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 11 November 2016

Birds still on the move

We are nearing mid-November, a time when you begin to feel that autumn migration has pretty much come to a close, and, while that may be the case for some species, it still feels like this autumn has more to give.

Waxwings have been on the move all week with new flocks noted on the east coast. Smaller flocks have so far been noted further inland, but numbers should continue to build in the coming weeks and Waxwings should reach most parts of the country. There may be further arrivals from the Continent as berry crops run low.

Waxwings by Jeff Baker/BTO

Reporting rate of Waxwing on BirdTrack

Another feature of the week has been the number of inland waterbodies that have hosted Scaup. Like Waxwing, the current reporting rate is well above average suggesting a wider arrival, perhaps as suitable waterbodies became scarce in last weeks cold snap in Scandinavia. Perhaps Smew could follow suit.

Drake Scaup by John Proudlock/BTO

Reporting rate of Scaup on BirdTrack

One of the better spectacles of the late autumn and early winter so far has to be arrival of Shorelark. Up to 100 birds have been seen at Holkham in North Norfolk in the last few weeks, with smaller flocks elsewhere along the east coast. A few have reached further afield, including singles on Anglesey and Hampshire.

The last of the summer visitors are still trickling through, the mega-rare Cliff Swallow at Minsmere, Suffolk last weekend shared the sky with eight Swallows and a very late Sand Martin. There has also been a flurry of Ring Ouzel records during the last week.

Predictably for the east coast, the easterly and north-easterly winds brought Little Auks with up to 14 recorded at seawatching sites. Long-tailed Duck and Velvet Scoters were also logged at many spots, as well as the more expected Great and Pomarine Skuas.

Little Auk by Morris Rendall/BTO

For the weekend and beyond the weather looks to be dominated by westerly winds originating from north-eastern Canada. There is a small chance of some late Nearctic rarity turning up on a remote headland in Ireland or Scotland and Mourning Dove, Yellow-rumped or Blackpoll Warbler being typical November arrivals. Commoner birds that will continue to arrive include Starling and Blackbird from Scandinavia and beyond, and keep an eye out for Woodcock which reaches peak reporting rate in BirdTrack in late November.

Paul Stancliffe and Stephen McAvoy

Monday 24 October 2016

Still plenty of eastern promise

The low pressure system that crossed the UK during the latter part of this week looked like it might bring the run of easterlies to an end. However, with the high-pressure system forecast to linger over Scandinavia, the easterly winds will feature in the middle of this week at least.

A brief dally with westerly winds during mid-week produced some spectacular seabird movements along the west coast that included 2,433 Razorbills, 4,068 Kittiwakes, 898 Gannets, along with a few Arctic, Great and Pomarine Skuas past Bardsey, Gwynedd, on 18 October.

Kittiwakes by Martin Cade

As would be expected at this time of year, finches are still on the move, with Linnets and Goldfinches predominating. The first real movement of redpolls, Mealy and Lesser pretty much in equal parts, have also been a feature of the week, along with Brambling and to a lesser extent Chaffinches and Siskin.

Thrushes continue to pile in, although mainly Redwing and Fieldfare, we might have to wait until next week for Blackbirds to arrive in force.

The highlight of the week has been the arrival of several flocks of Tundra Bean Geese, in higher numbers than we would normally see and a little earlier too. Shorelark, another scarce Scandinavian winter visitor, have equally been noted in above average figures for recent years. Flocks of 28 of the latter have been noted in Lincolnshire and Norfolk for example.

Shorelark reporting rate on BirdTrack

Swallows and Wheatears continue to trickle south, but House Martin observations have fallen dramatically, with most birds now probably on their way to as yet unknown winter quarters.

Following on from sightings in Shetland and Yorkshire, several more Siberian Accentors were spotted in Britain. The bird in Easington, East Yorkshire drew large numbers of admirers with several thousand birders making the journey in the course of the Accentor's seven day stay.

The Easington Siberian Accentor by Andy Mason

Associated with the Siberian Accentors was a notable arrival of rare warblers and wheatears, in particular Dusky Warbler and Isabelline Wheatear. No less than seven Dusky Warblers were found at Spurn, East Yorkshire last week and five Isabelline Wheatears represent an above average return from a species seen only on 30 previous occasions in Britain and Ireland.

Reporting rate of Dusky Warbler on BirdTrack

After peaking at almost 8% of BirdTrack complete lists in early October, reports of Yellow-browed Warbler has dropped off in the last week and were logged on only 4% of lists this week. The equally diminutive Pallas's Warbler has partially filled this gap, being noted on just over 1% of complete lists.

Waxwing by Andy Mason

Finally, Waxwings are on the move across the North Sea, with small flocks reported from all along the east coast of Britain. Will this year see a repeat of the last good Waxwing winter in 2012/13?

Paul Stancliffe and Stephen McAvoy

Friday 30 September 2016

East meets West

It has been an exciting week with new arrivals from the east and west this week. Top billing goes to the Eastern Kingbird found on Barra in the Outer Hebrides on Thursday. This large flycatcher is a widespread breeding bird in Canada and the US and has been previously found twice in Ireland following sustained westerly winds. The Kingbird joined an impressive cast of birds from North America found during the week: two Swainson's Thrushes, four Red-eyed Vireos and singles of Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Red-eyed Vireo by Luke Delve

Arriving from the opposite direction, birds of Scandinavian and Siberian origin continued to arrive despite the prevailing westerly winds. The Yellow-browed Warbler invasion slowed to a trickle, with only single figure counts from coastal watchpoints. However, a few more were noted away from the coast, including one at the BTO's Nunnery Lakes reserve.

Yellow-browed Warbler at the Nunnery Lakes by Neil Calbrade

In terms of more widespread migrants, 1,450 Swallows passed Christchurch Harbour, Dorset during the week and there were counts of several hundred birds from other migration watchpoints. While a handful of House Martins are still feeding young in nests, the majority are on the move south and over 1,000 were counted moving past Filey, East Yorkshire. Pink-footed Geese arrived in numbers this week and the count of 2,000+ passing Spurn, East Yorkshire was the highest noted on the east coast this week. Several sites reported increased numbers of Goldcrest and the species should reach a peak later next month.

Reporting rate of Goldcrest on BirdTrack

All but one of the active tagged BTO Cuckoos have crossed the Sahara and are currently spread between Niger and Chad. Cuckoo "Larry" has jumped ahead of the rest and has reached the Republic of Congo. As of this morning, Cuckoo "Jack" is still in southernmost Italy, but looks set to make the perilous crossing any day soon.

Current location of the BTO-tagged Cuckoos

The south-westerly airflow looks likely to remain in place over western Britain and Ireland into early next week and could well drop another North American rarity or two onto western headlands. A weak low pressure system moving through the Channel on Saturday could bring some north-easterly winds to eastern Britain for Sunday and Monday. This could result in another wave of Yellow-browed Warblers arriving here, as well as winter thrushes. Surprisingly few Ring Ouzels have been reported so far this autumn so that is one bird to look for this weekend on the east coast.

One to look for this weekend - Ring Ouzel by John Proudlock/BTO

Rarer passerines may also make an appearance, and such after species as White's Thrush, Red-flanked Bluetail and Red-throated Pipit all having a track record of making appearance at this time of year. All this makes for an interesting mix of birds on the move and well worth going out no matter which part of the country you are in.

Stephen McAvoy

Friday 23 September 2016

Yellow-browed Warbler Invasion

The migration story of the week was the remarkable arrival of Yellow-browed Warblers on Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire on Wednesday, with a minimum of 139 recorded during the day. A narrow band of north-easterly wind across the North Sea appears to have funnelled the warblers onto the headland of Flamborough.

There have been plenty of reports elsewhere in Britain, though for the moment, the majority are being noted along the east coast of Britain. In the weeks ahead, the birds should begin to filter south and west, and with more records inland in recent years, there is a chance you may find one on your patch even if you are not near a prime coastal migration site.

Yellow-browed Warbler by Stephen McAvoy

The arrival of Yellow-browed Warblers in the last few days is also reflected on the reporting rate on BirdTrack:

Commoner migrants have also been on the move, with Pink-footed and Brent Geese beginning to arrive in numbers. Meadow Pipits continue to move through, with over 1,000 logged at Christchurch Harbour, Dorset on Wednesday, and 1,200+ at Sandwich Bay, Kent on Monday. Several sites also reported good 100+ counts of Blackcap and Chiffchaff during the week. The 484 Snipe recorded on North Ronaldsay, Orkney on Thursday would have also made a very interesting sight!

Snipe by Liz Cutting/BTO

Looking ahead, the weather looks set to be dominated by westerly airflow, so there is a chance a Nearctic warbler or vireo could make an appearance on a headland or island in Ireland or western Britain. The first Ring Ouzels should also start to arrive at migration points fairly soon, as should the first returning Redwing and Fieldfare.

Ring Ouzel by Paul Hillion/BTO

Paul Stancliffe and Stephen McAvoy

Friday 16 September 2016

Arrivals and Departures

Bird migration is in full swing as we move into late September and there were some notable counts of some commoner migrants this week despite the generally poor conditions for finding birds.

Wheatear by Mark Johnson (via #Birdtrack Flickrpool)

The obvious migration highlight of the week was the (very lost) Cory's Shearwater seen flying over Regent's Park in London during the week. Small numbers of shearwaters are recorded at inland locations in late summer and early autumn, in many cases recently fledged youngsters that have become disorientated. Large shearwaters such as Cory's or Great are significantly rarer inland and are usually found in the aftermath of particularly strong storms.

Lapland Bunting by Janice Sutton (via #BirdTrack Flickrpool)

Notable scarcer migrants on the move included Lapland Bunting, with up flocks of up to 90 birds reported from western Scotland and Ireland in recent days. A handful have also been reported in southern Britain so it is well worth listening out for their distinctive calls when out and about. The first Yellow-browed Warblers of the autumn have also arrived, hopefully heralding yet another bumper year of these charming Siberian sprites.

Yellow-browed Warbler by Stephen McAvoy

Significant counts of commoner migrants included 3,500 Swallows noted passing Christchurch Harbour, Dorset on the 14th September and just under 3,000 at Skomer, Pembrokeshire on the same day. Fair Isle, Shetland logged 232 Wheatears on the same day, with 150 Wheatears counted on Portland, Dorset the next day.

The Migration Festival at Spurn, East Yorkshire ended with a fantastic movement of over 4000 Meadow Pipits passing through on the Sunday, though the highlight of the weekend was undoubtedly the Kentish Plover found the previous day. A worthwhile event for anyone with an interest in bird migration so keep a space in your diary for MigFest 2017!

Stephen McAvoy

Monday 11 July 2016

Early movers

Although autumn is still some way off, migration is already in full swing with Cuckoo, seabirds and waders amongst others on the move. All of the BTO GPS-tagged Cuckoos have moved south and out of Britain. One of the tagged birds has already crossed the Sahara and is now in central Mali. The BirdTrack graph shows the drop off in recent records.

Reporting rate for Cuckoo

Juvenile Cuckoos will still be present into August and September before they too will depart to their winter quarters.

Cuckoo by Neil Calbrade

Seabirds are also on the move with the first Great and Cory's Shearwaters reported from seawatching sites in southern Britain and Ireland. Breeding in the South Atlantic, Great Shearwaters migrate north in spring (their autumn), spending the early summer off the east coast of North America. In July and August, they head south again, but on a more easterly track, passing western Europe and Africa. Strong winds, especially from the west or south-west, can push these highly oceanic birds closer to land, sometimes in spectacular numbers.

Great Shearwaters by Hannah Keogh (via the #Birdtrack Flickrpool)

Further coastal birds on the move included Arctic and Great Skuas, while small flocks of Common Scoters were noted passing coastal watchpoints in the last week. Looking ahead, the weather forecast is mainly for westerly winds and showers, conditions that look quite suitable for pushing skuas, shearwaters and other seabirds closer to shore.

Migrant gulls have also started arriving, including the first juvenile Yellow-legged and Mediterranean Gulls. One of the latter on Fair Isle last week was only the second record for this remote island.

Mediterranean Gull by Stephen McAvoy

While the long-staying Great Knot in Norfolk got a lot of attention, other waders have been on the move. Green and Wood Sandpipers have been arriving, and a flock of 100 Curlews flew south past Landguard Bird Obs, Suffolk. Numbers of other arctic breeding waders will continue to build as adults and the first juveniles arrive in the coming weeks.

Finally, the first migrant Wheatear, Whinchat and Common Redstarts have been reported and 228 Sand Martins were seen moving south at Spurn, East Yorkshire on the 4th of July.

Paul Stancliffe and Stephen McAvoy

Friday 20 May 2016

What an amazing week

Calandra Lark by John Harding

If rare birds are what makes you tick, the last week or so has to be one of the best spring periods on record. Last week’s Caspian Stonechat, Calandra Lark and Dalmatian Pelican (if accepted as a wild bird) would take some beating and it would take a very special trio of birds indeed. However, Britain’s second ever Green Warbler, found on Shetland, Britain’s first ever spring Blyth’s Pipit and the first ever Lammergeier (if accepted as a wild bird) seems to have done the trick.
But what of our common migrants?

The week has seen a rush of hirundine passage, particularly through a few south coast watchpoints. During the morning of 19 May sample counts at Portland, Dorset suggested that Swallows were passing at a rate of 550 per hour. It is interesting to note though that the BirdTrack reporting rate for House Martin is behind the historic reporting rate, so we might have a large arrival of House Martins still to come.

House Martin BirdTrack reporting rate 

Spotted Flycatcher migration seems to have stalled in the cooler northerly airflow that we have been experiencing. There might be a window in the weather after early rain on Sunday morning when fairly calm conditions are forecast on either side of the English Channel, but by early next week we will be back in northerly airflow again.

The forecast for northern Britain is a mixed bag with the early part of the week looking quite stormy at times. This could be good news for anyone heading north to catch up with Long-tailed Skuas, as the birds could be pushed close to the northern isles, they will almost certainly be accompanied by Pomarine Skuas too.

Nightjar by Neil Calbrade

Any still, clear conditions during the next week will also help any Nightjars that are on the move. Some birds are already back at their breeding sites but the BirdTrack reporting rate shows they will continue to arrive during the next couple of weeks. And of course, waders will continue to push north when conditions allow too. Wood Sandpiper and Temminck’s Stint are good mid to late May birds to look out for.

Nightjar BirdTrack reporting rate

Friday 13 May 2016

The easterlies blow their magic

Almost constant easterly airflow during the last week or so had the desired effect on bird migration and a sumptuous array of rare and scarce birds arrived our shores.

Black Terns can be a bit hit and miss, but this spring, so far, there has been a steady migration of them through the country, drifted west by the easterly airflow. The BirdTrack reporting rate graph shows this beautifully.

Joining the Black Terns were a couple of Whiskered and White-winged Black Terns, completing the "marsh tern" set. Most records were from the Midlands, where wader passage also noticeably picked up. Several summer-plumaged Grey Plover, Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper were found at wetland sites such as Swillington Ings, West Yorkshire or Rutland Water, Leicestershire.

Black Tern by Graham Catley / BTO

Warblers also appear to have taken advantage of the conditions and finally made it back to their breeding sites. Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Reed and Sedge Warbler all exceeding their historic reporting rate on BirdTrack. Reed Warbler especially showed a much higher reporting rate than usual in the second week of May.

Rarer migrants have also a distinctly eastern or south-eastern feel to them with Eastern Bonelli's Warbler, Caspian Stonechat and Calandra Lark noted in recent days. Grey-headed Wagtails on their way to breeding grounds in Scandinavia have also been noted at several east coast sites, as were the first Wryneck, Red-backed Shrike and Bluethroats.

A Dalmatian Pelican found in Cornwall last Saturday looked for a while like it may have been a genuine wild bird, having over-shot its breeding grounds in the Balkans. However, careful comparison of feather details with other Dalmatian Pelicans noted in northern Europe in recent weeks shows an almost much more interesting scenario. First seen in Poland, it was later tracked at a number of wetland sites in Germany and France, continuously moving westwards. Although it now seems likely that the bird escaped or was released and has been journeying across Europe.

Dalmatian Pelicans by Rod Calbrade

Spring migration isn't over yet. Nightjar has just begun to arrive and Spotted Flycatcher should peak in the next week or so, weather permitting. There is also still plenty of time for it to be a Quail year; these wonderful little birds can arrive throughout May and June, and the latter half of May is also the time we would expect skua passage to peak. Arctic and Pomarine should be possible off all coasts, while those in western Cornwall, Ireland and north-west Scotland could also be lucky enough to see one or two sunning adult Long-tailed Skuas moving north.

As of this afternoon, a cold front is moving south through Britain bringing a return to cooler northerly winds to all areas over the weekend. However, a southerly or south-westerly airflow may resume from early next week which should bring a few more migrants with them. Red-footed Falcons numbers have been building steadily in central Europe in the past week and is one to look for on your local patch.

Paul Stancliffe and Stephen McAvoy 

Friday 29 April 2016

Godwits on the move

The cold northerly winds that have been with us since last Saturday have reduced migration to trickle. The snowfall and freezing night time temperatures recorded in the last few days will also not have helped recently arrived migrants.

Summer plumaged Bar-tailed Godwit by Laurence Pitcher (Beachybirder)

Despite the poor weather, a few birds were still on the move, most notably Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwit. Small flocks of both were noted passing most coastal watchpoints last week and it is well worth keep an eye for summer-plumaged Bar-tailed Godwits if you are near the coast this weekend.

Bar-tailed Godwit reporting rate on Birdtrack showing peak in early May

Several surprising species were noted at watchpoints during the week, the most fascinating being a Nuthatch at Hilbre Bird Obs, Wirral on 23 April. This was only the third record for the island, with previous in 1962 and 2009, all in spring. Nuthatches are a very sedentary species with ringing data confirming that movements of more than 50 kilometres are exceptional. The most recent Atlas showed the species colonising northern England and southern Scotland, so could this species now be ready to jump the Irish Sea to colonise the Isle of Man and Ireland from where they are currently absent?

Nuthatch by Edwyn Anderton

Another surprise was a spate of Hawfinch records from the Scottish islands, with two on mainland Shetland, another on Fair Isle and one on the Outer Hebrides since last Friday. Very little is known about the movements of Hawfinches in Britain and Ireland, with some studies showing that birds breeding here make only limited movements. If that is the case, it seems likely that the birds seen in Scotland were heading back to Scandinavia or further afield.

Other notable migration counts occurred at opposite ends of the country: Fair Isle, Shetland logged 147 Wheatear and 244 Meadow Pipits on 27/4. In the far south of Britain, several hundred Willow Warblers arrived on Hengistbury Head and nearby Portland (both in Dorset) on the same day. Over 100 Blackcap also appeared on the latter site. Other sites throughout Britain noted only a handful of commoner migrants and the odd Lesser Whitethroat, Yellow Wagtail and Grasshopper Warbler. As predicted last week, the first Roseate Tern of the year was noted last Saturday in West Sussex and two days later the first was seen on their main British breeding colony of Coquet Island, Northumberland.

Reporting rate of Cuckoo

Looking ahead, it looks probable that temperatures could return to more seasonal levels from mid-week onwards and probably not a minute too soon for breeding and migrant birds alike. Given favourable conditions, there could be a good arrival of birds delayed by the northerly winds.

Paul Stancliffe and Stephen McAvoy

Friday 22 April 2016

Spring has sprung, although a little reluctantly

Pretty much all of the long distance migrant species we would have expected to arrive in the UK by mid-April have done just that. But it still feels a little slow and that there are more individuals yet to arrive.

The good weather and associated easterly winds during the week produced some interesting movements of birds. Most notably, Monday and Tuesday produced some good counts of Wheatear at several sites, including 235 on Fair Isle, Shetland and 100+ on Bardsey, Gwynedd. Willow Warblers were also on the move on the same days with 500+ noted on the Isle of Portland, Devon and 200+ at Hengistbury Head, Dorset, with smaller counts at other sites.

Ring Ouzel by Neil Calbrade

After a slow start, Ring Ouzels were noted at many coastal and inland sites during the week, including seven on Bardsey. Spring migration of Ring Ouzel is reaching its peak in the next week or two and the species can turn up in gardens as well as coastal headlands. Listening out for their distinctive call is the best way to find your own Ring Ouzel on your local patch.

Reporting rate of Ring Ouzel on BirdTrack

Pied Flycatchers, Common Redstarts and Grasshopper Warblers were noted in single figures at migration sites along the south and west coast. It was slower going on the east coast, though Linnets seemed to be on the move with flocks of 50 to 100 birds reported.

Swifts have put in an early appearance with individual birds cropping up in several counties, with two birds making it as far north as Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Going up - reporting rate of Swift on BirdTrack this year

Around twenty Cuckoos have also been reported across the country, most from southern counties, but with at least one bird being seen Yorkshire. The first of the BTO's satellite tagged Cuckoos has also made it back safely. Stanley, tagged at Cranwich Heath, Norfolk in May 2014 arrived in Somerset near the town of Chard on the morning of 20 April.

Along the coast, Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew have been on the move, with Little, Common and Arctic Terns reported as well. It is only a matter of time before Britain and Ireland's rarest seabird, the Roseate Tern, arrives back as well.

Roseate Tern by Stephen McAvoy

Chiffchaff and Blackcap are now being heard across the country but even these two species, for which migration is now getting a little late, still seem a little thin on the ground. It could well be that birds are being held up by weather fronts south in Europe, with the occasional window in the weather letting them through. Perhaps the next flow of warm southerly winds will see a huge arrival of birds all at once.

Unfortunately, the current indication is that northerly winds and cooler conditions will remain in place over the weekend and potentially well into next week. It will be interesting to see how this will impact our recently arrived migrants and residents such as Collared Dove and Robin that are well into raising their first broods in many parts of the country.

Collared Doves by Stephen McAvoy

Finally, we mentioned the beginning of an influx of Alpine Accentors into northern Europe in our last Migration blog update. As luck would have it, one Alpine Accentor did reach our shores with one spotted for all of five minutes in Hampshire on the 14 April. More Alpine Accentors were spotted in out of range areas in France, northern Germany, the Netherlands and two even reached Sweden. 

At the same time, two more species were recorded well out of range. Snowfinches, another high alpine specialist, began to be seen in similar areas to the Alpine Accentors with over 20 birds noted, including one on the island of Heligoland in the North Sea. Switzerland and southern Germany also recorded a very unusual influx of Western Subalpine Warblers in the last week, with more than 20 birds recorded so far. At least two of the latter have also reached Britain (both on Portland) so far this spring.

In the absence of any significant weather patterns in the Alps at the time, it seems likely all three species "overshot" their migration destinations in the southern and central Alps and continued much further north than usual, settling in any suitable habitat.

Paul Stancliffe and Stephen McAvoy

Friday 8 April 2016

Spring has (sort of) sprung

The warm southerly airflow over the last few days did result in an arrival of summer migrants, with most of the early season birds well represented. However, the floodgates haven't quite opened yet.

Most notable was the first flush of Common Redstarts, Willow Warblers, Blackcaps and Grasshopper Warblers. Whilst quite a few Ospreys are back on their breeding grounds, with one pair at Rutland having already laid their first egg, others continue to arrive along the south coast. The first Reed and Sedge Warblers were also reported. Chiffchaff have arrived back and are well represented on complete lists submitted to BirdTrack.

Reporting rate of Chiffchaff this week on BirdTrack.

Common, Sandwich and Arctic Tern numbers have begun to build a little, and where there are terns, skuas are not far behind. Several south coast seawatches produced dark and light-phase Arctic Skuas.

A handful of early Common Swifts have also been reported, but overshooting southern breeders continue to be thin on the ground. The highlight was a single Woodchat Shrike in Cornwall, as well as a handful of Serin, Hoopoe and Wryneck. One of the latter ringed at Portland Bird Observatory aptly demonstrated the origin of its name.

Common Swift by Dennis Atherton/BTO

Hirundines have continued to arrive and are now being reported from most areas in the country. The first House and Sand Martins have even managed to reach Fair Isle in Shetland during the week.

Outgoing migrants have also taken advantage of the southerly airflow and numbers continue to fall. Brent Geese have been reported heading past east coast watchpoints along with Red-throated Divers and Common Scoters. Several of the latter have been reported from inland sites, including a female on a small lake in central London. Redwings and Fieldfares are beginning to feel decidely thin on the ground.

Reporting rate this year of Redwing on BirdTrack

The forecast for the next few days is currently very mixed, with cool north-westerly winds alternating with milder south-westerly winds. The latter may herald another strong arrival of migrants.

The rare bird to watch for this weekend is Alpine Accentor. It has been recorded only five times in Britain since 2000, with all sightings from the south and east coast. Prior to that, the species has been found in south Wales and even as far north as Fair Isle. Alpine Accentors appear to be on the move at the moment, with several birds recorded well away from their normal range in the montane regions of Europe. This included one flock of twenty birds near Frankfurt since Wednesday, as well as one in the Netherlands.

Paul Stancliffe & Stephen McAvoy

Friday 1 April 2016

Migration getting started at last

Migration has been slow going until last weekend, but things have noticeably picked up since then with a change in wind direction. Chiffchaff, Wheatear, Sand Martin and Swallow were much more in evidence around the country and the first Reed, Sedge and Willow Warblers arrived.

Pipits were on the move as well. Spurn, Yorkshire recorded 357 Meadow Pipits on 30 March and 300+ moved through Portland, Dorset on the same day. On the west coast, 100+ were counted daily on Bardsey, Gwynedd the past week.

Firecrest by Graham Clarke

The highlight of the week was a big arrival of Firecrests along the south coast, with 101 counted at Dungeness, Kent on the 26 March. This local record tally was beaten just four days later with an amazing 120 Firecrests on site. A handful of other sites reached double-figures and the species was noted at many coastal watchpoints.

Reporting rate of Firecrest on Birdtrack

The south-westerly winds during the week also gave returning winter visitors a helping hand. Brent Geese were noted moving east off Portland, while Redwing and Fieldfare have also been on the move. Surprisingly few Ring Ouzels have been reported so far, but counts should pick up later this month.

There has been a distinct dearth of rarer spring migrants with only a few unconfirmed reports of Alpine Swift. Likely candidates to look for this week include Hoopoe, Woodchat Shrike and potentially a rarer warbler such as Sardinian.

Woodchat Shrike by Stephen McAvoy

The forecast for the next few days shows more southerly winds which would help migrants cross the Channel and the North Sea. However, from the middle of next the week there is a potential return to cool north-westerly winds which could migration on hold again.

Paul Stancliffe and Stephen McAvoy

Thursday 24 March 2016

The floodgates are ajar

The cold northerly airflow has been holding things up during the last week but with lighter winds during the last couple of days some birds have managed to get through.

Several sites along the south coast have enjoyed double figure arrivals of Wheatear. Portland, Dorset seems to have seen the best of this with 60 being counted there on the morning of 22 March. Sand Martins have continued to trickle in but numbers remain small, similarly Swallows have been arriving but are still very thin on the ground, and one or two more House Martins have also been seen.

Sand Martin reports via BirdTrack

Garganey arrived in small numbers but on a broad front with birds being reported from several counties during the week. The largest movements seen this week involved Meadow Pipits arriving and then moving along the south coast. Several hundred birds were noted moving through on a couple of days.

Late arriving: Wheatear

As one set of birds arrives, another set is departing. Redwing and Fieldfare have been recorded, at times in quite large flocks, as were flocks of migrating Starling. Geese were on the move as well, with northward bound Pink-footed Geese amongst others noted in Scotland. Woodcock were found at several coastal sites.

Redwing moving through

The most intriguing migrant this week was probably the Blue Tit trapped at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory. It was found to have been ringed in Lithuania and had good muscle and fat scores, presumably to fuel the outgoing migration back north and east. Keep an eye on the BTO's Demog blog on this and other ringing related stories.

The Met Office surface pressure charts show potential for some south to south west winds extending from northern Spain across France to southern Britain from Friday onwards. This ought to result in a fresh wave of arrivals from the south, and allow any migrants wanting to attempt the crossing of the North Sea to have a go.

Likely new arrivals next week include the first Willow Warblers and Blackcaps, as well as more Wheatears and Sand Martins. Given the stormy weather conditions, there may even be local "falls" of migrants. Rarer migrants to keep an eye out for in late March and early April include Purple Heron, Alpine Swift and the even rarer Great Spotted Cuckoo!

Purple Heron (Graham Catley)

 Paul Stancliffe and Stephen McAvoy