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 16 October 2015

Look to the east

Everything was in place this week for there to be a large arrival of winter visitors to the UK. With high-pressure and settled weather over Scandinavia, and high-pressure extending from the North Sea to central Russia, the resulting east-north easterly airflow, accompanied by showers on the east coast of Britain, ensured that we would not be disappointed.

Goldcrest by Jill Pakenham

Redwings poured into the country and smaller numbers of Fieldfare arrived too, moving rapidly south; the Isles of Scilly saw its first small flocks. Finches continued to move and the Goldfinches, Linnets and Chaffinches included a few more Bramblings. However, the week was dominated by the arrival of Goldcrests on the east coast. The BirdTrack reporting rate shows this arrival well. Equally impressive was the number of Great Grey Shrikes that arrived with them, no doubt taking advantage of the abundant supply of crests. As expected with the arrival of the Goldcrests a few Woodcock were also seen. Robins crossed the North Sea in force, along with the first noticeable arrival of Blackbirds.

Goldcrest BirdTrack reporting rate

A number of Pink-footed Geese made it to their wintering locations in north Norfolk, and wildfowl were on the move too. Several hundred Shoveler were observed arriving in off the sea at Burnham Overy, Norfolk on 15 October and a Bewick’s Swan that arrived at Slimbridge, Gloucestershire on 11 October was the earliest - by twenty-five days - to have ever arrived at the site since a study on this species began in 1963.

Shoveler by John Harding

With easterly airflow dominant throughout the week it was no surprise that many of the scarce and rare birds came from this direction, and around fifty Richards Pipits were found from Shetland to the Isles of Scilly. There was also a multiple arrival of Red-flanked Bluetails, with at least seven being seen. However, the biggest surprise, given the direction the winds were coming from, came from North America in the shape of Britain’s second ever Wilson’s Warbler that was found on Lewis, Outer Hebrides.

So, what to look out for during the next week?

Woodlark by Derek Belsey

Mid October is the peak time for two migrating passerines: Woodlark and Brambling. The former breeds in southern Britain and East Anglia, as well as more locally in the Midlands and East Yorkshire. At least part of the population moves away from breeding sites, some even to continental Europe and now is a good time to listen out for their distinctive flight calls (

Woodlark BirdTrack reporting rate

The first Brambling are beginning to arrive in Britain including one or two at our Nunnery Lakes reserve. The numbers of Brambling wintering in Britain fluctuate every year, most likely in response to the availability of beechmast in southern Scandinavia and eastern Europe. Several million birds can gather in areas with a high beechmast productivity and spectacular numbers can reach Britain and Ireland if it is a poor year for beech - for example an estimated 150,000 were noted near Liverpool in 1981. Could this be one of those years?

Arctic Tern by Andy Mason

With the wind likely to stay east to north east over the weekend, this may be a good opportunity for a late seawatch on the east coast of Britain. Scarcer migrants likely to be seen include Sooty Shearwater, a late Arctic Tern and Pomarine Skua. Reporting rates for the latter to BirdTrack peak in September, but October still sees a good number of records. There were also several of inland Gannets from Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire and Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland so even if you are not on the coast it is well worth checking local lakes and reservoirs for displaced seabirds.

The hands-down rarity of the week is the stunning Wilson's Warbler found on the Western Isles during the week. With the winds staying easterly for now, we are sticking with our guns in predicting a Siberian mega for the days ahead: another Chestnut-eared Bunting on Shetland perhaps? Or Britain's first Grey-necked Bunting on the Norfolk coast?

Paul Stancliffe and Stephen McAvoy

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