BTO migration blog
Friday 30 March 2012
Around thirty Hoopoes arrived, mainly in the south and west, along with the first Purple Heron of the year.
Common migrants have also taken advantage of the continuing good weather conditions and the first Cuckoos, Redstarts and Pied Flycatchers arrived.
Birds arriving ahead of schedule included a Reed Warbler in Norfolk and a Common Swift in Dorset. Grasshopper Warblers were found at several sites, along with a few Sedge Warblers and the first Garden Warbler.
As March turns into April migration should step up a gear, and with cloudy skies and light winds forecast fort this weekend visible migration watchers could be in for a busy time. The first large arrival of Willow Warblers is on the cards.
Monday 26 March 2012
Friday 23 March 2012
Although the first large movement of Wheatears and Swallows is still to happen, a few individuals of both species have made it as far north as Highland, Scotland. A handful of Willow Warblers arrived last week too, as expected, mainly in the south. Meadow Pipits finally started to move; 1650 were counted during a visible migration watch at Hengistbury Head, Dorset on the 22nd, along with a smaller number of ‘alba’ Wagtails (Pied / White). The first Stone Curlews arrived back on their breeding grounds in the Norfolk and Suffolk Brecks, and the first House Martins were seen on the Isles of Scilly and in Northumberland.
Sand Martins arrived in sufficient numbers to form small flocks; 32 together in Lancashire was amongst the largest. At least eight Ospreys were logged, with sightings from Surrey to North Yorkshire, and an Alpine Swift spent the weekend on the Lizard, Cornwall, joining the three or four Night Herons that have arrived in the south-west.
With the weather set to continue in a similar vein, early migrants that have made it into southern Europe should begin to pour north. The high pressure system that is now over the UK stretches all the way from northern England to the northern shores of the Mediterranean, with the whole area experiencing light winds.
Thursday 15 March 2012
This morning I observed yellow-legged gulls and lesser-black backs feeding on the sea surface- I initially thought they were taking squid or small fish then realised with some horror that the sea was littered with the corpses of passerines- all pretty unidentifiable as they have been waterlogged and thrashed about by the sea. I counted at least 11 corpses that were not actually eaten by the gulls. I could only observe the very small bodies out to about 20 metres from my vessel but the gulls were busy scavenging over a much wider area- impossible for me to quantify the number of dead migrants but certainly scores if not hundreds! I have never actually witnessed this before or heard of
similar accounts so though it would be pertinent to let you and the BTO know as there is currently so much interest in the 'out of Africa' program. (I have previously witnessed 'weak flyer' species such as quail crash into the sea before but have not seen anything like this previously).
To see some photographs, please see Andy's blog. http://pelagicbirder.blogspot.com
Wednesday 14 March 2012
My guess is that the number of migrants staging in southern Europe is still pretty low and, as a result, when the right weather conditions presented themselves only a small number of birds responded. It could be that some of our migrants are held-up much further south, in Africa. As far as the winter visitors go, the BirdTrack reporting rate is still at 50% of the mid-winter high for Redwing and Fieldfare, so some have left. The remainder have vacated gardens after the brief cold spell and are now in the wider countryside again. It is a similar picture with wildfowl; some have already left and the rest will do so over the next month or so, in a less hurried fashion.
So what did arrive over the weekend? Twenty-seven Garganey were counted from Dorset to Norfolk. Being one of our earlier summer visitors, these were bang on cue. The same couldn’t be said of the Lesser Whitethroat seen in Essex though; the average arrival date for this species is 23 April. Of course, this bird could well have spent the winter much closer to Essex than sub-Saharan Africa. This might also be the case with the Whitethroat, also heard singing in Essex, as the average arrival date for this species is 15 April.
A very small number of Sand Martins and Wheatears trickled through, reaching as far north as Lancashire, and the first Willow Warbler was heard in Devon, twenty days ahead of its average arrival date of 31 March.
The first overshooting southern European migrant, in the shape of a Short-toed Treecreeper, put in a brief appearance in Kent over the weekend but disappeared almost as soon as it was found, whilst there are (as yet unconfirmed) reports of a female Rock Thrush in Cornwall.
Although the high pressure that has dominated during the last week will move off to the east over the next few days, the conditions are still favourable for migrants to arrive from the south.This weekend could be a good one to be out and about, with Saturday looking a slightly better bet than Sunday.
Stop press! The first Little Ringed Plovers have been seen in Dorset and Lancashire.
Thursday 8 March 2012
Chiffchaff by Amy Lewis
Spurn Bird Observatory caught their first Chiffchaff of the year on 4th March, though it is possible this was a departing bird that had spent the winter in Britain, rather than a returning bird from further south. Either way, the BirdTrack reporting rate shows that start of the main Chiffchaff arrival is imminent.
Shelduck by Jill Pakenham
At this time of the year it is not just about returning summer visitors, many of our winter visitors are departing right now and it is a good time to look out for flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares. If you are near the coast, skeins of Brent Geese and flocks of Shelduck, along with a smaller number of divers, mainly Red-throated, will also be on the move.
Monday 5 March 2012
Sand Martins and Swallows feed on airborne insects, which in the falling temperatures become harder to find, and whilst these early arrivals can survive two or three days of cold, inclement weather, by day four they are in serious trouble. Bad weather at this time of the year is normally associated with strong winds, which will prevent these pioneer migrants from just turning around and heading back south in search of better conditions. Unfortunately, during prolonged spells of poor weather many of these early birds will perish.
According to BTO BirdFacts, the average arrival date in the UK for the Sand Martin is 25 March, by which time the weather might generally be more settled and favourable.
So, these early birds are taking a huge gamble, if the weather is kind to them then the gamble will pay off and they will be back at their breeding sites securing the nest hole ahead of those birds arriving later, however, when the weather is bad they pay a high price indeed.
The strong winds forecast for the next few days will almost certainly put migration on hold, however, with lighter winds mid-week we might see the first Wheatears arrive.