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 27 March 2015

Migration still slow

Chiffchaffs and Wheatears are arriving and beginning to filter north but the fairly strong northerly winds have effectively slowed migration down. Most of the other expected late March migrants have been thin on the ground too. There have only been a handful of Ring Ouzels, Swallows, Willow Warblers and Stone Curlews reported so far. 

Stone Curlew by P Doherty

Meadow Pipit migration has had its moments but is still slow, and overhead visible migration of ‘alba’ wagtails has been almost non-existent.One of the few early migrants to buck the trend is Garganey, with around forty birds reported and at least one making it as far north as Manchester. Ospreys have trickled in, a handful of which have already made it back to Scottish territories, and a small number of intrepid Willow Warblers have been seen and heard, along with one or two Yellow Wagtails and Tree Pipits.

Yellow Wagtail by Jill Pakenham

Things are definitely pushing up from the south though and there have been three overshooting southern European birds this week, two Black Kites in Kent and a Hoopoe in Ireland but it is going to take a serious change in the weather before the floodgates really open.

The weather forecast for the next week, strong westerlies and some serious rainfall at times, isn’t looking too promising either, at least until the middle of next week but should we get the odd quiet spell we could well see the floodgates open a little, and if they do, expect Willow Warblers, Blackcaps Ring Ouzels and Stone Curlews to start appearing on territory.
The weather might not be so hard on those birds heading out across the North Sea and we could see movements of Brent Geese, Wigeon, Whooper Swans, Redwings and Fieldfares, amongst others this week.

Male Redhead by Jill Pakenham

On the rarity front, my bet is still with a rare duck, or two. A Redhead would help to redress the balance of records lost to the recent British Birds Rarity Committee review – only one record now stands, a male seen in Nottinghamshire on 8-27 March 1996.

Friday 20 March 2015

Still early but birds are on the move

During the last week there have been windows in the weather that have allowed birds to push north – Chiffchaffs, presumably held up further south arrived, not exactly in force but in numbers that made for some good counts at a few sites. Over 200 were recorded at Portland, Dorset on 18 March. Meadow Pipit migration is also a feature in March and it was beginning to look like it might not happen this year, however, taking advantage of the same weather window as the Chiffchaffs.

Chiffchaff by Amy Lewis

Meadow Pipits did finally begin to move in good numbers, over south coast watchpoints at least.
More Wheatears, more Sand Martins and a few more Swallows were also on the move, only a handful of the latter were involved though. The first Ring Ouzels were reported and a small number of Willow Warblers were also seen and heard.

So, what can we expect for the nest week?

The weather is forecast to be pretty similar to this week with the wind moving from the north through the whole of the compass and back to northerlies by the end of the week. At times there will be light winds which ought to provide more windows in the weather and, at these times birds will begin to move. It is still early in the season but we should see things stepping-up a gear. It ought to be a week of Chiffchaffs and Meadow Pipits but we can also expect a few more Willow Warblers and Sandwich Terns to crop up too.

Sandwich Tern by Andy Mason

Cliff-nesting seabirds ought to begin to increase as more and more return to their colonies, particularly during quiet periods in the weather, and seawatchers could be treated to some spectacular wildfowl movements – now is a good time for scoters to be on the move. It is worth checking out inland waters too, as a few Common Scoters do seem to migrate over land during March. Other wildfowl on the move will include Wigeon, Pintail, Teal and Shoveler, and flocks of geese should also be a feature, as Brent, Pink-footed, White-fronted and Greylag geese all start to make their way north.

Redwings and Fieldfares could also head out mid-week as the winds become more favourable for a North Sea crossing. The weather isn’t looking so good for those Redwings that are heading back to Iceland though. and along with Whooper Swans, Northern Britain could see good numbers of both gathering in readiness for more suitable conditions.

Scarcity of the week has to go to the immature White-tailed Eagle that did a tour of East Anglia during the early part of the week and is still present at the time of writing. At this stage it is impossible to know where this bird originated from. However, during the last few days it has visited several points along the Norfolk and Suffolk coast, perhaps looking for the ideal conditions to cross the North Sea, giving us a clue of its possible natal area. The bird is ringed but the ring number hasn’t been visible so far.

Bufflehead by Luke Delve

With the winds coming from all direction this week it is hard to hazard a guess at a rarity but it could well be a duck that has spent the winter further south. Of the sixteen Buffleheads that have been accepted in Britain, five occurred in March.

Thursday 12 March 2015

They're here!

The first decent arrival of summer migrants arrived last weekend, on the wave of warm southerly airflow that the southern half of the country enjoyed. Over one hundred Sand Martins were reported, with a few birds making it as far north as Cheshire. Around half as many Wheatears with most being seen, rather unsurprisingly, in southern counties, a few did make it into Wales and at least one bird was seen in Northern Ireland. 

Sand Martin by Andy Mason

Other summer migrants arriving at the weekend included at least one Swallow, a couple of House Martins and Little Ringed Plovers, around a dozen Garganey and up to four Ospreys. The predicted Hoopoe didn’t show but there was a flavour of the Mediterranean with at least one, and possibly as many as three Alpine Swifts being reported, only one of these showed well, a bird that graced the skies over Wolverhampton on the 9th March.

Alpine Swift by Su Delve

Visible migration watchers also enjoyed some movement – A steady trickle of Meadow Pipits heading north was a feature of south coast watchpoints during the early part of the week, whilst northbound Pink-footed Geese dominated proceedings at east coast sites. West coast watchers were treated to some impressive auk movement, mostly Razorbills heading north. Check out the BTO ID video here.

Meadow Pipit by Nigel Clark

With stiff north easterly winds forecast for this weekend it will be quite different from last weekend – whilst a few southern migrants will still arrive most will struggle, however, that could all change during the early part of next week when the winds turn more southerly again. The east coast will be the place to be this weekend. More geese, divers and gulls should be on the move with the easterly wind pushing them close inshore, and wildfowl, Teal and Pintail could move in good numbers, it could also be the east coast’s turn to enjoy some auk passage. 

Once the winds turn southerly again we could see the first big arrival of Chiffchaff and more hirundines. On the rarity front and given the easterly winds and the fact that there have been a few March records before, Rustic Bunting could be on the cards, although later in the week something from the south is more likely.

Friday 6 March 2015

Spring migration is under way.

The first summer migrants are here - just. A Wheatear was seen at Portland, Dorset on the 1 March, and Ospreys were reported in Dorset and North Yorkshire on 4 March. So, whilst it isn’t the best showing it could all change very soon.

Wheatear by Amy Lewis

The weather forecast for the next few days is showing a warm pulse of air coming up from southern Europe, with south-south westerly airflow. There is a taste of things to come with reports of plenty of House Martins in southern Spain and Greece, and Swallows moving through the Mediterranean. If the weather does what we are told it is going to, this weekend shows great promise, with Saturday perhaps being the better day. Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Sand Martin, and Little Ringed Plover are all early summer migrants to look out for.

Common Gull by Edmund Fellowes

Going the other way, Redwing, Fieldfare, Bewick’s Swan and Brent Geese should begin moving north, and back to their breeding grounds, taking advantage of the tailwind. Early March is also a good time to look out for divers and gulls as they leave their southern wintering areas and head north for the forthcoming breeding season. Gull migration at this time can be spectacular.

For those of us following the BTO satellite tagged Cuckoos, we can see spring is well on its way – three birds have already left their winter locations in the Congo rainforest and are at their stopover sites in West Africa. Later this month, rested and loaded with the fat that will fuel their journeys, they will head north across the Sahara. Fingers crossed for good weather and a safe flight.

Hoopoe by Edmund Fellowes

From a rarity point of view, March is a good month for Gyr Falcon, and with the forecast southerlies, a Hoopoe is always on the cards.