycatchers, Common Redstarts and Grasshopper Warblers were noted in single figures at migration sites along the south and west coast. It was slower going on the east coast, though Linnets seemed to be on the move with flocks of 50 to 100 birds reported.

Swifts have put in an early appearance with individual birds cropping up in several counties, with two birds making it as far north as Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Going up - reporting rate of Swift on BirdTrack this year

Around twenty Cuckoos have also been reported across the country, most from southern counties, but with at least one bird being seen Yorkshire. The first of the BTO's satellite tagged Cuckoos has also made it back safely. Stanley, tagged at Cranwich Heath, Norfolk in May 2014 arrived in Somerset near the town of Chard on the morning of 20 April.

Along the coast, Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew have been on the move, with Little, Common and Arctic Terns reported as well. It is only a matter of time before Britain and Ireland's rarest seabird, the Roseate Tern, arrives back as well.

Roseate Tern by Stephen McAvoy

Chiffchaff and Blackcap are now being heard across the country but even these two species, for which migration is now getting a little late, still seem a little thin on the ground. It could well be that birds are being held up by weather fronts south in Europe, with the occasional window in the weather letting them through. Perhaps the next flow of warm southerly winds will see a huge arrival of birds all at once.

Unfortunately, the current indication is that northerly winds and cooler conditions will remain in place over the weekend and potentially well into next week. It will be interesting to see how this will impact our recently arrived migrants and residents such as Collared Dove and Robin that are well into raising their first broods in many parts of the country.

Collared Doves by Stephen McAvoy

Finally, we mentioned the beginning of an influx of Alpine Accentors into northern Europe in our last Migration blog update. As luck would have it, one Alpine Accentor did reach our shores with one spotted for all of five minutes in Hampshire on the 14 April. More Alpine Accentors were spotted in out of range areas in France, northern Germany, the Netherlands and two even reached Sweden. 

At the same time, two more species were recorded well out of range. Snowfinches, another high alpine specialist, began to be seen in similar areas to the Alpine Accentors with over 20 birds noted, including one on the island of Heligoland in the North Sea. Switzerland and southern Germany also recorded a very unusual influx of Western Subalpine Warblers in the last week, with more than 20 birds recorded so far. At least two of the latter have also reached Britain (both on Portland) so far this spring.

In the absence of any significant weather patterns in the Alps at the time, it seems likely all three species "overshot" their migration destinations in the southern and central Alps and continued much further north than usual, settling in any suitable habitat.

Paul Stancliffe and Stephen McAvoy

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