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.

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Mid-winter movement

The weather has been all over the place this week, overnight frosts, strong winds, heavy rain, snow and even overnight temperatures that would rival autumn daytime temperatures but the most dominant factor in terms of bird movement has been the westerly airflow.

The predicted Ivory Gull turned up on the 13 December on the Outer Hebrides and there seems to have been an increase in the number of Ring-billed Gulls. However, the predicted Nearctic passerines failed to show, although I still think there could be a Dark-eyed Junco lurking in a garden somewhere in the UK.

Ring-billed Gull by Peter M Wilson

So, with westerly airflow dominating the scene for the next week or so what might we expect?
True migration is largely over now, although another big blow from almost any direction and a temperature plummet on the continent could result in new arrivals, involving windblown seabirds and gulls from the north and west (white-winged gulls are favourite but Ross’s Gull is still on the cards), Little Auks form the north and east and wildfowl from the continent.

Birds are still on the move within the UK; undergoing a ‘mid-winter’ redistribution. Some of the Pink-footed Geese that have been present in North Norfolk for the last month or so have moved into the Norfolk Broads area, as evidenced by the white-morph Snow Goose that has moved with them.   There have also been Pink-footed Geese heading south past Spurn Point, possibly moving from northern England or Scotland and heading for North Norfolk. Whooper Swans have also been seen moving in small flocks, presumably doing a similar thing.

GBW reporting rate for Chaffinch

Birds are also beginning to move into gardens with BTOGarden Birdwatch reporting rate for Chaffinch heading towards its winter peak and the numbers of Blackcaps using gardens going up.
The generally mild conditions forecast for much of the UK for the next few days will definitely help the small number of Swallows and Wheatears that are still present – if these conditions continue perhaps we could see one or two of these successfully overwintering.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Storm driven arrivals

Last week’s freezing conditions in Eastern Europe and western Russia did push a few birds our way. Several sites around the UK saw an increase in Pintail and Teal, and a small arrival of Woodcock and Snipe was seen on the east coast. 32 Taiga Bean Geese also arrived at the traditional winter site in Norfolk. Despite the cold conditions here in the UK a few Swallows still hung on, the most northerly being in Troon, Ayrshire but it seems that the House Martins that were around have either succumbed to the cold or moved on. A small number of Wheatears are also still being reported.

Taiga Bean Goose by Andy Thompson

The Met Office are forecasting 80mph winds coming in from the Atlantic, arriving in the far north of the UK but affecting most of the west coast during the next couple of days. At this time of the year it is not impossible for the storm to bring the odd North American bird with it, Dark-eyed Junco, American Robin and Killdeer have all been found in December in the past.

American Robin by Luke Delve

A huge storm like this will almost certainly displace some seabirds and the northerly track of this storm could bring some Sabine’s Gulls and Leach’s Petrels with it. On the rarity front Ross’s Gull and Ivory Gull could be on the cards.

Sabine's Gull by Joe Pender

The cold weather here did result in a small movement of Golden Plover and Lapwing within the UK but Skylarks seemed to stay put and during the windy conditions this will probably be the case at least for the next week or so.

The forecast for the next few days is for relatively mild conditions, although in the wind it is likely to feel much colder. West coast seawatching should prove fruitful but it is worth keeping an eye out for unusual visitors to bird tables too.

Tuesday 2 December 2014

Cold weather movement

It has been a fairly quiet week on the bird movement front but that could change with the forecast change in the weather. Large parts of the country are forecast to experience hard overnight frosts from mid-week, particularly in the north and the Midlands, and whilst this spell of freezing conditions will only last for a few days it might just be enough to make it difficult for some birds to feed.

Lapwings by John Harding

We could see Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Skylarks moving to the relatively warmer southern parts of the country, and we could see a small surge of birds into our gardens as ground feeding finches and buntings find it a little harder to find food in the surrounding countryside, birds such as Chaffinches, Bramblings and Reed Buntings.

Whilst the overnight temperature is forecast to drop to -3°C in northern England and parts of Scotland, this is relatively balmy compared to the forecast daytime temperature of -9°C that western Russian and Eastern Europe will experience over the next few days. Combined with easterly winds into the Netherlands this could prompt a movement of wildfowl, Teal, Pintail, Goldeneye, Pochard and Smew are the ones to look out for. A short spell of northerlies down the North Sea could also push Little Auks and divers further south, in particular Red-throated Divers, as a result seawatching could prove fruitful from the east coast over the next few days.

Red-throated Diver by Andy Mason

There are still several Swallows and Wheatears in the country along with a couple of House Martins, it will be interesting to see how many linger into the weekend.

Later in the week the winds will be coming from the west and northwest and could result in an arrival of white-winged gulls in the north, Glaucous and Iceland, and divers could be on the move through the Irish Sea, more likely Great Northern and Black-throated Divers.

We might also see the arrival of the Norfolk flock of Taiga Bean Geese, prompted to move by the falling temperatures on the other side of the North Sea.

Monday 24 November 2014

Still summer-ish

The weather has been very much a mixed bag but on the whole relatively warm. So, it is probably unsurprising that there are several summer migrants still around. Swallows are still a long way north, with a handful of reports coming from Scotland, House Martin was also seen north of the border over the weekend. There are still a few Wheatears around and a Redstart thought to show characteristics of Ehrenberg’s Redstart (samamisicus, eastern race of common Redstart) is still present in Yorkshire, and a Common Redstart was seen much further north on Orkney. A Whitethroat is still being seen in London and there are still a couple of Lesser Whitethroats around. With the temperature dropping it will be interesting to see if any of these birds attempt to stay around for much longer.

Wheatear by Simon Gillings

With the temperature remaining relatively warm and very little sign of any frost, there hasn’t been any cold weather movements; it will have to get much colder before there is. However, Bewick’s Swans were reported flying over several parts of eastern Britain during the last few days which might hint at a small arrival of this species.

Bewick's Swans by Andy Mason

The forecast is for it to remain mild for the rest of the week and into the weekend. However, we are in for some easterly airflow, if this combines with falling temperatures on the continent we might see a few more birds on the move. Thrushes are always favourite this late in the season but we might see some finches arrive, Brambling in particular.

Monday 17 November 2014

All quiet on the migration front - but maybe not for long.

Unsurprisingly it has been fairly quiet on the migration front this week and, with the exception of a reasonable showing of Pomarine Skuas moving through, there has been nothing much to report. However, as we are now into the winter period any serious drop in the temperature on the continent could result in a series of cold weather movements.

We could see a further arrival of Rough-legged Buzzards and Short-eared Owls and, who knows, maybe a Snowy Owl or two.

The BirdTrack reporting rate shows what an exceptional year it already is  for Rough-legged Buzzard. If it is cold enough, and waterbodies in Eastern Europe freeze over, we ought to see wildfowl on the move, Tufted Duck, Pochard and Goldeneye numbers could swell, and we might even see a good showing of Smew. Bewick’s Swans have been thin on the ground the last few winters but this could change with freezing conditions on the continent.

BirdTrack Rough-legged Buzzard reporting rate

In these conditions Woodcock and Snipe can also be forced across the North Sea. In some years more than a million Snipe make their way here. For more on this read the Demog Blog.
A small number of Waxwings were found in the north and east during the week and a small number of Little Auks were on the move, hinting at what might be if we do get a sudden cold snap further north.

Little Auk by Andy Mason

The forecast for at least the next few days is for it to remain mild, with a largely easterly airflow, which is good news for the handful of Swallows, Wheatears and warblers that are still in the country, we should also see further arrivals of Starlings and winter thrushes (Redwings, Fieldfares and Blackbirds) on the east coast. There is a hint of things cooling down for the latter part of the week, and if we do get any ground frosts we might see Lapwings and Golden Plovers on the move.

I received an email this morning from a friend who is working on a survey vessel 100 miles out in the North Sea, showing just how difficult the North Sea crossing can be even for the toughest of birds.

Hi Paul - a couple of hours ago 3 Bean Geese flew past my ship - we are more or less stationary- just riding out a nasty easterly F8/F9 gale. I lost the birds from view but 20 minutes later after battling the 33 knot easterly they returned. After circling the ship 3 times they managed a very rough and dangerous landing on the deck- after clattering and skidding into some stowed kit they shook themselves off, inspected their feet, did a brief preen then started roosting! I'm amazed they managed such a difficult landing in such a small deck space in 6-8 metre seas as well as the gale force winds!

Tundra Bean Geese by Andy Williams

I have some concerns about takeoff with lots of obstacles in the way but hopefully the weather will settle down tomorrow- I imagine they will stay put overnight as no one is allowed on deck on these seas.

These geese were extremely lucky and fingers crossed, they make it off the deck and on their way as soon as conditions improve - there must be lots of birds that get caught out over the sea that are far less lucky.  Check out Pelagic Birder's blog for more.

Paul Stancliffe

Friday 7 November 2014

Woodpigeons are go!

The crisp, clear conditions and light easterly airflow earlier this week was perfect for a Woodpigeon spectacular, and the Woodpigeon fans among us weren’t disappointed. Woodpigeon migration pretty much signals the end of the autumn migration season, often beginning during the first week in November and petering out during the third week of the month.

Woodpigeon by Jill Pakenham - a truly dynamic bird

It can however, be spectacular , and to have been on the other side of the North Sea earlier in the week must have been the things that dreams are made of (for the vis-migger that is). Earlier in the week an amazing 3,000,000 (yes there are six noughts) Woodpigeons were counted migrating through the Netherlands and Belgium, and on Wednesday morning (5 November), 202,000 were counted in three hours, moving south-west over Portskewett, Gwent.

Other migrants weren’t left out. Starlings, thrushes, crests and Robins featured at some coastal watchpoints, and the predicted Desert Wheatear duly turned up, in fact three were found, a male each in Suffolk and Kent, and a female in Norfolk.

Kittiwakes passing Portland Bill by Martin Cade

The weather over the next few days is forecast to be unsettled and a little stormy, so there will probably be little movement, although the sea is worth a look for divers, seaducks, Kittiwakes and a few late skuas and a few early Little Auks.. However, if we get a return to clear, cool conditions, Woodpigeons will certainly begin to move again, and we could get a small influx of Great-grey Shrikes.

Friday 31 October 2014

Plenty of birds still to come

The last few days have seen a large movement of thrushes (mostly Fieldfares) and Starlings across the North Sea, prompted by high pressure and resultant light winds from the east coast of Britain to the Continent.

Fieldfare and Redwing by Anne Cotton

Falsterbo Bird Observatory in southern Sweden have also experienced a large movement of birds but of different species. Goldcrests. Long-tailed Tits and Robins have dominated there.

The weather forecast for the next week is for predominantly westerly airflow, strong at times as weather fronts cross the UK. However, in between these fronts the winds will become lighter and although not enough to allow Goldcrests to cross the North Sea, we should see further arrivals of thrushes and Starlings. There does seem to be a small window of light easterlies forecast for the middle part of next week and we could see a mass arrival of Goldcrests and Robins then, not to mention Short-eared Owls

Short-eared Owl by Amy Lewis

There is also a chance that we could see some frosts, and if the conditions are clear, with light easterly wind we could see what for me is the greatest autumn migration spectacle: large numbers of Wood Pigeons making their way south and west. This species is responsible for my own largest visible migration count, an almost continuous stream of around 50,000 birds migrating west over Hengistbury Head, Dorset.

If we do get the promised easterlies, we might see a Desert Wheatear on the east coast too.

Friday 17 October 2014

Winter is here

Well, at least winter thrushes are. It finally happened during the early part of this week; Redwings seemed to be everywhere as they arrived in force, with flocks moving inland very quickly. Ring Ouzels also moved bang on cue, but in impressive numbers – over 500 were recorded at Dungeness, Kent on 14 October, and 150 were counted heading out to sea at Foreness, also in Kent. The BirdTrack graph shows just how bang on cue they were.

BirdTrack graph showing reporting rate for Ring Ouzel

Other birds on the move included Goldcrests and Robins but in much smaller numbers. Bramblings have also started to put in an appearance. We might have to wait a little longer for a large arrival of these, the weather for most of next week will put us firmly in a westerly airflow.

Goldcrest by Jill Pakenham

Things were much quieter on the rarity front, however, Britain’s seventh Audouin’s Gull was found at Dungeness, probably pushed north by the strong southerly airflow of last weekend.
The first big movement of Woodpigeons was recorded earlier in the week too; on the other side of the North Sea. Over 40,000 were counted migrating through Falsterbo, Sweden on the 14 October. Again, we will have to wait for clear conditions and some east in the wind before we see anything like that sort of movement here. The largest counts of Woodpigeons on the move here are often made during the first two weeks of November.

So, what might we expect nest week? The west and south-west ought to be the place to be, and we could well receive one or two American vagrants off the back of Hurricane Gonzalo, which is due to leave the North American seaboard on Sunday morning, arriving here, although having lost a lot of its energy, around lunchtime on Monday. As I am going to be on the Isles of Scilly next week I am hoping for anything from across the Atlantic, although I would love to see a Black-and-white Warbler. During quieter spells visible migration should pick-up again and we ought to see more Fieldfares in the mix of thrushes.

by Paul Stancliffe

Thursday 9 October 2014

You know it's October when birds begin turning up from all points of the compass. The first real westerly storms of the autumn brought more North American birds with them, with the cream of the crop being a Scarlet Tanager on the Outer Hebrides. This is the eleventh to be found in Britain and Ireland. The second Swainson’s Thrush of the autumn was found on Loop Head, Clare, there was a Solitary Sandpiper in Wexford and a couple more Red-eyed Vireos made it across the Atlantic, one to Northumberland and one to Mayo.

As predicted, birds also arrived from the east. A Steppe Grey Shrike arrived in North Norfolk over the weekend, a Blyth’s Pipit was identified on the Isles of Scilly and the first 2 Radde’s Warblers of the autumn were found on Shetland, while a Little Crake graced Minsmere, Suffolk. At least four Rough-legged Buzzards were reported and the northern islands saw the largest arrival of Redwings, although we are still waiting for the main arrival of winter thrushes.

Song Thrushes, Robins, Starlings and Goldcrests have begun to move through coastal watchpoints on the Continent but the low pressure system that has been wheeling around off our west coast has largely blocked a crossing of the North Sea. However, the stormy conditions will abate over the weekend and there will be light south-westerly/westerly airflow across the North Sea, light enough to perhaps encourage a few birds to attempt a crossing.

Brambling by John Harding

So, we should see the first big movement of Starlings and thrushes. Bramblings should also feature in visible migration counts, and we could see the last flocks of Swallows and House Martins heading off. The latter species is of particular interest to the BTO; we have lost over half of our breeding House Martins during the last twenty-five years and whilst we know that they are faring better in Scotland and Northern Ireland than they are in England, we don’t really know why. Is it a loss of complete colonies or a general reduction in colony size and why are losses greater in certain parts of England compared to others. To help find this out we will be launching a special survey in 2015 & 2016 to gather further information. Find out more here.

House Martin by John W Walton

The early part of next week will see the next low pressure system cross the Atlantic, so birds from the west are on the cards once again, but just like this week as the front/fronts pass through we should see the arrival of birds from the east too. It is anyone’s guess what might turn up but Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Radde’s Warbler would fit the bill.

Friday 3 October 2014

West meets east.

The westerly airflow produced the good in the shape of several North American landbirds this week. At least three Red-eyed Vireos were seen, a Swainson’s Thrush and Yellow-rumped Warbler graced Shetland and an Ovenbird put in a brief appearance in County Cork. It seems ironic that a week of mostly westerly airflow should also turn up some top-drawer eastern rarities too. An obliging White’s Thrush was found in a garden on Mainland Shetland, a stunning male Eyebrowed Thrush graced the North Ronaldsay Observatory Garden in Orkney, with a Pechora Pipit being seen over the Obs garden on the same day.

Ovenbird by Bryan Thomas

Whilst westerly airflow spanned pretty much right across the North Atlantic for the latter part of the week, a low pressure system was creating north westerly airflow out of central Russia, which made landfall in Scandinavia, which could the almost simultaneous arrival of the White’s Thrush and Yellow-rumped Warbler around four miles apart on Shetland.

Skylark movement got underway this week, 119 were counted over Spurn, East Yorkshire on 2nd October, with Bardsey, Gwynedd, counting 205 over on the same day. Chaffinches are also starting to feature in visible migration counts too, although it could be a couple of more weeks or so before they really get moving.

The 2nd of October also saw a record 45,800 Pink-footed Geese arrive at Martin Mere, Lancashire, much smaller numbers have been seen moving south on the east coast of Britain, however, the east coast has seen a reasonable movement of Red-throated Divers and Common Scoters.
Swallow counts still exceeded the 100 mark on several days at several sites on the east and south coast during the week but House Martin numbers have been low.

Ring Ouzel by Luke Delve

The forecast of wet and windy weather from the west over the next few days should pretty much knock the head on visible migration. However, it might ground a few migrants that move between fronts. Ring Ouzel is definitely one to look out for. The quieter moments will see migration resume again and could result in some impressive hirundine and finch movements towards the middle of the week, Goldfinch in particular.

The westerly airflow will hit much further south this week than it did last week; possibly just in time for the start of the Scilly season. Maybe the islands will get its first North American landbird of the autumn, and later in the week something from the east. Blackpoll Warbler and Blyth’s Pipit would do.

Friday 26 September 2014

East meets West

After almost a month of easterly airflow that resulted in and amazing autumn for visible migration and the arrival of large numbers of scarce migrants along the east coast, the winds became westerly earlier this week, and as if by magic a Red-eyed Vireo  was found in the garden of the Sumburgh Hotel at the southern tip of Mainland, Shetland.  The first Semi-palmated Sandpiper of the autumn added to the westerly feel of around twenty Pectoral Sandpipers and up to half-a-dozen Buff-breasted Sandpipers.

Red-eyed Vireo by Joe Pender

However, it was still scarce migrants from the east that dominated and Wrynecks and Red-breasted Flycatchers continued to arrive, along with the first multiple arrival of Bluethroats, however, these were just the supporting cast for Britain’s third ever Masked Shrike that was found at Spurn, East Yorkshire on 20 September, overshadowing the Pechora Pipit on Mainland Shetland and the Lanceolated Warbler on Fair Isle.

Common migrants continued to arrive in force but as numbers of Whinchats began to fall during the week, Stonechats began to rise. Stonechat migration tends to peak around a month later than Whinchat, so there are plenty more of them to come yet. The first real movement of Linnets began mid-week joining the increasing number of Siskins on the move, and hirundines continued to pour out of the country but as is to be expected, in lower numbers than the last couple of weeks.

BirdTrack reporting rates for Whinchat (top) and Stonechat (Bottom)

It is a sure sign that autumn is moving on apace when the first Reed Bunting movement of the autumn occurs, 50 grounded on Hengistbury Head, Dorset and 65 at Spurn on 23 September give a flavour of things to come. Alba Wagtail (Pied and White Wagtails are difficult to separate on fly-over views so are often lumped as Alba’s) is also a late September migrant and records of these picked-up this week too.

So, what does the weather promise this week? It is going to be a game of two halves, at least until early next week, where there will be westerly airflow in the north, strong at times, and very light south-easterly airflow in the south. So from the Humber north, we might see a few more American waders, and possibly the odd landbird – historically, late September has turned up a few North American wood warblers. South of the Humber we can probably expect a few more scarce migrants from the east, which might include Red-flanked Bluetail and the odd Bluethroat. Late September is also a good time for the arrival of Short-eared Owl and Great Grey Shrike.

Friday 19 September 2014

House Martins head off.

With easterlies still dominating it is hardly surprising that birds from the east have dominated too. Two species have occurred in exceptional numbers during the week, with around ninety Red-breasted Flycatchers reported and a similar number of Yellow-browed Warblers, with at least nine on Fair Isle, Shetland on 16 September.

Yellow-browed Warbler by Joe Graham

Common migrants were also drifted across the North Sea and there have been good numbers of grounded Pied Flycatchers, Redstarts and Whinchats, and Wheatear numbers have begun to increase. Swallows and House Martins have taken advantage of the light easterly winds and have poured out of the country. During the week, visible migration watchers at Hengistbury Head, Dorset, recorded over 26,000 Swallows and over 38,000 House Martins moving through the site.
The latter half of the week saw a few Redwings and Fieldfares arrive but these were outnumbered by Song Thrushes, although the number of thrushes on the move was small in comparison to the hirundines and Meadow Pipits.

Finches have also started to move, with small flocks of Siskins moving along the east and south coast although we will have to wait until later in the month before they, and other finches begin to move in any number. Compare the two BirdTrack graphs below for Siskin and Chaffinch and note how Chaffinch observations begin to rise later than Siskin.

BirdTrack reporting rate for Siskin

BirdTrack reporting rate for Chaffinch

The winds are forecast to turn northerly through the latter part of the weekend and then westerly and south-westerly during the early part of next week. However, irrespective of the direction they are forecast to be relatively light. Birds will take advantage of this and continue to move but we should see a shift in the species composition. Hirundine numbers are likely to be less impressive but Wheatear  and Robin ought to increase. We could also see Redwing becoming more widespread and who knows, they might bring something else with them.

Friday 12 September 2014

It could be a big weekend.

With high pressure on the continent and low cloud over much of the UK for periods of time last week, a good visible migration showing was always going to be on the cards. It was with great anticipation of the spectacle that was to unfold that myself and BTO colleague Ieuan Evans made our way to the Spurn Migration Festival this weekend, and we weren’t to be disappointed.

Thousands, well over a thousand anyway, Meadow Pipits made their way south along the Spurn Peninsula, joined by hundreds of Swallows and House Martins, with a smaller showing of Sand Martins and a single Swift with them.

Whinchat by Mike Weston

Of the grounded migrants, Whinchats seemed to be everywhere, as did Yellow Wagtails. Spotted and Pied Flycatchers occasionally shared the same lookout perch, and the odd Redstart added a splash of colour. Warblers were well represented, Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Garden Warblers, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs frequented the many hedges that criss-cross Spurn, along with a small number of Sedge and Reed Warblers.

Wryneck by Jill Pakenham

Scarce migrants were found too; at least three very showy Wrynecks were around, along with two or three Barred Warblers. Although the conditions weren’t ideal for a good seabird passage, a small number of Arctic Skuas, Sandwich and Common TernsRed-throated Divers and Gannets were on the move. However, top-billing went to the juvenile Long-tailed Skua that flew north along the beach.

So, was this a fair representation of what was happening at other migration watchpoints? Well, pretty much. Meadow Pipit migration is well underway (the BirdTrack graph shows this well), large numbers of hirundines were seen during visible migration watches on the south coast, and unprecedented numbers of Blackcaps moved through the western half of the country. There were lots of chances to catch up with Wryneck and Barred Warbler around the country, and in some east coast locations these were joined by the odd Red-backed Shrike.

BirdTrack Meadow Pipit graph

With mid September looming, the start of the peak migration period – mid September to mid October – what is on the cards for the next week? High-pressure is forecast to extend from southern Britain to northern Scandinavia, with resulting light easterly airflow. This means more of the same but it could be even more spectacular with large numbers of birds on the move. Pipits and hirundines will dominate again but we could see an increase in Wheatears and Skylarks joining in. The timing is also good for Honey-buzzards to be drifted out across the North Sea too. On the scarce migrant front, Red-backed Shrikes might outnumber Barred Warblers, and we could see a few Common Rosefinches, Icterine Warblers and the odd Bluethroat. On the rarity front, Great Snipe has to be favourite. The east coast has to be the place to be this weekend, my personal choice of venue being Blakeney Point, Norfolk.

Friday 5 September 2014

Warblers, wagtails and a Wryneck

With easterly airflow dominating this week migration has stepped-up a gear. Good movements of Pied Flycatcher, Swallow, Chiffchaff, Whitethroat, Yellow Wagtail and Tree Pipit have been seen at several coastal watchpoints; over 3,000 Swallows moved through Hengistbury Head, Dorset, on the 2nd September alone.

BirdTrack graph showing the Autumn increase in records

From the east, Wryneck topped the bill, over a hundred were reported, from the Isles of Scilly to Shetland. Other eastern delights included up to 10 Greenish Warblers,  around forty Barred Warblers and four Citrine Wagtails. Below is a link to video footage of a Wryneck that frequented a garden in Spalding, Lincolnshire.

Wryneck by Jill Pakenham

Out in the north Sea, things were a little quiet, although a single Sparrowhawk, 3 Garden Warblers, 1 Pied Flycatcher, 2 Redstarts and2 Meadow Pipits did visit the research vessel that is stationed in the Dutch sector of the southern North Sea.

With the weather looking a little unsettled for the early part of the weekend, and high pressure building for the early part of next week we could be looking at more of the same for next week, although the numbers of common migrants on the move could increase dramatically. We can look forward to more Meadow Pipits and Yellow Wagtails, a big increase in the hirundine movement, Wheatears turning up in odd places; whilst offshore, terns and skuas are well worth looking out for.

For those attending the Spurn Migration Festival (, the BTO will have a stand and be taking part in migration walks and talks, it is also looking very promising for some good visible migration – see you there.

Friday 29 August 2014

Easterly airflow brings in some scarcities

The last few days have seen some easterly airflow from the continent with the resultant arrival of a few classic late August/early September migrants.

Amongst the common migrants, Whinchat has featured strongly. Willow and Sedge Warblers have also begun to move in numbers and the first real movement of Redstart, Pied Flycatcher and Yellow Wagtail is underway.

The BirdTrack graph for Redstart above shows this second reporting peak as birds begin to move out. 

With easterly airflow at this time of the year there is always going to be some scarcity interest and this was definitely the case. Barred Warbler, Greenish Warbler, lcterine Warbler, Wryneck and Common Rosefinch were bang on cue but the Fieldfare that was seen coming in off of the sea at Sheringham on 28 August was particularly early.

Waders have continued to move through but not in the numbers that might be expected. July saw reasonable numbers of adult birds on the move but the number of juvenile birds has been low. Maybe the breeding season further north has been a poor one, or might it be that the fairly consistent westerly airflow through most of August has meant that they have been moving through on the other side of the North Sea?

There is some nice evidence of birds crossing the North Sea in the last few days. The deck of a research vessel in the southern North Sea has seen a few Pied Wagtails, a couple of Garden Warblers and a lone Reed Warbler, read more here

Swift migration is well underway with the majority probably already in southern Europe, although small numbers are still being seen migrating through coastal watchpoints.

The BirdTrack reporting rate for Swift

What can we expect during the next few days?

Westerly airflow, becoming light during the early part of next week, won’t quite result in a similar arrival of scare passerines but we might see a few Pectoral Sandpipers and possibly the first Buff-breasted Sandpiper of the autumn courtesy of Hurricane Cristobal that will track across the Atlantic before heading north towards Iceland later this weekend.

The lighter winds and high pressure early next week should encourage some of our common migrants to move and we could see an increase in Wheatears, Wagtails and warblers at migration watchpoints.



Friday 18 July 2014

Wonderful waders

The summer months can seem rather quiet after the heady spring migration days but now is the time for waders that have either finished, or failed their breeding attempts in the high Arctic to be on the move. Having little reason to remain in the far north, these birds will now begin the journey to their wintering areas, with many passing through Britain on their way south.

Black-tailed Godwit by Nigel Clark

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits have been popping-up at both coastal and inland sites this week, and the number of migrating Whimbrel, Curlew and Redshank is beginning to increase. Whilst it is exciting to see common waders on the move, the real excitement comes in what might be moving with them, and anyone looking for rarer waders were not to be disappointed this week. Top billing has to go to Britain’s fourth ever Great Knot, found during a Wetland Bird Survey at Breydon Water, Norfolk. The same county also hosted a Stilt Sandpiper and a Black-winged Pratincole, whilst just over the border, a Collared Pratincole was found at Minsmere, Suffolk.

Mediterranean Gull by Andy Mason

It is not only waders that are on the move, during the last week or so, several thousand Swifts have been recorded heading south over Spurn, East Yorkshire, with the highest single day count reaching 9,050 birds.
Gulls are a lot more evident too, here at the BTO headquarters in Thetford, post breeding Lesser-Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls have begun to frequent the nearby green spaces, and the annual passage of Mediterranean Gulls has also got underway, double figures of this species were recorded on the move at Breydon Water, Norfolk, and Christchurch Harbour, Dorset. A colour-ringed second-summer bird at the latter site was ringed as a chick in a colony in Lithuania in 2012, giving us a clue as to the possible origin of some of these passage birds.

Our satellite-tagged Cuckoos are also well on their way, with the first three birds having successfully crossed the Sahara desert, two from Devon and one from Sherwood Forest. Only one of the tagged birds – twenty-two in all – remains in the UK, in Norfolk, the other eighteen are spread across nine different countries, from England to Sudan; truly birds without borders. Follow all of them as they continue on their journey south on the BTO website.

Wilson's Petrel by Joe Pender

Seawatching could also be the order of the day for west coast-based birders. The first Wilson’s Petrels have been seen from Scilly pelagics this week, along with the first few Cory’s Shearwaters from various sites.

The weather forecast for the next few days, and into the early part of next week is a mixed bag, but there is a short period of north-westerly wind forecast for northern Britain over the weekend, which could result in more Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank and Whimbrel on the move. A return to easterly airflow – forecast for Monday - should see Common Scoter on the move, and the possibility of one or two more exciting waders from further east. I’d be happy with either Greater, or Lesser Sandplover, and to round off the trio perhaps an Oriental Pratincole might grace an eastern county.

Paul Stancliffe

Friday 23 May 2014

Migration slowing down

This week has been a classic mid-may week. Passerine numbers have slowed right down – most are now here and many are already feeding the young of their first broods – however, waders have been more prominent with some top drawer scarcities joining the Dunlin, Sanderling, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel as they pass through the UK to arctic breeding grounds. From the east, came a Terek Sandpiper, found in Lincolnshire and a Broad-billed Sandpiper also in Lincolnshire. Two summer plumaged Spotted Sandpipers, a couple of Lesser Yellowlegs and Pectoral Sandpipers and a Buff-breasted Sandpiper came from the west, whilst the south produced a further influx of Black-winged Stilts and a single Kentish Plover, we can expect more of the same over the next couple of weeks.

Terek Sandpiper by Andy Mason

With over twenty birds being reported at sites from the south coast as far north as Yorkshire, Bee-eater has to be the bird of the week. Other southern overshoots included at least ten Black Kites, five Hoopoes, five Red-rumped Swallows and at least three Great Reed Warblers, whilst a Red-footed Falcon and a handful of Red-backed Shrikes and Bluethroats and, at least two White-winged Black Terns came from the south-east.
Bee-eater by Su Gough

The biggest rarity of the week came in the form of one of the world’s rarest birds, a Cahow, or Bermuda Petrel, seen from a survey vessel 170 nautical miles WNW of County Kerry, and with a world population of around 500 birds it somewhat overshadowed Britain’s eighteenth Calandra Lark, found on Fair Isle.

With low pressure wheeling over the country and drawing air in from a southerly direction we may well see an arrival of Quail and a few classic mid-May birds such as Red-backed Shrike, Marsh Warbler and Wryneck, and if we get any appreciable easterly airflow, maybe a rarity such as Oriental Pratincole or Marsh Sandpiper, and if you’re out and about birding over the Bank Holiday weekend, don’t forget to submit your complete lists to BirdTrack and make your observations count.

Friday 9 May 2014

World Migratory Bird Day

This weekend sees the celebration of World Migratory Bird Day, an initiative that seeks to raise the profile of migratory birds across the world.

Cuckoo by Steve Ashton

Migration is probably one of the most hazardous things that any bird may undertake, our satellite tagged Cuckoos are testament to that. We have lost birds to bad weather; Martin the Cuckoo was caught in a severe and unseasonal hail storm in southern Spain in spring 2012. Other birds have been defeated by the extremely arduous crossing of the Sahara, whilst some found it difficult to fatten-up during the wet, cold 2012 summer here in the UK, hampering their progress south.

This spring seems to have been good to our Cuckoos and currently seven tagged birds have made it back to the UK, three to Scotland, three to East Anglia and a single bird to Dartmoor, almost at the exact location where he was tagged in 2013. Two birds are still on their way and are in France and Spain but we have lost two birds on the way. One, Tor, is almost certainly down to tag failure, his transmissions had become patchy during the winter, and the other, Ken, as he was preparing for his northward crossing of the desert – maybe he just couldn’t find enough food, or perhaps he was taken by a predator, we will never know for sure.

There are plenty of natural hazards but many migrants also have to run the gauntlet that the modern world throws at them. Chris Packham recently highlighted the plight of European migrants as they migrate through Maltese airspace, read more here. A small number of British migrants also use this route and 29 recoveries of birds ringed in Britain, of 14 different species, have come from Malta. Among these have been two British-ringed Cuckoos; indeed two of our satellite tagged birds have flown directly over Malta on their way to Congo.
Black Kite by Jill Pakenham

Whilst many birds perish during migration, many successfully make it back. The weekend just gone saw the mass arrival of Swifts to the UK, the first wave of Spotted Flycatchers and the first Nightjar. There was also a good showing of southern overshoots, with multiple arrivals of Hoopoe and Black Kite, and several species of warbler, including a singing Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler in Northumberland.

The weather over the next few days will make it difficult for migrants to move. Strong winds and heavy rain is forecast to give way to light winds and warm weather for the latter part of the week and if this is the case we could see birds moving in force again – the spring is getting on and there will be a sense of urgency to get to the breeding grounds for these later arriving birds. More Spotted Flycatchers, Turtle Doves, Nightjars and House Martins should take advantage of any windows in the weather.

Scops Owl by Peter M Wilson

From mid-week we could see more overshoots but we are coming into the period where anything could turn up. An obliging Scop’s Owl would fit the bill, but given the Atlantic lows during the early part of the week maybe we should be looking to the west, we are overdue another Lark Sparrow.

Friday 2 May 2014

Look north and east this week

It has been an interesting week this week with a few what might have been expected southern overshoots. At least twelve different Hoopoes, a couple of Purple Herons and several Black-winged Stilts, along with several Wrynecks and Red-rumped Swallows but I’m not sure anyone would have predicted the superb male Cretzschmar’s Bunting that was found on Fair Isle, Shetland, or the Alpine Accentor that was found in North Norfolk, as late April birds.

Alpine Accentor by John Harding

The BTO satellite-tagged Cuckoos have begun to arrive back at their tagging sites. Skinner was the first, arriving back in Norfolk on 22 April but has since been followed by Chris, BB and Whortle. This is the culmination of a 4,000 mile, 3 month journey from Congo. Check them out here

Many of our migrants have now arrived in good numbers, particularly the warblers. Blackcaps and Whitethroats seem to be everywhere; well at least they do here in Norfolk. However, there does seem to be fewer Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins around; perhaps they are being held up by poor weather further south. Northern Spain and southern France do seem to be getting more than their fair share of cool, wet weather this spring, or maybe the cold spring last year took more of a toll than was thought.

Singing Blackcap by Adrian Dancy

Swifts didn’t really arrive during the week but as high pressure moves in from the north the resulting light winds should be perfect for a mass arrival, and the east coast could be the place to be. On Sunday and Monday the high pressure will extend from Yorkshire to North Africa, so more southern overshoots can be expected. Rock Thrush is a classic early May bird, as is Red-footed Falcon.

Rock Thrush by Nick Moran

During the early part of next week, the northern part of Britain will be hit by a run of weather fronts that have crossed the Atlantic, so as May is one of the best months to see an American sparrow on this side of the Atlantic, White-throated Sparrow is on the cards, and probably on Shetland.

Friday 25 April 2014

Mixed weather could make for an interesting week

White-winged Lark and Rufous Bushchat was always a long shot but a Sardinian Warbler and Blyth’s Pipit did their best to represent southern and eastern overshoots this week.

It has been very much a stop-start week as far as visible migration is concerned, with a few days when both grounded migrants and birds moving overhead occurred in good numbers.  Reed Warblers turned up bang on cue, whilst early in the week 400 Wheatear and around the same number of Willow Warbler were grounded at Portland Bill, Dorset. These birds occurred in classic fall conditions, clear skies over the French coast, prompting them to leave and a bank of drizzle on the South coast of England, forcing them to land.

Willow Warbler by Neil Calbrade

It seems that there is a good chance of these conditions being repeated again at times this week, although the banks of rain may occasionally span the whole Channel and bring migration on the south coast to temporary halt. This will not be the case across the whole of the country though and there are some promising conditions for arrivals on the east coast. Easterly winds and showers forecast at least through to Monday/Tuesday on the English coast, and clear conditions on the other side of the North Sea, could result in migrants grounding from Norfolk to Shetland – where and when exactly will be determined by the local conditions on each day. If I could choose where to be over the next few days, in anticipation of a fall of spring migrants, I would choose Shetland on Saturday morning, Spurn Point, Yorkshire on Sunday morning, and the Norfolk/Suffolk coast on Monday morning.

Sunday morning on the west coast could also be interesting too. As a front moves in from the south-west it could also bring some skuas and terns with it, so, seawatching could be the order of the day.

So what might we expect? Well, pretty much more of the same. Swift numbers remained low this week but should increase rapidly next week. Spotted Flycatcher and Garden Warbler numbers should also increase but Hobby ought to be the bird of the week.  We have had our first Montagu’s Harrier, with the easterly airflow this week we could see a few more of these too.

Hobby by Jill Pakenham

The surprise rarity of the week has to be the male Northern Harrier that was seen over Portland, Dorset. Presumably this was a bird that arrived last autumn and wintered somewhere on the continent, and is making its way back north for the summer. It is interesting to think where this bird will spend the summer; maybe it will try to pair up with a Hen Harrier north of the border.

With the conditions forecast to be changeable it is difficult to say what we might get in terms of any rare or scarce migrants but Bluethroat, Wryneck and Red-rumped Swallow should be in the mix and, maybe an early Black Stork will put in an appearance.

Thursday 17 April 2014

Spring migration steps up a gear

I have spent the last week on the Kent-Sussex border under blue skies, enjoying wall-to-wall sunshine and warm temperatures – not the best weather to experience any visible migration. On a one hour sample vis-mig watch at Dungeness on Monday morning I managed two Swallows, a Wheatear, a single Yellow Wagtail and a Pied Flycatcher that came in off the sea. 

There was a little more action over the sea. Common Scoter proved to be the most numerous migrating bird, in all twenty-seven flew west up the Channel during my sample hour, along with eight Gannets, two Red-throated Divers, nine Brent Geese and seven Whimbrel.

 Gannets by Jill Pakenham

It has definitely been quiet on the coast – the weather has just been too good and as a consequence any active diurnal migration will be happening high in the sky, out of earshot and eyesight. This is borne out by the number of summer migrants that have gone straight in land and are already on their breeding grounds. Pied Flycatchers and Redstarts are already singing in Welsh woodlands, a Nightingale was trapped during the week at its Cambridgeshire site and a few Cuckoos have been heard singing as far north as Northumberland, which bodes well for the BTO satellite tagged birds. We have three Cuckoos in Spain, with Skinner being the furthest north and Waller and Chris just a little further south. Any could make it back here during the next week. You can follow them as they complete the final leg of their mammoth journey here.

The mainly light northerly winds of the last week have been ideal for overshooting Mediterranean birds and we haven’t been disappointed. Star of the show was a Crag Martin in Yorkshire, however, three Hoopoes together in Devon and a flock of ten Black-winged Stilts on the Isle of Wight must take close second.  Red-rumped Swallow in Norfolk, White-spotted Bluethroat in Herefordshire and a Serin on the Outer Hebrides, A Tawny Pipit in Yorkshire, and two Bee Eaters on Scilly made for a good supporting cast. 

Of interest, we received evidence of outward migration across the North Sea in an email to the BTO. See below:

This bird landed on our cruise ship as it was near Shetland (heading towards Norway), but the weather was too stormy to dock there, so presumably the bird needed a bit of a rest.  

Skylark by Maureen Taylor

If the week belonged to any one species though it must belong to Ring Ouzel, a search on Birdguides returned one hundred and seventy-nine reports of birds from Scilly to Lancashire. So, what can we expect for the coming week.  Mid-April-mid May is the peak time for spring migration and we can expect almost anything to turn up. However, the best of it will always coincide with east/south-easterly airflow. This coming Sunday morning could be one of the best days of the spring so far to experience visible migration. The forecast is for a murky start, with the strong possibility of light rain, which will either bring moving birds lower or ground them altogether. Whimbrel will probably be the most obvious migrant next week but Reed and Sedge Warblers ought to also pile in, and by the end of the week many of us should also see a few Swifts. 

Ring Ouzel by Tommy Holden

On the scarcity/rarity front, with east/south-easterly wind forecast for the early/middle of the week we could be in for a treat with an eastern flavour. White-winged Lark is well overdue, as is Rufous Bush-Chat. We can but dream.