Friday 19 October 2018

Rare arrivals from east and west

Arriving quickly from the east coast of the United States and Canada, the remnants of Hurricane Michael did not directly impact Britain and Ireland last Monday, diverting southwest towards NW Iberia at the last moment instead. Despite this, the outliers brought several very rare North American birds with them. The first species to be found was also one of the rarest, with Britain’s second Grey Catbird found at Land’s End, Cornwall late on Monday. It remained on site all through the week, allowing many birders to catch up with this species. The offshore islands closest to the track of ex-Hurricane Michael were also good places to be with Cape Clear, Co. Cork holding a triple crown of Swainson’s Thrush, Scarlet Tanager and the first Veery for Ireland. Birders on the Isles of Scilly discovered Bobolink, Grey-cheeked Thrush and Red-eyed Vireo, though the former was only seen briefly. Away from the southwest, there were sightings of Red-eyed Vireo on Inishmore, Co. Galway and a Baltimore Oriole on Barra, Outer Hebrides. The fast moving nature of this Hurricane, taking just over 48 hours to cross the Atlantic, likely helped these birds survive the crossing. Who knows what other species may have been discovered if it had made landfall in Ireland or Britain?

Following on from the strongly southerly winds the previous weekend, Pallid Swifts were found in Kent, East Yorkshire and Northumberland. However, these were outshone by Britain’s first White-rumped Swift at Hornsea Mere, East Yorkshire last Sunday. With an increasing population in Iberia, this species should now be on the radar in similar conditions in future years.

Along the North Sea coast of Britain, strong northeasterly winds last Monday brought fresh arrivals of thrushes and finches arriving ‘in off’. Redwing, Fieldfare, Goldcrest and Brambling arrived, while scarcer migrants included Bluethroat, Red-flanked Bluetail, several Great Grey Shrikes and a probable Two-barred Warbler in Norfolk. The first Waxwings of the autumn were also reported from Shetland, Yorkshire and Norfolk – will this winter see another invasion?

Waxwing by Jeff Baker/BTO

Looking ahead, the weekend looks set to be dominated by high pressure, and the calm mornings are ideal for visible migration watches with larks, thrushes and finches on the move. The reporting rate graph on BirdTrack shows that late October is the peak for Skylark, Siskin and Brambling amongst others. One to listen out for is Richard’s Pipit, with fly-overs likely to be found anywhere. The BirdTrack reporting rate graph shows a clear peak in late-October, and it is well worth being familiar with the flight call (for example

Reporting rate graph of Richard's Pipit

On Sunday afternoon, the wind looks set to switch to northwesterly over most of Britain and Ireland, which will likely help birds staging from Iceland to our shores, for example Brent Goose and Whooper Swan.

Stephen McAvoy

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