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 15 November 2019

Mid November to Mid December

The autumn has decided to go out with a flurry of interesting birds, with a 1st for Britain and indeed the Western Palearctic, in the shape of a Paddyfield Pipit in Cornwall taking the top spot, and a Steller’s Eider on Orkney running a close second. The supporting cast has not been too shabby either with the Orkney isles also playing host to a female Siberian Rubythroat and a Blue Rock Thrush.
Elsewhere across the UK highlights of the last couple of weeks have included an Isabelline Wheatear in Norfolk, Buff-bellied Pipit in Cornwall, Siberian/Stejneger’s Stonechat in East Yorkshire, and both the returning White-winged Scoter in Lothian and Short-billed Dowitcher in Louth showing no signs of moving on.
The weekend of the 9th and 10th November saw a small influx of Hume’s Warblers, a close relative of the Yellow-browed Warbler, arriving along the east coast with some counties recording multiple individuals. No doubt over the next few weeks these will filter down through the country and could turn up along the south coast, and the odd bird may even stay over the winter.
It hasn't been all about the rare and scarce birds with many locations witnessing big movements of Woodpigeons and Redwings. Portskewett, Cardiff had a count of 108378 Woodpigeons over on the 6th November, whilst in 20250 Redwing were recorded at Kemple End, Lancashire. The last week has also seen a spike in the reporting rate of both Long-tailed Duck and Little Auks with several birds turning up across the country, both species brighten even the dullest day and are a favourite with many birdwatchers.

BirdTrack reporting rate graph for Little Auk showing a 
spike in reports in early November

A pair of Long-tailed Ducks - photo Sarah Kelman

BirdTrack reporting rate graph for Long-tailed Duck showing a
spike in reports in early November

Species focus

During October and November, Woodcock numbers can be swelled by birds escaping falling temperature on the Continent but the number involved can vary between winters depending on conditions on the other side of the North Sea. British wintering Woodcock have been tracked back to their breeding grounds in Finland, Eastern Europe and western Russia. It was long thought that the tiny Goldcrest hitched a ride on the backs of migrating Woodcocks across the North Sea as both species have a tendency to turn up on our shores at the same time and in the same weather conditions.
The fortunes of British breeding Woodcock has taken a downturn, we have lost over three-quarters of them during the last twenty-five years and it is red-listed as a bird of conservation concern. It is unclear what in particular might be driving this decline but it is likely to include such things as recreational disturbance, the drying out of natural woodlands, overgrazing by deer, declining woodland management, and the maturation of new plantations.
The Bird Atlas 2007-11 showed that as a breeding bird Woodcock has a wide distribution, being found from the north coast of Scotland all the way south to the English south coast, and from East Anglia west to Ireland, but a look at the Breeding Distribution Change map shows just how widespread the decline is, with downward pointing arrows across the whole of Britain and Ireland.
The Woodcock is very much a bird of mature woodland but during the winter months can be found almost anywhere, even turning up in city parks and gardens, and birds can move at any time during the winter – freezing conditions, deep snowfall and ice make it almost impossible for Woodcock to feed and they are forced to move in search of food.

Map showing breeding distribution  changes for Woodcock

Woodcocks - photo by Hugh Insley

Weather for the month ahead

It is difficult to be 100% sure what the weather will do over the next month but early indications point to a cold northerly wind for some over the weekend which then swings to the east before settling to a more southerly dominated airflow, all in all, a mixed bag of weather and indicative of the late autumn period so far. Fieldfares which typically arrive a few weeks after Redwing have started to arrive in bigger numbers and any north or north easterlies over the next 3-4 weeks should see even more birds arrive.  These easterly winds could also result in more Hume's, Pallas's and Dusky Warblers arriving, or maybe an Oriental Turtle Dove or Black-throated Thrush. Any southerly winds over the next couple of weeks could produce a Crag Martin or Pallid Swift 

BirdTrack reporting rate for Fieldfare showing the arrival in late October.

Whilst the numbers of Waxwings has steadily been growing in Southern Sweden, Norway and Finland, only a few birds have turned up this side of the north sea but again with favourable winds a few more birds are likely to arrive here before the year is out. Numbers of White-winged gulls, Iceland and Glaucous, both typically start to increase with the progression of late autumn into early winter, with Scotland seeing the bulk of the first arrivals before they move down across Britain and Ireland. Both species can be found in a range of habitats from coastal beaches to reservoirs and refuge tips and so offer birdwatchers the chance to find their own. 

Glaucous Gull - photo by Scott Mayson

Many species of Wildfowl will also be arriving over the next few weeks and numbers of Wigeon, Teal and Shovelers will continue to build. It is always worth checking these flocks for American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal and Blue-winged Teal that may have arrived during the autumn and gone undetected whilst they were in their eclipse plumage. Brent Geese numbers will also continue to build at traditional wintering sites and amongst these the occasional Black Brant or even Red-breasted Goose can be sometimes found. 
Sewage works at this time of year can play host to a whole variety of birds including Pied and Grey Wagtails, Green Sandpipers,  Goldcrest and Chiffchaffs. Amongst these, some scarcer species can sometimes be found such as Firecrest, Siberian Chiffchaff and Yellow-browed Warbler which hunt the insect rich filter beds and surrounding vegetation.

Paul Stancliffe and Scott Mayson