Friday 16 November 2018

A Swift arrival

The migration highlight in the last two weeks was an unexpected arrival of Swifts from 3 November onwards, with three species noted around the country. While there were a handful of Common Swifts reported, the majority of sightings involved the much rarer Pallid Swift, with over 30 and perhaps as many as 50 individuals observed.

BirdTrack reporting rate for Pallid Swift

Pallid Swift is seen annually in Britain in small numbers, influxes involving more than 10 birds had previously occurred only in 1999 (11 records), 2001 (12) and 2004 (15). The majority of the sightings came from the east coast, with only a handful from south coast counties and inland sites. Besides Britain, one was seen briefly in Ireland and up to 20 Pallid Swifts were also noted in the Netherlands, where there had only been 12 records previously.

Pallid Swift by Martin Cade
A potential reason for the influx may be that unusually for European swifts, Pallid Swift is double brooded, with the last brood fledging in October. Additionally, the sustained southerly winds throughout early November may have pushed birds northwards. The presence of a Little Swift at Hartlepool, Durham joining a Pallid Swift already present is intriguing as the nearest breeding grounds are along the southern Mediterranean coast. Did the Pallid Swifts in this influx come from North Africa rather than Iberia or the eastern Mediterranean?

Little Swift by Damian Money
The week ahead looks potentially quite interesting, with high pressure building over western Russia and Scandinavia over the weekend. This could potentially bring a spell of colder weather from the middle of next week onwards, with the easterly winds likely to bring more winter thrushes and wildfowl amongst others to our shores. It is getting a bit late in the season for most rarities by this stage, but given the origin of the winds, a Desert Wheatear, or perhaps even a Desert Warbler, seem like potential arrivals.

Stephen McAvoy

Friday 2 November 2018

Skuas on the move

While not making for the most pleasant observation conditions, strong north to northeasterly winds in late autumn can produce good movements of seabirds and other migrants along the east coast of Britain. The weather last weekend fitted this exact pattern and those who braved the cold, biting wind were not disappointed.

Pomarine Skua by Joe Pender

The most eye catching spectacle was the passage of Pomarine Skuas with several sites logging day totals of more than 100 birds. Amongst the highest counts were 150+ off Flamborough, East Yorksire, 180+ off Gibraltar Point, Lincolnshire and 200+ moving south past Spurn, East Yorkshire. The latter represents a new day count record for the species at the site. However, these counts were eclipsed by the over 500 logged passing Hornsea, East Yorkshire. The BirdTrack reporting rate graph clearly shows last weekend’s movement

The strong winds brought with them a wide variety of other seabirds, including the first large movement of Little Auks. Several sites registered double figure counts, with a high count of over 150 passing Flamborough. Divers and shearwaters were also noted, including a handful of White-billed Divers. The rarest seabird logged was probably the King Eider moving along the North Norfolk coast over the weekend and early last week.

For passerine migrants, there were good counts logged for Redwing and Fieldfare arriving in off the North Sea, while large flocks of Starlings were also noted. As in the previous week, a few flocks of Waxwings were noted moving west with the thrushes and Starlings - it is well worth keeping an eye on any berry rich hawthorns in the coming weeks!

A common theme in the last weeks has been a rapid switch of wind directions, and this weekend is no exception. After the spell of northerlies in recent days, the prevailing wind moves back to a south – southeasterly direction as the remnants of Hurricane Oscar pass northeast off the coast of Ireland and Scotland. Having stayed well out in the Atlantic in the last week, it is unlikely that this weather system will bring any new arrivals of North American origin, though potentially the first white-winged gulls could arrive, and rarer gulls are always a possibility, including Laughing or Franklin’s Gull.

Stephen McAvoy