Thursday 28 March 2013

Migrants brave the cold

Despite the wintry conditions there have been some impressive arrivals of summer migrants. Chiffchaffs were on the move in triple figures, along with Wheatears, 250 and 100 respectively were counted on Portland, Dorset, on 27 March. A small number of Willow Warblers also arrived amongst the first flush of Ring Ouzels that reached double figures at several south coast sites.

Ring Ouzel at Portland by Martin Cade

Sand Martins are fairly numerous along the south coast but Swallows are still obvious by their absence, and House Martins have only been seen in ones and twos. Around forty Garganey turned up in the south during the week, and the first Redstarts and Tree Pipits were seen.  Although there have been a reasonable number of summer visitors arrive, rather unsurprisingly, they haven’t moved far from the south coast.

Redwings, Fieldfares and Waxwings are still around in good numbers but the winter wildfowl numbers have fallen, the BirdTrack reporting rate for Brent Goose reflects this well.

BirdTrack reporting rate for Brent Goose

Scarce migrants have been well represented, four  each of White-spotted Bluethroats and Kentish Plovers were found from Portland to Kent and a Red-rumped Swallow graced the skies of St Mary’s Isles of Scilly. Given the weather conditions a more likely candidate in the shape of a Black-throated Thrush was found in and Aberdeenshire garden.

White-spotted Bluethroat, Portland, Martin Cade

Over the next few days the brisk north-easterlies are due to drop in strength and might even turn south-easterly for a short time. If this happens we could see a rush of summer migrants arriving with a continuing flavour of eastern scarcities – a stunning summer plumaged Rustic Bunting would be an excellent find.

Friday 15 March 2013

More of the same

Rather unsurprisingly, for both migrants arriving and those departing it has been slow this week. However, despite the freezing conditions, a small window opened up late in the week when the stiff northerly winds eased and high pressure over much of southern Europe allowed those birds poised to make the last leap north.  There was a distinct arrival of Chiffchaff on the south coast with around sixty being counted at Hengistbury Head, Dorset, on 13 and 14 March, and another forty just along the coast at Portland.

Chiffchaff by Andy Mason

The first Little Ringed Plovers were also seen during this period, with at least one bird as far north as Cheshire. With low pressure spinning over the UK this weekend it looks very much like any further movement will be very limited. However, during the early part of next week we will experience light southerly winds and showers; perfect conditions for another fall of Chiffchaffs and the first big arrival of Wheatears, birds that may currently be held up a little further south.

These conditions might also help those birds heading north and east, Starlings - including the bird that does a perfect rendition of male singing Golden Oriole in my garden, presumably from somewhere east of the UK. Along with Waxwings, Redwings, Fieldfares and wildfowl that have all been seen in slightly larger numbers this week but have been stopped from getting any further by the stiff northerly airstream that we have been trapped in.

Grey Phalaropes off Morocco by Andy Williams

Some seabirds are moving, with Manx Shearwater and Arctic Skua being recorded this week. Much further south a small flock of migrating Grey Phalaropes were photographed from a survey ship of the Atlantic coast of Morocco, and a steady but light passage of Sandwich Terns was also seen. For more visit Pelagic Birder.
So, with the weather forecast to remain unsettled for most of next week we can expect more of the same.

Friday 8 March 2013

A steady trickle of summer migrants

Light winds across much of southern Europe have been the norm this week and a few hardy summer migrants have taken advantage of them and made the final push north. There have been a small number of Swallows, Sand Martins and Wheatears reported but the most noticeable arrival has been White Wagtails. Around forty turned up on the Isles of Scilly at the start of the week, with small numbers also arriving along the south coast to Hampshire.

White Wagtail by Scilly Spider

Southern overshoots were represented again in the form of a Hoopoe that arrived on St Agnes, Isles of Scilly but with the weather deteriorating, showers are forecast for much of Spain and France over the next couple of days, it seems likely that the door will be closed for summer migrants - at last in the short-term.  It is still very early in the season and any birds that have made it to the Mediterranean coasts will stay put until the weather improves. So, whilst the migration brakes will be put on by next week’s cold front, when we return to spring-like weather again we could well see a sudden rush of birds that have been held back.

Hoopoe on St Agnes by Paul Stancliffe

Those birds heading back across the North Sea will also find it difficult, at least until the early part of next week when the stiff easterly winds are forecast to subside a little. We could see Redwings and Fieldfares moving back into gardens over the next few days, joining the Bramblings and Siskins that are already there.

March is the month when gulls are on the move. With very cold temperatures further north and a cold easterly airflow, we might see a small upsurge in the number of Glaucous and Iceland Gulls around our coasts. 

Glaucous Gull by Peter M Wilson

Friday 1 March 2013

Spring migration 2013 has begun!

With some parts of the UK experiencing a small amount of spring-like weather it is not too surprising that, although it is still very early, migrant birds have started to arrive on our shores. Two Ospreys were reported this week, one on 23 February in Lincolnshire, and another on 25 February in Cornwall. Both of these birds will take advantage of the good weather conditions and could well be back at their breeding sites in the next day or two.

Osprey by Derek Belsey

Swallow numbers have been increasing on the Spanish side of the Straits of Gibraltar during the last week but the birds don’t  seem to be pushing much further north from there, so it is a little more surprising to receive the first report of a Swallow in the UK. One was reported flying north over the dunes at Ainsdale, and also at Birkdale, Lancashire at 2.00pm on 28 February. With high pressure, and the resultant light northerly winds forecast from the UK all the way south to North Africa on Saturday, we could see a few more early migrants pushing north.

Pressure chart by the Met Office

The BTO satellite tagged cuckoos have already begun their move north. Chance, tagged on the Shores of Loch Katrine in May 2012 has almost completed the first leg of his journey to West Africa, which will be the staging area for his pre-Saharan crossing. David, tagged in Ceredigion, Wales, also in May 2012 is not far behind him, resting up in Cameroon before he pushes further west. Look at their locations here.

We are also following the migration, or not, of a group of White Storks that no longer migrate to Africa for the winter but choose to stay around landfill sites in Portugal instead. They may, however, leave these to breed elsewhere – look here for more information and to keep an eye on them. 

There is already evidence that some of our winter visitors have begun to leave, with the BirdTrack reporting rates for Bewick’s Swan, Redwing and Fieldfare all showing declines. It’ll be all change over the coming weeks, so keep an eye to the sky and remember you can now log all your recent sightings straight from your smart phone via the BirdTrack Apps.