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 24 April 2015

Migration in full swing – almost

Migrants have been piling in during the last week – Willow Warbler counts have reached three figures on several days at south coast watchpoints, there have been small flocks of Ring Ouzels on the east coast and Cuckoos have reached Scotland but it still feels like many of our summer visitors are still thin on the ground. Where are all the Sand Martins? And there really ought to be more Lesser Whitethroats than there are. The next week or so should unveil whether some birds are just held up further south or whether they had a bad winter.

BirdTrack reporting rate for Sand Martin

Even though some species feel a little low in numbers most species are now here. There have been one or two Nightjars during the week, Swift numbers have been steadily growing, a flock of fifty birds were counted at Longham Lakes, Dorset, earlier in the week, and the first Spotted Flycatchers have also arrived.

Great Spotted Cuckoo by Cliff Woodhead

Southern overshoots have been well represented, mostly by the Hoopoe; there could have been between fifty and one hundred in the country.  It is difficult to know how many Black-winged Stilts turned up, eight were seen together in Kent, with several ones and twos later in the week that could have been some of these birds dispersing, or different birds altogether. A Great Spotted Cuckoo was found in Wales, and at least six Bee-eaters graced southern counties for a few days. Given the easterly airflow there were few birds from that direction, almost certainly because the winds actually originated out in the Atlantic north of Britain and came down through the North Sea and into the east coast and not from the continent.

Purple Heron by Northeast

The forecast for the next week is a little more unsettled than the last week, with westerly winds dominating all week. At times these will be quite light and during these periods birds will arrive. So, it will be more of the same although Ring Ouzel numbers will definitely be much lower. The last week of April is often marked by the mass arrival of Swifts and looking at the forecast there doesn’t seem to be much that will hold them up, so look out for them in the next few days. More of the BTO Cuckoos ought to make the last leg of their journey and, fingers crossed, Chris the Cuckoo (tagged in 2011) will arrive back. You can follow the Cuckoos here as they complete their journeys. As far as rarities go, I’m hoping for a Purple Heron, or Little Bittern on my local patch.

Thursday 16 April 2015

What an amazing week

The weather conditions finally changed for the better, allowing migrants birds that were held-up further south to begin making their way north again, and they did! Ring Ouzel lead the way with over 500 birds being reported from the south coast to Northumberland.

Grasshopper Warbler by Amy Lewis

Willow Warblers piled in, over 300 arrived at Hengistbury Head, Dorset, on the 13th. Portland, also in Dorset, counted 500 on the same day. A few Sedge, Reed and Grasshopper Warblers arrived, along with a small number of Whitethroat and Lesser WhitethroatSwallows and House Martins are also back in good numbers and a few Swifts have also been seen.  Yellow Wagtails and Tree Pipits, Redstarts and Pied Flycatchers arrived bang on cue but although Blackcaps are now around in good numbers the main arrival is around a week later than the norm.

Pied Flycatcher by Edmund Fellowes

One of our latest summer migrants to arrive back is the Nightjar, sometimes the first birds are not seen until early May, so, one flushed from the car park at Dungeness, Kent on 12 April is very early. The first Nightingales have already taken up territories in some areas and are in full song and Cuckoos have been heard as far northern England. Four of the BTO satellite tagged Cuckoos are now back in Europe, one is in south west France and the other three birds are in southern Spain. Follow them as they make their way back to the UK here.

The warm southerly airflow that opened the floodgates also brought a number of Mediterranean overshoots with it, most notably Hoopoes, just under a hundred have been reported, mostly from southern counties, with at least eighteen present on the Isle of Scilly alone. At least three birds reached Scotland.  Wrynecks were also well represented, with at least thirty birds found. A couple of Woodchat Shrikes, Alpine Swifts and single Great Spotted Cuckoo, Scops Owl and Bluethroat, all added to the continental flavour but all of these were eclipsed by Britain’s second ever Great Blue Heron, found at the exact location of Britain’s first; Lower Moors, St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly, eight years earlier.

Bluethroat by Edmund Fellowes

So, what can we expect during the next week?

High pressure and relatively light easterly winds are forecast for most of next week which should allow more migrants to move and we should see the number of many of our common summer visitors grow. On the rarity/scarcity front we might see a slightly different mix bringing a bit of an eastern flavour with it. Red-footed Falcon, one or two more Bluethroats and a Pallid Harrier or two could be on the cards.

Thursday 2 April 2015

Migration gets underway again

The strong north westerly winds brought migration to a halt prompting the migration stalwarts at Christchurch Harbour, Dorset to comment on their daily log for the 31 March, there were no incoming migrants today. However, as we go into the Easter weekend it looks like all that could be about to change; the wind has been dropping all the time over the last couple of days and migrants have responded accordingly. The first Sedge and Reed Warblers Warblers were seen, Swallows have begun to arrive in reasonable numbers and there have been a few more reports of House Martin and Sand Martin too.

Sedge Warbler by Dawn Balmer

Willow Warblers are also starting to appear and the first two Whitethroats of the spring have also been seen.  With the warmer weather starting to arrive, Osprey reports are also picking up across the UK. Today, 10 birds were seen, signalling that spring is definitely here. Most of these reports were noted as flyovers, from 14 different counties, ranging from Sussex, through Staffordshire and as far north as Co. Durham and Cumbria.

Osprey by

With the weather forecast to settle over the weekend, the floodgates could really open with Sunday possibly being the best day to go in search of summer visitors.

A Night Heron, on St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly might just be the forerunner for one or two more overshooting Mediterranean birds too. Following on from the Alpine Swift in Sussex earlier in the week my bet, albeit tentatively, is on Red-rumped Swallow. 

Red-rumped Swallow