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 15 March 2012

Migrants hit by Saharan storm

In yesterday's blog, I was surprised by how few early migrants have arrived and thought that they might be facing problems much further south. We have since received an email from Andy Williams, who is working on a survey vessel just off the coast of Libya, that might help explain the hold-up.

I'm currently offshore Libya- about 15-30 nm north of Tripoli undertaking some seabird/cetacean survey work for an Italian client. I have seen a smattering of migrants- white wagtails, stonechat, black redstart, chiffchaff, blackcap, hoopoe, lesser kestrel etc over the past couple of weeks but all in very small numbers. (maybe a tad early or wrong location for big numbers?) Anyway the central and western med. has just had a significant storm over the last 4 days or so with F10 (storm force) winds and huge quantities of airborne sand and dust from the sahara.

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.

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