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 October 2017

Hawfinches galore!

The incredible numbers of Hawfinches across southern England has dominated the migration picture this week, with thousands of birds thought to be involved and there does not appear to be any let up.  Many areas where Hawfinch would be a rare bird if a single bird appeared have seen staggering numbers, with the largest count being 115 over Steps Hill in Buckinghamshire on a single morning.

Hawfinch by Chris Knights

Possibly the most unusual record this week was a Razorbill about as far inland as it is possible for a seabird to turn up, at Draycote Water in Warwickshire, but unfortunately it was found dead the following day.

Despite a continuation of westerly winds in many areas this week, few new vagrants from North America were found, though Blackpoll Warbler on North Uist, Grey-cheeked Thrushes in Co.Cork and on Scilly, and a fly-through Cliff Swallow at Spurn Point were seen. 

Rare birds from the east as a result have been relatively few with Pallid Swift at Spurn and it or another further up the Yorkshire coast and a Black-throated Thrush on Fair Isle being the highlights.  A scattering of Dusky and Radde’s Warblers, Olive-backed Pipit and Little Buntings were found too, fairly typical birds seen at this time of the year.

Brambling by Allan Drewitt
A brief switch to much colder northerly winds this weekend will see further arrivals of Redwings and Fieldfares along with Song Thrushes and Blackbirds and finches, in particular Chaffinches and Bramblings from Scandinavia.  Wildfowl too will be on the move with more Pink-footed, Barnacle and Brent Geese and Whooper Swans arriving from their arctic breeding grounds to spend the winter in the UK. The first Little Auks of the autumn may appear, mostly in Scotland, though some may penetrate into the North Sea down the east coast of England as far as Norfolk or Suffolk.

Brent Goose by John Harding
After the brief spell of northerly winds over the weekend, westerly winds are again set to dominate next week which may curtail the arrival of many traditional migrants, though we could see further American vagrants – American Robin and Rose-breasted Grosbeak are often among the later autumn vagrants found. 

- Neil Calbrade

Friday 20 October 2017

Bird, birds and more birds!

It seems that birds from all points of the compass have been arriving in Britain during the last week. Unsurprisingly, given the westerly storms, several species of North America landbirds were found. A White-crowned Sparrow, one each of Swainson’s and Grey Cheeked Thrushes, singles of Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Blackpoll Warbler and two Red-eyed Vireos graced our shores.

Even though westerlies have dominated the weather, a small window of northeasterly at the beginning of the week and lighter winds during the last few days have meant that birds from the east were able to cross the North Sea, most notably thrushes. Many of us will have enjoyed the first significant arrival of Redwings, along with a few Fieldfares. Accompanying these have been arrivals of Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and a few Ring Ouzels. Finches have also been on the move, most notably Chaffinches, Siskins and Hawfinches.
Hawfinch by Edmund Fellowes

On the eastern scarcity/rarity front, there have been up to ten Red-breasted Flycatchers, half-a-dozen Barred Warblers, a handful of Red-backed Shrikes and Radde’s Warblers, three Blyth’s Reed Warblers and a couple of Olive-backed Pipits and Dusky Warblers, not forgetting the first two Pallas’s Warblers of the season.

Red-breasted Flycatcher by Graham Catley

Northerly winds mid-week saw the arrival of Whooper Swans, and Pink-footed, Greylag, Barnacle and Brent Geese. More notable though was the arrival of eight Blue Tits on Fair Isle! British Blue Tits don’t move very far at all but Scandinavian birders often experience spectacular southerly movements of Blue Tits evacuating the cooling north. Presumably the eight on Fair Isle were part of this phenomenon.

The south wasn’t left out this week either. The influx of Firecrests has continued and up to three Hoopoes and at least one Bee-eater were found.

Firecrest by Graham Clarke

Westerlies are set to dominate for at least the weekend but Monday will see south-easterlies out of southern Scandinavia. So, we can expect one or two more North American landbirds to be found in the west and south-west over the weekend, with birds crossing the North Sea during the early part of the week. Northern Britain and the northern isles look likely to receive the lion’s share but the east coast should see some action too. More thrushes should arrive, in particular Redwings but with increasing numbers of Fieldfare, and finches should move too, in particular Brambling. We could see one or two more Red-eyed Vireos and maybe something a little rarer, possibly Hermit Thrush from the west over the weekend, and more Dusky and Pallas’s Warblers from the east into next week.

Paul Stancliffe

Friday 13 October 2017

East meets west

Whilst the weather during the last week has been dominated by fast moving fronts crossing the Atlantic and westerly airflow, a short period of light north/north-easterly winds over the weekend brought an eastern flavour with them.

As eastern flavours go, the stunning male Siberian Blue Robin that was found on the Orkney island of North Ronaldsay on 8 October is deserving of three Michelin stars. The latter somewhat overshadowed the other big bird of the week, a first-year Cedar Waxwing that was found at the other end of the UK, on St Agnes, Isles of Scilly. Both have travelled over 5,000km (3,000 miles) to reach Britain.

Yellow-browed Warbler by Trevor Codlin

At the same time, Yellow-browed Warblers numbers have been building up, exceeding three figures as the week progressed, with birds being found in coastal and inland locations alike, everywhere from Shetland to Scilly.

Parrot Crossbills continue to turn up, too. We might be in for another invasion of this much sought-after bird; the next north-easterly airflow of the autumn might give us a better idea if this will happen.

On the home front, finches have begun to move with flocks of Linnets, Siskins, redpolls and Goldfinches being observed during visible migration watches on the east coast. There has also been a trickle of Redwings, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Ring Ouzels.

Blackbird by John Harding

Pink-footed and Brent Geese have pushed south and are to be seen at most of their winter haunts, while Whooper Swans have started to arrive too.

At sea, divers are on the move, along with a few skuas. Great and Arctic Skuas have been seen fairly frequently from both east and west coasts.

The forecast for the weekend is looking very interesting. Ex-hurricane Ophelia is set to arrive on British shores on Monday but before it does, it will be drawing southerly airflow all the way from southern Spain, so we could be in for a few southern arrivals. Western Orphean Warbler and Rock Thrush have both been found in the last couple of days and may well be forerunners of things to come over the next few days. Pallid Swift could well be on the cards and perhaps something as rare as a Spanish Black-eared Wheatear or a Crag Martin. Who knows, maybe even Britain’s first Black-winged Kite?  

Friday 22 September 2017

From Russia With Love?

When it comes to pace of change in the avian world, it's hard to beat late September in western Europe. Summer visitors are departing en masse, as evidenced by the estimated 100,000 House Martins logged at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory on 20 September, with large movements of that species and Swallow noted at several other locations. At the same time, wintering birds are starting to pour in, reflected by the rapidly rising BirdTrack reporting rates of waterfowl like Brent Goose and Shoveler.

Historical BirdTrack reporting rate for Brent Goose

The vagaries of the weather at this time of year adds to the rapidly changing picture. Whilst we were discussing American waders and passerines last week, attention is now turning towards potential arrivals from the east, as a large area of high pressure – with associated easterly airflow – is building over Russia. Two Pallas's Grasshopper Warblers, a species that breeds from central Russia eastwards and typically winters in southeast Asia, have already arrived in the UK, one in north Norfolk and one on Fair Isle, and a female Siberian Thrush made it to Shetland. Perhaps rarer still, these days at least, was a Yellow-breasted Bunting found on Out Skerries, Shetland on 20 September. This species is thought to have suffered a 90% population decline, owing mainly to trapping in its non-breeding range, and is now classed as Endangered.

More common species to look out for this week include departing Chiffchaff and passage Wheatear, both of which reach their peak autumn reporting rates on BirdTrack this week. That said, it seems to have been a poor autumn for Wheatears to date, so it will be interesting to see if this picks up in the remainder of September. It's also the best week of the year for Barred Warbler, a lumbering Syvlia warbler that breeds no closer than eastern Germany and southern Scandinavia but is seen regularly in the UK in small numbers each autumn, particularly on the Northern Isles and down the east coast. Waders will remain a feature too, with Dunlin and Snipe both expected to feature on up to 15% of complete lists this week. At the scarcer end of the spectrum, it's the best few weeks of the autumn to find a Dotterel.

Juvenile Dotterel by Nick Moran

Given that the easterly airflow is originating in the Pechora area of Russia, at the northwestern end of the Ural Mountains, it seems reasonable to think that a Pechora Pipit or two might be on the cards for those lucky enough to be birding some of Britain's more northerly outposts. For the rest of us, there'll be lots to enjoy over the next week or so, perhaps including the first big arrival of Redwings. Listen out for their 'tseeep' call over coming nights, particularly on damp, misty evenings when arriving birds will tend to be lower and therefore easier to detect.

Redwing by Nick Stacey
Redwing by Nick Stacey
Nick Moran

Friday 15 September 2017

More waders from the West

Several more North American waders were found this week, as the westerly airflow – very strong at times – continued to dominate. A Stilt Sandpiper appeared at Lodmoor RSPB, Dorset on 11 September, where it was quickly joined by a diminutive Least Sandpiper! The same or another Least Sandpiper was retrospectively identified on the Axe estuary, Devon on 7 September, after the astute observer recognised the Lodmoor bird and scrutinised his blurry photographs of a 'peep' that looked wrong for Little Stint but was too distant to identify in the field. The Spurn Migration Festival (aka Migfest) got in on the act too, with this blog's regular author, Paul Stancliffe, locating an incoming Long-billed its call!

Spurn's Long-billed Dowitcher shortly after it touched down, by Nick Moran

The American Redstart that was found on the remote island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides last week hung on, proving popular with Barra regulars and long-distance twitchers alike. It's the sixth living individual of that species to reach the UK but the first for 32 years (a long-dead one was found on a tanker in late December 1993, the ship having travelled from Texas to Shetland via Angola!).

The westerly storms also brought seabirds that are trying to make their way southwards through the North Atlantic close to – and even over – the mainland. West coast based observers enjoyed a glut of Leach’s Petrels and Sabine’s Gulls, whilst all four species of skua have been seen from both the west and east coasts. Great Skuas were very much in evidence on the east side of the UK on 14 September, with notable observations of 170 – including one flock of 110 – flying inland from Huttoft Bank, Lincolnshire and 62 that flew south over Foul Anchor, Cambridgeshire. These birds were presumably taking the known 'short cut' between the Wash and the Severn, though the large numbers involved were probably a result of the weather conditions.

Following the movements in the last few days, the BirdTrack reporting rate for Great Skua
must surely be set to rise towards its mid September historical peak

The storms also pushed a few Manx Shearwater far inland, with a bird taken into care in Ely, Cambridgeshire on 14 September and another found dead in Stowmarket, Suffolk.

Meadow Pipits have begun to move in earnest with over 11,000 individuals counted moving over Spurn, East Yorkshire during Migfest. These were joined by an impressive movement of Swallows and House Martins over the same weekend, when around 1,500 of each were counted. A few Swifts hang on, the BTO's own Nunnery Lakes reserve hosting one as late as 15 September.

Pink-footed Geese started arriving in the first week of September but numbers on the move increased in the last few days. The weather seemed to displace some of these, too, with a skein of 31 over northwest Worcestershire on 14 September being unusual so far south this early in the year.

Migrating Pink-footed Geese by Chris Mills

A mid September BTO Bird Migration Blog post couldn't end without mention of a popular – and increasingly numerous – migrant, Yellow-browed Warbler. Shetland received its first on 9 September, whilst mainland UK had to wait until 14 September, when birds were logged in Durham, East Yorkshire, Lancashire and Norfolk. Even the briefest 'window' in the weather will see more of these spritely Phylloscopus warblers arrive.

Nick Moran

Friday 8 September 2017

Look to the west

Airflow from the west has dominated the last week and so it is perhaps not that surprising that Nearctic waders have been well represented. At least seven Baird's, five Semipalmated and five Buff-breasted Sandpipers were found, along with two Lesser Yellowlegs and two Hudsonian Whimbrels.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper by Ron Marshall

Yellow Wagtails are still on the move but have been increasingly joined by Grey and alba wagtails, the latter involving both White and Pied Wagtails. The last few days have also seen the first real movement of Meadow Pipits, with notable counts of 85 at Hengistbury, Dorset on 6 September and 250 moving over Portland, Dorset on the same day.

Meadow Pipit by Jill Pakenham/BTO

September is also the month to enjoy tern passage, and this week hasn't disappointed. Offshore movements of Common, Arctic, Sandwich and Black Terns being  reported fro several coastal watchpoints. When terns are on the move, skuas aren't far behind and a few Arctic and Great Skuas have followed the terns. As the month progresses, both tern and skua passage should build. Early September is also a good time to look for Long-tailed Skua at coastal watchpoints.

Reporting rate of Sandwich Tern on BirdTrack

Migrant passerines found in the last few days include Red-backed Shrike, Wryneck, Ortolan Bunting and Bluethroat arriving from continental Europe despite the westerly wind. Two other typical autumn migrants, Common Rosefinch and Barred Warbler should also start appearing at coastal headlands soon.

Barred Warbler by Moss Taylor/BTO

The weather forecast for the next four or five days suggest that westerly airflow will once again dominate, with several low-pressure systems set to cross the Atlantic. These will very likely bring more shorebirds, perhaps a few more Buff-breasted Sandpipers or American Golden Plovers to our shores in the days ahead. An American Redstart was found on Barra in western Scotland yesterday, the first record in Britain since 1985. Will more Nearctic warblers be found over the weekend?

This weekend sees the fifth Spurn Migration Festival – the BTO team are there all weekend. If you are planning on going to the festival, why not drop by and say hello to the team?

Paul Stancliffe and Stephen McAvoy

Friday 1 September 2017

September is here and birds are on the move.

There are still one or two Swifts being seen over the BTO headquarters here in Norfolk but most have now gone, the last few will probably join them any day now. House Martins and Swallows are also on the move but with reports of nests containing young of both still coming in they will be around for a while yet.

One of the biggest movements seen this week has been Yellow Wagtail, around 1,000 were estimated to be on Portland, Dorset over the weekend, with around 200 still present on 29 August.

Yellow Wagtail by Jill Pakenham

A few Pied and Spotted Flycatchers and Redstarts and Wood Warblers have begun to turn up at coastal watchpoints, along with a few Tree Pipits. Willow Warblers have reached double figures at many too. A few Chiffchaffs have been mixed in with the Willow Warblers but it will be a couple of weeks before the numbers really start to build.

The first Fieldfare of the season was seen on Fair Isle on 29 August, giving a flavour of what is to come, and scarce migrants also began to feature, at least three Barred Warblers, 18 Wrynecks, two Greenish Warblers and a Woodchat Shrike and a few Red-backed Shrikes and Common Rosefinches.

Fieldfare by Edmund Fellowes

Scarce waders were also represented with around thirty Pectoral Sandpipers, four Buff-breasted Sandpipers and a scattering of Dotterel being seen during the week, but pride of place must go to the Pacific Golden Plover that was found on Papa Westray, Orkney on 26 August.

Ospreys have been reported from most counties and a few Honey Buzzards have been on the move too, so it is well worth keeping an eye on the sky during the next week.

Honey Buzzard by Graham Catley

The weather forecast for the early part on next week looks promising for the arrival of more Buff-breasted Sandpipers, with a low pressure system tracking across the Atlantic, we might also get something much rarer following on from the double-billing Yellow Warblers of last week. It’s about time we saw another Yellow-throated Vireo in the UK. During the early part of next week High-pressure over Scandinavia might just push a bit of east in the wind over the northern isles and could bring a few more Barred Warblers, Wrynecks and Red-backed Shrikes with it.

Friday 19 May 2017

Hirundines in a hurry!

Ordinarily mid-May sees spring migration begin to slow but with northerly winds dominating the early part of the spring, several species seem to have been held-up, and the last few days have seen hirundines on the move, mostly House Martins but also smaller numbers of Swallows and Sand Martins too. Early indications from the BTO House Martin survey suggest that it is a slow start to their breeding season; perhaps there are still birds that haven’t arrived back yet.

There will still be plenty of birds on the move and, for some, now is the time to catch up with them. Arctic Terns will peak in the next week or so, mainly moving up the west coast but also through the Severn and Trent valleys, as some of them make their way into the North Sea. This is also a good time to look out for Long-tailed Skuas, with the very best site being Aird an Runair, the most westerly point of the island of Uist in the Western Isles.

Arctic Terns by Jamie MacArthur

Nightjars typically arrive back on their breeding territories around mid-May and migrants birds can be found almost anywhere, and if you stand any chance of seeing Golden Oriole in Britain, now is the time.

May is the month that Honey Buzzard arrive back and in the right weather conditions, move through the country. South-easterlies are what is needed, and if we do get winds from this direction in the next couple of weeks it could get exciting, with Red-spotted Bluethroats, Wrynecks, Red-backed Shrikes and Icterine Warblers turning up.

Red-spotted Bluethroat by Edmund Fellowes

The weather over the weekend is due to turn southerly for a short time with a hint of south-easterly early next week, whether or not this will be strong enough, or come from far enough east to turn up eastern bound migrants will have to be seen but it will be a change from the westerlies of the last week or so and a change in wind direction quite often turns birds up and allows others to move.

At this time of the year anything can turn up, as evidenced by the Great Reed Warbler that was found in a tiny reedbed on the BTO’s Nunnery Lakes reserve in Norfolk, the first for the site. It would be fantastic if it was followed up with a Crag Martin next week.

Great Reed Warbler by Mike Symes

Friday 5 May 2017

Wind stuck in the north

With the wind stuck in the north migration has slowed a little but not come to a halt. Fortunately there has been varying degrees of east in the wind and this has resulted in what could be described as a Black Tern week, with birds being reported from many wetland and seawatching sites across the country.

Black Tern by Lawrence G Baxter
What is really obvious is the lack of Swifts. A small number have arrived but the usual mass arrival during the first few days of May hasn’t happened. The stiff northerlies are definitely blocking a mass arrival at the moment but as soon as conditions allow we should be in for an impressive movement of these amazing birds, this may well happen midweek when, if the forecasters are correct, we will experience a short period of light southerly winds.

This will also allow some of our later spring migrants to arrive too, and it is well worth looking out for Spotted Flycatchers. For those lucky enough to have easy access to the coast skuas, in particular Pomarine Skuas, will be on the move, along with more Black Terns, Little Gulls and Arctic Terns. South-easterlies are the ideal conditions for these and we might just be lucky midweek.

Pomarine Skua by Jo Pender
Now is the time to catch-up with a few waders as they make their way north, in particular Whimbrel, Dotterel and Wood Sandpiper.

Dotterel by Edmund Fellowes
We are just coming into the period when some of our scarcer migrants move and the right now is a great time to look out for Golden Orioles, Red-backed Shrikes and Wrynecks.

Friday 28 April 2017

Migration about to spring into action - guest blog by Ben Porter

The nature of migration generally this spring has been one of sudden flurries followed by slow trickles. This week continued along much the same lines: a glorious weekend with a southerly airflow and wide isobars saw the floodgates open for northbound migrants to stream into the country. Coastal localities were inundated with Willow Warblers, Blackcaps and Wheatears, and species like Redstart, Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat, Ring Ouzel and Grasshopper Warbler took advantage of the passing weather front to move in from the continent. Then the traffic lights turned red: a complete flip in the airflow saw bitter northerly winds dominating for much of the week; temperatures plummeted into the single figures and flurries of snow and hail across the north of the UK further added to the week’s wintry feel.
Willow Warbler by Ben Porter

The calm conditions over the weekend made for some great arrivals here on Bardsey: bushes were brimming with Willow Warblers and Blackcaps; Grasshopper Warblers sent out reeling songs from the damper wetlands; Swallows and Sand Martins zipped northward overhead; and seemingly every grassy knoll and bank was topped with a Wheatear! Greenland-race Wheatears have been one of the dominating migrants on the island this week, their larger size and deeper orange belly contrasting with a flash of white as they alight with hard ‘chacking’ calls. An excellent arrival saw over 250 birds on the 20th, although the national reporting rate on Birdtrack still shows below-average occurrence. It looks like the pressure front next week is going to help these leucorhoa birds make their long-distance flights to the Arctic tundra via Iceland and Greenland.

Wheatears by Ben Porter
Wheatears by Ben Porter

Cuckoos and Turtle Doves have yet to make it over the Irish Sea to the island, although both species reached Scotland this week, with a Turtle Dove on the isle of Rhum and a Cuckoo in Lothian! Three of the BTO’s satellite-tagged Cuckoos are now north of the Pyrenees and should make the home stretch to join ‘Selborne’ with a brisk south-east tailwind in the next week. Keep up to date with their movements here

A smattering of colourful scarcities arrived in the UK this week, including Golden Oriole, multiple Hoopoes, at least three Bee-Eaters (one of which even paid London a visit!), White-spotted Bluethroats, Serin, Red-footed Falcons and the spring’s first Savi’s Warbler. We can expect to see plenty more of these overshooting continentals as we enter May, plus some non-passerine visitors such as Temminck’s Stints on inland reservoirs. Conversely, Waxwing numbers are likely to dwindle as birds continue to dissipate north-east – we still had around 600 birds in the country last week, although they were absent from Ireland, Wales and the South-west.

Whimbrels should arrive in earnest over the next ten days as we approach their peak spring reporting period. The numbers here on Bardsey Island are still below-average for the time of year. Contrast that to the national picture, and the reporting rate is slightly above the historical average, fast-approaching 7.5% of Birdtrack user’s lists. Keep an eye out for colour-ringed birds amongst migrating flocks: they are most likely to be from Iceland, but a few sites in the UK also carry out colour-ringing on these waders, including Bardsey Bird Observatory. Make sure you report colour-ring sightings and email the Iceland project ( should you see any. It’s through anaylsis of ringing recoveries and recent satellite tracking that has revealed some impressive autumn movements of Icelandic Whimbrels from Iceland to North Africa. It’s also indicated that most birds on the east coast – both in spring and autumn – are likely to be Scandinavian.
Whimbrel ring recoveries from BTO. Whimbrel images by Ben Porter

Early May is one of the best times of year to catch up with trips of Dotterels as they touch down on hill tops and coastal spots en route to their breeding grounds. A scattering of birds have already been seen over the last week, including at favoured sites such as the Great Orme in North Wales. Lancashire’s Pendle Hill will no doubt host a few of these superb waders in the next few days.

So what of the week to come? A low-pressure system rolling in from the Atlantic over Saturday and Sunday will see the strong winds switching around to the south-east, which could provide the encouragement needed for migrants to move up through France and continue northwards in the UK. A widening of isobars and an area of high pressure over France and Iberia in the earlier part of the week should make for a good arrival of more warblers, chats and waders. Temperatures should climb a little higher too, which will hopefully encourage the invertebrate life to emerge and provide weary migrants with much-needed refueling!
Low pressure is due to arrive on Saturday - image from Met Office.

We’ve almost welcomed back the full complement of spring migrants as far as songbirds are concerned, although Spotted Flycatchers have yet to appear, and the peak arrivals of Wood Warblers, Pied Flycatchers, Yellow Wagtails, Garden Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats will probably occur over the next week or two given the promising outlook.
Spotted Flycatcher by Ben Porter
Spotted Flycatcher by Ben Porter

If you’re heading out over the weekend, listen out for the liquid gold song of the Nightingale – birds should be back on breeding territories very soon. The bright sunny weather forecast for early next week will be perfect for Common Swifts to scythe their way overhead in screaming flocks. If you haven’t already, why not consider fitting a Swift nestbox to your house? There is just enough time before they return! There are plenty of tips at

The reporting rate for Common Tern and Arctic Tern is on the increase, and the strong winds this weekend might make seawatching a productive option to spot flocks passing by. You might also be in with a chance of seeing Pomarine, Arctic and Great Skuas passing the coast. Rarities in the coming week could take the form of more overshooting continental migrants such as Black-Winged Stilts and Golden Orioles, although the south-easterly wind might favour perhaps a Collared Flycatcher, Citrine Wagtail or Red-throated Pipit even on the east coast.
Red-throated Pipit by Ben Porter
Red-throated Pipit by Ben Porter
This blog was kindly contributed by Ben Porter (@BardseyBen),

Friday 21 April 2017

Here come the Cuckoos!

The stop-start nature of this spring's migration has continued over the past week but breaks in the weather fronts allowed through a nice flurry of Ring Ouzels with over 60 records yesterday alone. Over the past week Ring Ouzels have been reported from the Isle of Wight to Edinburgh with 17 at Burnham Overy in Norfolk on the 20th April and 27 in the Cot Valley in Cornwall on the 18th April. Wheatears also arrived in good numbers and the graph below from BirdTrack shows that after a lag earlier on, the percentage of BirdTrack users seeing Wheatear has now caught up with the average for this time of year.

Graph showing percentage of BirdTrack complete lists featuring Wheatear
Graph showing percentage of BirdTrack complete lists featuring Wheatear

This is the best time of year to look out for Red-rumped Swallow and right on cue there have been half a dozen or so sightings over the past week. If you're visiting any coastal locations or freshwater marshes over the coming week look out for Swallows with very pale (sometimes reddish) rumps!

Red-rumped Swallow by Richard Crossley (The Crossley ID Guide Britain and Ireland) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

With high pressure dominating through well into next week we can expect a good arrival of migrants. We should see Pied Flycatcher, Whimbrel, Yellow Wagtail, Hobby and Arctic Tern all arriving in good numbers and more of our Turtle Doves returning too. We are receiving more reports now of House Martins returning to their nest sites, if you have any breeding near you then we need your help with our House Martin nest survey.

Three of our satellite-tagged Cuckoos are back in Europe now with one already back at his breeding grounds in the UK. Over the next two to three weeks we'll be heading rapidly towards the peak for Cuckoo records so if you want to hear a Cuckoo this year, this is the time to get out and listen. If you're very lucky you may even encounter an early Bee-eaterSquacco Heron or Purple Heron and it is worth looking out for rarer waders like Pectoral Sandpiper and Marsh Sandpiper stopping off on passage.

Cuckoo by Robin Lee
Cuckoo by Robin Lee

Over the course of the weekend, a cold weather front moving from north to south through Britain could produce a decent 'fall' of grounded migrants. Saturday morning looks like your best bet to head to a coastal watch point to witness this phenomenon for yourself, especially if there is a little rain early on . There is the potential for much colder weather early next week, with snow over much of Scotland and down to central England. How will our recently arrived migrants (and early breeders) cope with this cold snap? 

Thursday 13 April 2017

Still waiting

The stop, start nature of this spring migration continues. The quiet spells in the weather provide windows of opportunity for migrants heading north through France and Spain, only for them to be closed by the next front to move through. This Friday and Saturday are a good example.

During the night of Thursday into Friday the conditions in France and across the Channel look good for birds wanting to make a move (see chart below). 

However, fast-forward to the same period on Friday going into Saturday and a front in the channel will have a blocking effect on birds heading north over the channel. 

Of course it will depend on the actual timing of the front moving through. If it is a little late, birds could set off across the channel and be grounded on the south coast as they encounter the front. If it moves earlier than forecast birds might be grounded in northern France, unable to move until the front has passed.

So, what does this mean for the weekend?

As the spring progresses more and more birds will take advantage of any window in the weather. We should see pulses of arrivals that by now should include Swallows in particular as they do still seem thin on the ground. Yellow Wagtail, Tree Pipit and Redstart should also be a feature, along with Ring Ouzel, Cuckoo and House Martin.

A few Garden Warbler should join the Blackcaps, although it feels like there are still a lot of Blackcap to arrive too. Reed Warblers should also take advantage of quiet overnight weather and make it back to their reedbed territories.

Where are all the Wheatears? It is a little worrying that Wheatear is trailing well behind its historic average in BirdTrack. The purple arrow on the graph is where it should be, whilst the blue dots are where we are this spring. Hopefully, they are just held-up and will flood in as soon as conditions allow, but you have to wonder what sort of winter they have had.

 BirdTrack reporting rate for Wheatear

On the rarity front, the warm southerly airflow we saw last weekend did bring a few overshoots with it in the shape of two or three Purple Herons, a Little Bittern, a couple of Western Subalpine Warblers, a Night Heron, a couple of Red-rumped Swallows and Woodchat Shrikes, two or three Black Kites and at least one Hoopoe. However, pride of place must go to the splendid male Rock Thrush that was found on St Martins, Isles of Scilly.
Rock Thrush courtesy of

Friday 7 April 2017

The floodgates are about to open!

During the last few weeks migration has been somewhat stuttering. Breaks between weather fronts crossing Europe allowed birds to move only for them to be stopped by the next batch of fronts to move through. That might be about to change this weekend as high-pressure moves over the UK. The winds will turn southerly, and at least for a short while will come from as far south as North Africa. This should open the floodgates for birds such as Swallow, Blackcap and Willow Warblers, birds that should be fairly widespread at this time of the season but are still a little thin on the ground.

Hobby by Jason Thorpe
Hobby by Jason Thorpe
We are still a week or so away from the peak migration period but we should see lots of birds arriving in the next few days.  Hobby, Grasshopper Warbler, House Martin, and Sedge Warbler  could arrive in force, along with the first flood of Whitethroat and, as the winds turn more south-easterly around mid-week, a few Lesser Whitethroat too.

Redstart should be seen more widely, and Pied Flycatchers are worth looking out for too.  In fact with the conditions looking so good, most of our summer migrants should be represented over the next few days, perhaps with the exception of those that have a late spring arrival time, such as Swift, Spotted Flycatcher and Quail.

Cuckoo by Charles Tyler
Cuckoo by Charles Tyler
Six out of our seven satellite tagged Cuckoos are still south of the Sahara in West Africa but we do have one that has crossed the desert. Hampshire Cuckoo "Selborne", has been in northern Spain for around a week and will probably make the final leg of his journey home in the next week. Although none of our tagged Cuckoos have made it as far north as the UK, Cuckoo is definitely worth listening out for in the next few days and keep an eye on the Cuckoo tracking maps for daily updates on the position of our tagged birds. 

At sea, Common Terns on the move could be joined by the first Arctic Terns of the spring, and when terns are on the move skuas move too, so there ought to be a few Arctic and Great Skuas seen.

Arctic Skua by Moss Taylor
Arctic Skua by Moss Taylor
Conditions look to be perfect from the early hours of Friday morning right through to at least the early part of next week, and whilst the south coast ought to be the place to be, we could all enjoy spring arrivals during this time.

Black Kite by Jill Pakenham
Black Kite by Jill Pakenham

With the warm winds coming from so far south, overshooting spring migrants should also be a feature. Along with the possibility of a few more of the birds we have seen during the last week, Red-rumped Swallow, Black-winged Stilt and Woodchat Shrike. With the forecast weather it looks like we could be in for an arrival of southern herons, Purple Heron, Little Bittern and Night Heron are all on the cards. We could also see the odd Black Kite and maybe Sardinian Warbler.

The conditions are also good for departing migrants and it is worth keeping an eye out for the last Redwings and Fieldfares, and at sea, Brent Geese.

Friday 31 March 2017

Migration still slow

Whilst at times the weather here has seemed near perfect for the arrival of summer migrants, weather fronts further south in France have blocked their progress and the opening of the floodgates hasn’t quite happened.

This might all change on Sunday. High-pressure is forecast to extend from northern Britain all the way to the south of France and, if fog holds off, we could see the first big wave of summer migrants arriving. It will also help birds waiting to leave get on their way too, such as the Greylag Geese and Redwings on the northern isles.

Black Redstart by Ron Marshall

This week has been slow but there has been some visible migration. Meadow Pipits have pretty much been leading the way, with numbers in the low-hundreds being counted at some coastal watchpoints. Chiffchaff and Sand Martin have reached low double figures and Ring Ouzel has been seen a little more widely. Black Redstart seems to have been the most obvious of the grounded migrants, with small numbers being seen at many sites across the country.

Small numbers of Willow Warbler have pushed north, the first Common Terns have arrived and a few Sedge Warblers have made it back to a few reedbeds. Scoter, both Common and Velvet have been on the move at sea and there has been a small movement of Great and Arctic Skuas.

Black-winged Stilt by Moss Taylor

The first of our satellite-tagged Cuckoos has made it back to Europe and is currently on the southern edge of the Pyrenees, whilst the remainder are still in West Africa preparing for their own desert crossings. 

On the rarity front, Alpine Swift, Red-rumped Swallow, Hoopoe and Black-winged Stilt all arrived this week, and with high-pressure and light winds forecast for the early part of next week, we could be in for more of the same, and maybe Woodchat Shrike or Rustic Bunting.

Friday 24 March 2017

Spring migration held up

The series of weather fronts crossing the UK and France during the last week had the predicted effect, putting the brakes on migrants arriving from the south. However, there were odd gaps in the weather that did allow some birds to move. Chiffchaffs and Wheatears reached double figures and more Sandwich Terns are being seen at many south coast sites; the first Common Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler got through too.
Singing Sedge Warbler by Peter Garrity

A few BTO members of staff have been hearing Coot flying over at night, along with Redwings and Fieldfares and it reminded me that the overwintering Coot on the Isles of Scilly left the islands during March. The ringing recovery map below shows just where some of them might have been going, amazing for a bird that looks so ungainly in flight during the day!

Map showing ringing recoveries of Coot: Colour of location: Ringed in Britain & Ireland, found HereRinged here, found in Britain & Ireland
Winter geese numbers are beginning to fall quite rapidly but there are still decent sized flocks at some east coast sites, 700 Brent Geese are still on the Humber. These will almost certainly take advantage of the improving weather during the early part of next week and move off.

The forecast for the next week is for high-pressure building from Saturday/Sunday and at present Sunday looks good for both birds leaving and birds arriving. We could see the first big arrival of Chiffchaffs. Moving into Monday, the wind is forecast to turn southerly and come from as far south as the Pyrenees and the temperature is due to increase too - ideal conditions for any migrant birds that have been held up in France during the last week, and for those birds waiting to head off north and east. Many of us might see our first Swallow of the spring, always a good bird in March and the first real flush of Ring Ouzels

Ring Ouzel by Carl Day
On the rarity front, at this time of the year Alpine Swift and Hoopoe are always favourite but Great Spotted Cuckoo can also be a good bet this early in the season.

Friday 17 March 2017

Spring has almost sprung!

The southerly airflow during the latter half of the week produced the first noticeable flush of migrants, the most obvious being the number of Garganey that made landfall and quickly moved north. The largest group was a party of 10 that were seen on 11 March at Grove Ferry, Kent. These were joined by Sand Martins, a few Swallows, House Martins and Little Ringed Plovers.

Little Ringed Plover by Marc Albiac
Mid-week saw a huge overnight thrush movement in the eastern half of the country with lots of observers reporting Redwings and Fieldfares heard going over during the hours of darkness. Interestingly, among these were reports of Wigeon doing the same.

The first southern overshoots arrived in the form of Alpine Swifts in Co Cork and Kent, and the first Hoopoes in Co Kerry and Dorset. Pride of place has to go to the Baillon’s Crake that was seen coming in off the sea in Cornwall and spending a short  time walking around rocks on the beach at St Levan before heading off west, never to be seen again.  This is a migrant with less than 100 records in the last 100 years!

Hoopoe by Richard Nuernberger
Several early birds were also seen that included a few Willow Warblers, the first Redstarts and Yellow Wagtail, a few Ring Ouzel and the first Cuckoo (in West Sussex). Our seven satellite-tagged Cuckoos are all still south of the Sahara.

Cuckoo by Edmund Fellowes
The forecast for the next three or four days isn’t very conducive for much migration. Wet and windy weather from the north-west will seemingly dominate but there will be moments of quieter weather in between the weather fronts when birds ought to move.

So, what might we expect? The weekend isn’t looking great but early next week we should see some migration. Wheatears are tough little birds and will take any opportunity and we could see them arriving in better numbers than has been the case so far, along with more Sand Martins and Swallows, and the first real movement of Sandwich Terns. There has been a small migration of Painted Lady butterflies too and we can look forward to seeing more of these over the next week or so.
Painted Lady by John Harding