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.

Wednesday 18 December 2019

Mid December to mid January

The early winter period has been a somewhat quiet affair with little in the way of rare or scarce birds arriving, the standout bird being a rather showy Hermit Thrush that was found on St Mary's, Isles of Scilly. For many, the true highlight was the confirmation that the suspected Paddyfield Pipit was indeed one after a faecal sample was analysed for DNA. The announcement was made at the end of Prof Martin Coillinson's talk at the annual BTO conference, what a way to end a talk! This record will constitute a first for Britain, and indeed Europe, once it is formally accepted by the BOURC.
As for the commoner winter visitors, the numbers of wildfowl continued to increase as birds arrived from far and wide, and it is looking like a good year for Scaup with the BirdTrack reporting rate well above the historical average. Flocks of over 600 were reported from Loch Ryan near Stranraer in late November, and other small groups were reported across the country from Unst, Shetland in the North and Tresco, Isles of Scilly in the south.

BirdTrack reporting rate for Scaup showing a spike in reporting rates since early October.

Scaup wasn't the only wildfowl on the move, numbers of other ducks such as Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler and Pintail all increased, indeed Pintail which had a slow arrival period in late autumn picked up to be more or less where they should be at this time of the year.

BirdTrack reporting rate graph for Pintail showing a steady increase in reports during November.

Woodcock reports have been below average since a peak in early November, no doubt due to milder weather on the continent not pushing them further west, a spell of cold weather will no doubt push more birds to our shores. Other species have also increased in number since the last blog, with increasing reports of Fieldfare, which arrive in the UK a few weeks later than Redwings, but we are still to see the peak winter arrival of Blackbirds from the continent that happens in mid-late December. It is not looking like it will be a Waxwing winter with reports below the historical average and nowhere near the level we saw during the last invasion of 2016.

BirdTrack reporting rates for Waxwing indicating it not looking like a Waxwing winter. 

Waxwing - only a few flocks have been reported this winter.

Species Focus - Taiga Bean Goose

Traditionally, Taiga Bean Goose (fabilis) has been one of the last of the regular winter visitors to arrive in the UK, usually in early December, and one of the first to leave in mid-late January. Birds wintering in Britain are thought to largely originate from the Lapland breeding population and are mostly to be found in two flocks, one in the Yare Valley, Norfolk and the other on the Slamannan Plateau in eastern Scotland. Numbers fluctuate between years but have fallen during the last decade or so as birds take advantage of milder winters on the other side of the North Sea. Each winter a small number of Tundra Bean Geese (rossicus) arrive in the UK. Tundra Bean Goose breeds in northern Siberia and winters mainly in the southern Netherlands, western Germany, the Balkans, France and Spain. Numbers can fluctuate wildly at these sites and can increase during the winter as a result of cold weather movement.

Taiga Bean Goose - Photo by Steve Ray

Cold weather movement

During the winter months populations of birds tend to remain fairly static, however, during periods of cold weather, both here and on the continent, birds can become quite mobile. During these conditions birds can cover large distances in search of snow and frost-free ground and ice-free waters. These movements can occur within the UK with birds moving south as the winter bites further north and can include quite large movements of Skylarks, finches and buntings, Lapwings, Golden Plovers and waterfowl. These movements can occur at any time during the winter in response to falling temperatures. If cold weather hits on the continent birds will move south and west, with some crossing the North Sea. During these conditions we can often see an arrival of waterfowl; Goldeneye, Smew and geese and swans.

Smew can arrive during cold weather events across Europe - Photo by Sarah Kelman

Weather for the month ahead

The weather for much of December looks to be dominated by low pressure sweeping in from the Atlantic, resulting in warm but wet conditions across much of the UK. These weather patterns are unlikely to produce much in the way of vagrant birds but there is still the chance of maybe a Killdeer or American Robin arriving from America. This autumn was also a productive one for American passerines and it is conceivable that another will be discovered overwintering somewhere, Black and White Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Dark-eyed Junco and most famously of all Golden-winged Warbler have all been discovered during the winter months. If we get any sort of cold blast over the next few weeks visitors from more arctic clines could turn up, with species such as Ivory Gull, Brunnich's Guillemot and Gyr Falcon all possible. The new year is often greeted with renewed vigour by birders as they set out to get their lists off to a start. At this time of year species like Bewick's Swan, Willow Tit, Great Northern Diver and Black-necked Grebe all have their peak in reporting rate and are much sought by those birders of a listing disposition.

Great norther Diver - A species many birdwatchers only encounter
during the winter months Photo by Sarah Kelman.

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

Wednesday 30 October 2019

31st October - 6th November

The past week saw much of the country under the influence of southerly and westerly winds which then swung around to a more northerly direction over the weekend onwards before finally bringing in a run of much anticipated easterly winds at the start of the week.  Whooper Swans took advantage of the northerly element and the BirdTrack reporting rate shows a spike in reports as birds arrived from Iceland. Peak counts included 369 at Teviot Haughs, Borders on the 26th and 133 from Hornsea Mere, Yorkshire,  the previous day. Whilst reports of Redwing started to level off, those for Fieldfare increased, this species typically arrives later than Redwing and the first big arrival happened over the weekend and into the start of this week. In Cumbria 7897 Fieldfare were recorded on the 29th and 5947 were seen at a location in Lancashire the next day. Big movements of Woodpigeon are a feature of settled weather at this time of year and with clear skies and light winds at the start of the week some locations recorded large numbers of birds on the move with a peak count of 64,000 in Cardiff on the 28th being the highest number reported via BirdTrack.

BirdTrack reporting rate for Whooper Swan showing a spike in reports last week

Mixed in with the commoner migrants were a few rarer species with top billing going to a 1st winter Steller's Eider on Orkney, this is the first since November 2000 and the last truly twitchable bird was in the 1980s! Other notable species included Tengmalm's Owl in the Scottish highlands, which will prove popular if it gets refound, the returning Pacific Diver in Ireland at Crookhaven, Swainson's Thrush on Mainland Shetland, Two-barred Warbler in Ireland (a first for Ireland), and the returning White-winged Scoter in Scotland. As for the species we predicted in the last post, an Upland Sandpiper was found in Cornwall, 6 Hoopoe's were reported and single of both Pallid Swift and Red-rumped Swallow were also reported.

Species focus

Cool, clear conditions with light winds in late October/early November provide the ideal recipe for Woodpigeon migration. Little is known about Woodpigeon movement in the UK but as a species, it is found from western Siberia in the east to the Faeroes in the west, and as far north as Fennoscandia and south as North Africa.
Some continental Woodpigeons move south in large numbers, during the last week almost a million birds have moved south through Falsterbo, southern Sweden, and small flocks have been seen heading out to sea on our south coast.
It is thought that any movement of Woodpigeons seen here either involves birds that have been drifted across the North Sea and are carrying on south, or a movement from the north within the UK. It is also thought that many of the birds seen heading out to see don’t go very far before doubling back. However, there is evidence of birds continuing their journey south with flocks being recorded leaving Cornwall then being seen over the Isles of Scilly, the Channel Islands and the Brittany coast.
Many of the continental birds head to Spain and Portugal to feed on the acorn harvest, via a flight around the western end of the Pyrenees, some may take a route around the eastern end of the mountains but this is far from clear – there is still a lot to learn.

Wood Pigeon - Photo by Allan Drewitt

Weather for the week ahead

For the start of the review period, the easterly winds from the last couple of days remain and feed in air from Germany and the near continent but as we move towards the weekend an Atlantic low sweeps across the country changing the wind direction to south/south-westerly and also bringing rain to many parts. From Monday this low-pressure system deepens and tracts north east dragging in colder air from the very far north with day time temperatures across much of Britain and Ireland struggling to get into double figures. 
The easterlies at the start of the review period could see an increase in Hen Harriers, Woodcock and Short-eared Owls as their peak reporting rates are at this time of year as birds arrive here from their breeding grounds further north and east. Keep an eye out in larger gardens, woodland parks and field edges for Woodcock that seek shelter when they first arrive. These winds could also drag in a rare Wheatear such as Pied or Desert and maybe a few more Pallas's Warblers or the first Hume's Warblers of the autumn. 

BirdTrack reporting rate graph for Woodcock.
Woodcock - Photo by Hugh Insley
The Atlantic low that will be with us from the weekend onwards opens up a slight airflow from America and could yield American Robin, which are typically late migrants, Franklin's Gull, or maybe even a Cliff Swallow or Chimney Swift? As this system moves across the country it produces a brief run of easterly wind for northeastern Scotland, the Northern Isles and parts of northern Britain and given that some parts of Scandinavia are experiencing an influx of Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a large finch of the Tiaga zone, many birdwatchers will be hoping for a repeat of 2012 with a bird arriving this side of the north sea, preferably somewhere easily accessible. You can read more about this influx here
The run of southerlies brought about as low pressure moves across the country could produce more Pallid Swifts and Hoopoes
Once this low-pressure system arrives in scandinavia at the start of next week the resulting northerly winds should see an arrival of white-winged gulls (Iceland and Glaucous), Long-tailed Ducks, Little Auks, Velvet Scoter, Snow Buntings, Purple Sandpiper, and numbers of Common Gulls and Black-headed Gulls will continue to build as birds arrive from further north and across Europe. Mixed in with these could be rarer species such as King Eider, White-billed Diver and maybe even an Ivory Gull or Brunnich's Guillemot who knows, one thing is for sure at this time of year, you never know what is going to turn up! 

Snow Bunting - Photo by Allan Drewitt

Scott Mayson and Paul Stancliffe

Thursday 24 October 2019

24th-30th October

The past week has seen rare birds from all points of the compass arrive in the UK with Short-billed Dowitcher (Louth), Myrtle Warbler (Galway) and American Black Tern (Dorset) from the West, Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll (Fair Isle) from the North, Eastern Yellow Wagtail (Scilly Isles) , and Collared Flycatcher (Kent and East Sussex) from the East, and Lesser Kestrel (East Yorkshire), Pallid Swift (East Yorkshire) and Isabelline Wheatear (Lundy and Isles of Scilly) from the south.
The past week also saw a good arrival of Thrushes with large flocks of Redwing and Song Thrushes, Miles Hill in Hampshire recorded 9600 Redwing on the 21st October. Ring Ouzels were also reported from several locations and the reporting rate graph from BirdTrack shows the spike in reports carrying on from the good numbers arriving the previous week too.

BirdTrack reporting rate graph for Ring Ouzel showing a spike in
reports last week.

Reports of finches such as Brambling, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, and Hawfinch increased throughout the week and the numbers of these species will only increase over the next few weeks as more birds arrive from the continent. Numbers of Robin and Dunnock, both of which are often not thought of as migrants, also increased during last week as birds arrived from Europe for the winter.

Species Focus

Every winter large numbers of Starlings cross the North Sea to spend the winter months in the UK, adding to the spectacle of murmurations across the country. Seeing large flocks of Starlings wheeling around the sky it is easy to forget that all is not well, our breeding population has fallen by 73% since 1991. The highest numbers of ringed Starlings recovered in countries from overseas go to Denmark and Lithuania, a good indication of where many of our wintering Starlings originate. Starlings are also fairly long-lived birds, the record is held by a bird that was ringed near Ipswich, Suffolk on 20 November 1983 and found dead in Phillipova Gora, Demianski Rayon, Russian Federation on 15 July 2001, 2,122km from the original ringing location. Starlings are strong fliers and during light winds or winds with an element of east in them during the next few weeks, we should see flocks of them arriving on the east coast and heading off inland.

Starlings arrive in the UK from across Europe - Photo John Harding

Weather for the week ahead

As has been the case for much of the late autumn this year the weather over the next week looks to be a mixed bag with the wind coming from several directions. This can be a good thing with the weather 'mixing' things up a bit and could result in a good variety of species arriving, departing and passing through the UK. The next couple of days sees an east-west split with western parts of the UK having westerly winds that are coming off a low situated between the UK and Iceland. This could bring in a few more Whooper Swans and Pink-footed Geese from Iceland. This short run of westerlies could also bring in a vagrant American wader such as Upland Sandpiper or Wilson's Snipe to somewhere like the Isles of Scilly or Ireland. Eastern and southern coasts will be dominated by a southerly airflow which may result in species such as Hoopoe, Red-rumped Swallow, and Pallid Swift reaching us. From the weekend the wind direction for the majority of the UK turns first more northerly then easterly by the middle of next week. Species that are likely to occur whilst the wind is of a northerly direction include Leach's Petrel, Pomarine Skua, which have their peak reporting rate in BirdTrack for the coming week, and Little Auks which can sometimes be seen in large numbers from North Sea locations, but they can also turn up inland as they have been known to join migrating flocks of Starlings arriving from Europe.

Little Auk - Large numbers can be seen after strong northerly winds
at this time of year. Photo Morris Rendall.
As the wind direction turns more easterly so the variety of species making landfall across Britain and Ireland increases. Wildfowl, such as Wigeon, Pintail and Shoveler, will arrive here from their breeding grounds in Scandinavia and northern Russia and large flocks can often be seen arriving over the North Sea. So far it has been a poor autumn for Great Grey Shrikes with very few reported but a few days of sustained easterlies could bring more birds across the North Sea. These same winds should also see more Short-eared Owls, Black Redstarts, Firecrests, and Woodcocks arriving from across Europe. Thinking a bit rarer easterlies at this time of year could produce Siberian and Stejnegers Stonechat, Hume's Warbler, Dusky Warbler or maybe a rare Asian Thrush such as Dusky or Eyebrowed.

Paul Stancliffe and Scott Mayson

Thursday 17 October 2019

17th-24th October

During the last week the weather pretty much gave us what was forecast, westerly airflow across much of the country with some easterly winds in the north. The predicted movement of Siskins came to fruition, a record 5,740 were recorded flying over Sheringham, Norfolk on the 13th, with another 1,527 over Spurn, East Yorkshire on the same day. Grey Phalaropes were also on the move with birds being found in 16 different counties but with the majority in the south and southwest.

The predicted Siberian Rubythroat was also found when a male arrived on Shetland on 16th. Although none of the North American thrushes put in a showing plenty of new North American landbirds were found, including a Rose Breasted Grosbeak, a Myrtle Warbler and an east coast Red-eyed Vireo.

During periods of lighter winds thrushes from the east arrived in force with high counts of Redwings and Song Thrushes from several east coast watchpoints, accompanied by the first big movement of Ring Ouzels.

Ring Ouzel BirdTrack reporting rate graph

Species focus

Whooper Swan is amongst the heaviest of migratory birds, males caught in Britain weigh on average 10.2kg. The vast majority of birds wintering in Britain come from Iceland, where the population is estimated at around 16,000 birds. A few of these remain in Iceland throughout the winter but this only involves around 1,500 birds. The 800km sea crossing between Britain and Iceland is probably the longest undertaken by any swan species, six satellite tagged swans took between 12.7 hours and 42.4 hours to complete the journey. Around 200 birds from the Fennoscandian and western Russian population winter in Britain, with the vast majority wintering in continental Europe.

Whooper Swan by Andy Mason

Weather for the week ahead

As is to be expected for this time of the year the weather is forecast to be somewhat mixed. The early part of the period will be dominated by westerly airflow in the south and east/north easterly winds in the north, swapping during the middle of the period to north and easterly winds in the south to southwest and westerly winds in the north, with some periods of heavy rain at times and light winds at others. 

Snow Buntings by Neil Calbrade

We should see the arrival of Whooper Swans on the northerly winds, along with Snow Bunting, and later in the period thrushes and finches will be able to move in force across the North Sea and we could see the first big arrival of Bramblings and Chaffinches along east coasts. Ring Ouzel will also come into its own during the latter part of the period. On the scarce and rare front, there have already been a small number of Pallas’s Warblers seen but more could be on offer, we are now well into Radde’s Warbler timing but an accessible Siberian Blue Robin would go down a treat. North American thrushes have been remarkably absent during what is probably the best American autumn in over a decade, surely there must be at least one Grey-cheeked Thrush lurking somewhere.

Paul Stancliffe and Scott Mayson

Thursday 10 October 2019

10th-17th October

It’s been a pretty lively week migration wise with birds turning up from all points of the compass, including the predicted Common Nighthawk from North America. One was found in Antrim and continued to show well until at least the 10th October. Birds from the east also arrived with a second wave of Yellow-browed Warbler very much in evidence and at least seven Red-flanked Bluetails being found from Shetland to Cleveland.

Common migrants flooded in and there were some impressive thrush movements. Observers at Spurn, East Yorkshire enjoyed watching 1,200 Redwing, 1,100 Song Thrush and 15 Ring Ouzel arrive on 6 October, along with at least 28 Yellow-browed Warblers.

Finches also began to arrive with the first real movement of Brambling and Siskin of the autumn.

BirdTrack reporting rate graph showing Siskins beginning to move

Species Focus

Breeding Siskins are found through most of Scotland and Wales and much of northern and southwest England, with the highest densities in landscapes dominated by conifer plantations. In Ireland they are more widespread in the west of the country. In winter, Siskins are even more widespread, being found in 83% of all 10km squares, with British and Irish breeders joined by continental immigrants. Siskin has seen its population increase by 44% between 1995-2016. At this time of the year when birds are on the move, Siskins can be found almost anywhere and will take advantage seed in gardens. Now is a great time to catch up with these acrobatic little finches.

Siskin by Edmund Fellowes

Weather for the week ahead

The weather for the week ahead doesn’t look too inspiring as most of the country looks like it will be locked in westerly airflow, and not all the way from the eastern seaboard of North America. It is a different story for the northern isles that will have a mix of northerlies at the beginning of the period and easterlies later in the period. If this forecast comes to fruition the northern isles could well be the place to be during this next seven day period.

Migration is in full swing and it will be during lulls in the wind that birds will move, given the chance. Siskin numbers should begin to build even if birds can’t make it across the North Sea. At this time of the year birds that breed further north in Britain should begin to make their way south. Redwings too will filter south, with the same story for Skylark and Reed Buntings, and during lighter winds some birds will make it across the North Sea, Starlings and thrushes are pretty strong fliers.

Grey Phalarope by Neil Calbrade

During storms and squalls along the west coast it is worth looking out for Grey Phlaropes and Sabine’s Gulls, October can be a good month for both of these. As for rare and scarce birds, there may well be one or two North American birds still to be found off the back of last week’s weather, Grey-cheeked and Swainson’s Thrush are favourite, but we should see one or two new birds in the northern isles – Siberian Rubythroat has become a little more regular in recent years but still remains a rare bird here, but with a short window of easterlies it may well be on the cards. Northerly winds in the isles should also bring the first big push of Glaucous Gulls, and maybe a few Little Auks too.

Paul Stancliffe and Scott Mayson

Thursday 3 October 2019

3rd-9th October

It has to be said, for many of our common and scarce migrants September was a disappointing month with many species such as Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat, Wryneck and Red-backed Shrike being reported well below their historical reporting rates. The main reason is likely to be the lack of easterly winds which causes continental migrants to ‘drift’ across the north sea to the UK. For much of September, Britain and Ireland’s weather was dominated by Atlantic low pressures and the associated westerly winds that blew across the country, a pattern that was experienced last autumn, begging the question is this due to climate change or is it just a short-term change in our weather patterns?

BirdTrack reporting rate graph for Redstart showing the lower than
average reports from September.

The persistent westerlies across much of Britain and Ireland last week did, however, produce American passerines in the form of not 1 but 5 Red-eyed Vireos! 3 in the Republic of Ireland, 1 in Northern Ireland on Rathlin Island which was a first for the country and 1 in Cornwall. 2 Yellow-billed Cuckoos were also found, 1 on the Isles of Scilly and the other was found dead in East Sussex, and a Buff-bellied Pipit was identified on Bardsey Island. The Northern Isles of Scotland we're blessed with south easterlies and this produced a Brown Shrike on Out Skerries, a Daurian Shrike (once called Isabelline Shrike), Siberian Stonechat, Red-flanked Bluetail, Bee-eater, and a few Red-breasted Flycatchers, Barred Warblers, Yellow-browed Warblers, and Olive-backed Pipits. The rest of the UK saw good numbers of House Martins, Swallows, Meadow Pipits and Chiffchaffs on the move, as well as good numbers of Great White Egrets occurring across the UK as they continue their colonisation, now is a good time to search your local waterbody for this elegant heron.

Species focus

Ring Ouzels are a scarce breeding bird in Britain and Ireland with a preference for upland areas. The whole population is migratory with birds wintering around the Mediterranean basin. There are 2 main races in Europe, torquatus, which breeds in Britain and Ireland and Western Russia, and alpestris which breeds in montane areas from Northern Spain east to the Carpathians. The alpestris race has only been recorded a couple of times in the UK and is a short distance migrant, mainly moving to lower altitudes during the winter period. Ring Ouzels can migrate in large flocks with berries forming a substantial part of their diet at stopover sites. British breeding Ring Ouzels start migrating south in late September and continue into October, with a peak at the end of September probably representing the main departure period.

Ring Ouzel - early October can produce good numbers of this
relative of the Blackbird. Photo Paul Hillion

Other species that have a peak in their BirdTrack reporting rate in the coming week include Red-throated Diver, Pied Wagtail, Brent and Barnacle Goose, Grey Plover, Jack and Common Snipe and Kestrel. The northern European populations of Kestrel are migratory with birds from Scandinavia migrating as far south as West Africa. Some of these birds will pass through Britain as they head south with most observers assuming they are local birds when in fact they may have flown several hundred miles south already.

Jack Snipes arrive to the UK from Russia, Northern Finland
and Northern Sweden. Photo Allan Drewitt

Weather for the week ahead

We are now into one of the most exciting periods of the autumn and, if the weather forecast is correct, we might get some much anticipated easterly airflow over the weekend. Winds coming out of southern Scandinavia and across the North Sea on Friday into Saturday should help any migrants waiting to make the journey. We ought to see the first big arrival of Redwings of the autumn so far on the east coast, with Blackbirds, Ring Ouzels and Song Thrushes also likely to be part of this arrival. We could well be in for a second wave of Yellow-browed Warblers with several birds still being reported in Southern Finland and Sweden that will be heading south over the next couple of weeks. You can track their movements via the EuroBirdPortal.
These easterly winds are really only coming from southern Scandinavia but if anything has made it that far it could get drifted across the North Sea with species such as Rough-legged Buzzard, Pallid HarrierRustic Bunting, Citrine Wagtail, and Red-flanked Bluetail all possible and maybe something altogether rarer like Black-throated Thrush?
Later in the period strong westerlies are forecast for southern Britain and Ireland, at times coming right across the Atlantic, this could provide the chance of one or two more North American land birds – Common Nighthawk anyone?

Paul Stancliffe and Scott Mayson

Thursday 26 September 2019

26th September - 2nd October

The warm sunny weather at the end of last week combined with a southerly airflow provided the conditions several species needed to head south, species like House Martin and Swallow were noted in mixed flocks at a few locations. Numbers of both these species will fall away very quickly now with very few individuals noted after mid-October.  In the last blog, we predicted that the southerly winds could bring Hoopoe, Alpine Swift, Red-rumped Swallow, Red-backed and Woodchat Shrikes to our shores, 4 out of 5 can’t be a bad return with Woodchat Shrike being the only species not to be found.  Rarity wise a Short-toed Treecreeper in Kent and a Blue Rock Thrush on the Isles of Scilly were the stand out birds.

Species Focus

Yellow-browed Warbler has become synonymous with autumn for many birdwatchers, much like the Swallow heralds the beginning of summer, autumn starts when the first of the Yellow-browed Warblers arrive. This small brightly marked warbler was once a rare bird in Britain and Ireland, with very few records before the 1960’s but since then there has been a huge increase in sightings with some locations hosting multiple individuals and places like Fair Isle have had days when over 80 birds have been noted. The distinctive high-pitched rising tse-weee call is often the first indication a bird is present and when seen, this bird, with its distinctive yellow stripe above the eye and double wing bar, is truly a gem of a bird.

Yellow-browed Warbler - Photo Trevor Codlin

Species that have their peak in reporting rates at this time of year include Snipe, Skylark and Reed Bunting all of which spread out across the country in readiness for the forthcoming winter months. A couple of closely related species replace each other at this time of year, as the last of the Whinchats depart so the numbers of Stonechats increases. A similar pattern can be seen with Willow Warblers as they are replaced by Chiffchaffs that migrate just that bit later than them.

BirdTrack reporting rate graph showing how as the reporting rate of Whinchat falls
the reporting rate for Stonechat increases.

BirdTrack reporting rate graph showing how as the reporting rate of
Willow Warbler falls the
 reporting rate for Chiffchaff increases.

Weather for the week ahead

The Northern Isles may well be the place to be during the early part of this period as southeasterly winds dominate for a few days. Yellow-browed Warblers are already turning up but something altogether rarer is on the cards, Pallas’s Grasshopper and Lanceolated Warbler are both possibilities and maybe something even more exciting like a White’s Thrush. Further south, most of the country will be in a westerly airflow for most of the week, with stormy conditions at times as low-front follows low-front across the country. At this time of the year in these conditions, a North American landbird isn’t out of the question – Red-eyed Vireo and Blackpoll Warbler are favourite but with a Chestnut-sided Warbler on the Azores, who knows?

Will the run of Westerlies bring a Red-eyed Vireo from America? - Photo by Joe Pender

By Paul Stancliffe and Scott Mayson

Thursday 19 September 2019

19th – 25th September

As predicted, the north and north westerly airflow of the last week produced an arrival of Pink-footed Geese and Whooper Swans to the UK, along with a few Grey Phalaropes and a distinct movement/arrival of Wigeon. The same winds that brought the geese and swans here were probably also responsible for the arrival of Lapland Buntings, with birds being seen from the northern isles to Scilly. Perhaps indicating a late breeding season, Swifts continued to trickle out of the UK while Swallows and martins are beginning to move in force. With winds becoming lighter towards the end of the week Meadow Pipit migration began to ramp up too.

Meadow Pipit BirdTrack reporting rate

Whilst the influence of hurricane Dorian wasn’t felt immediately last week the arrival of several North American waders this week showed it did have an effect, several Semi-palmated, White-rumped and Buff-breasted Sandpipers were found but it was the double figures of American Golden Plover that stole the show, at least fifteen were found. There was also a small arrival of Long-billed Dowitchers, but the star billing of the Dorian effect has to go to the Common Nighthawk that was found in Argyll.

Species Focus
Lapland Bunting is a scarce passage and winter migrant to the UK, typically arriving here towards the end of September. It is one of the most abundant and widespread arctic passerines, breeding from southern Norway across Siberia to the Bering Sea and from Alaska east across Canada to west and southeast Greenland. Most winters between 200 and 500 are typical in the UK but in some winters many more are found, mostly in saltmarsh or coastal fields but not exclusively, with birds often found far inland in similar habitat.
The dry, rolling ‘tiddlip-tew’ flight call, uttered on take-off or whilst flying over, is often the first sign of a Lapland Bunting but when located on the ground it is a very distinctive bird, showing an obvious chestnut nape, dark, spotted upper breast on clean white underparts, and a black-framed pale cheek below a broad supercilium flaring behind the eye. With a good showing already this autumn, it might be one to look out for this winter.

Lapland Bunting BirdTrack reporting rate

Weather for the week ahead

During the weekend the country will mostly be sat in a southeast and southerly airflow, but as the week progress the winds in the south are going to swing to the southwest and in the north remain in the east, at times coming straight out of Scandinavia.

Yellow-browed Warbler by Andy Mason

Over the next couple of days there ought to be a mass exodus of Swallows and House Martins, taking advantage of the relatively light winds and warm temperatures as a result of a high-pressure system centred to the south and east of us. There is a low pressure system centred in the Atlantic to the south of Greenland and Iceland that may well bring a few more North American waders to Ireland’s shores, and who knows? Maybe the first Red-eyed Vireo of the autumn.  Enjoying a week of easterly airflow the northern isles ought to shine, with the first push of Yellow-browed Warblers, along with a few Common Rosefinches and maybe something much rarer like a Collared Flycatcher in the offing. With Pallid Harrier being a scarce migrant these days we could expect a few of these to be found during the next week. The warm southerly winds might also bring the odd Hoopoe, Alpine Swift, Red-rumped Swallow and Red-backed and Woodchat Shrike to southern Britain.

Mid to late September is a time for finches to start moving with Linnet being the herald of this, and we should also see a distinct increase in the numbers of Wigeon, Teal and Red-throated Divers on the move. The easterly airflow should bring the first Dark-bellied Brent Geese to many sites along the east and south coast. Mid-September to mid-October is when migration peaks and we will be keeping a very close eye on the weather forecast during the next few weeks to help us keep ahead of the game.

Paul Stancliffe & Scott Mayson

Thursday 12 September 2019

12th -18th September

The past week has certainly felt a bit more autumnal with a definite chill in the air first thing in the morning and ever-shortening days as we slowly move towards the autumn equinox. Migration for many species slowed with the usual suspects for this time of year either missing or only in low numbers. Wrynecks, for example, were very thin on the ground with only a smattering of birds across the UK, with a distinct bias to the south and east. Commoner migrants such Redstart, Whinchats, Pied Flycatchers, and Spotted Flycatchers, as well as scarce migrants like Red-backed Shrike, and Barred Warbler all, saw a dip in their reporting rates this week as the northerly winds of the weekend gave way to lighter winds of a westerly bias, in effect stalling migration.

BirdTrack reporting rate graph for Whinchat showing a drop in reporting rate most
probably linked with unfavourable migration conditions

The effects of ex-hurricane Dorian weren't really felt as it passed to the north of the UK on the 11th September with a band of rain crossing the country being the only indication it had hit us. Perhaps it will be the early part of this week that species such as Baird's, Semipalmated and Pectoral Sandpiper and American Golden Plover turn up in good numbers and maybe something rarer like Yellow Warbler or Solitary Sandpiper?

The continued westerly airflow in the coming week means it is difficult to predict the intensity of migration and the species involved but the coming week is the peak migration time for species like Gannets, Guillemots and Razorbills which will also be heading south away from their breeding cliffs to winter off north-western Africa and the Mediterranean in the case of Gannet and the North Atlantic and the North Sea for Guillemot and Razorbill. Whilst coastal sites are best for these species any strong onshore winds can result in some, especially young birds, turning up on inland water bodies with Gannets even being seen flying down motorways.
Coming from Iceland and Greenland it is hardly surprising that the first Pink-footed Geese of the winter turned up last week on the northerly and north-westerly airflow, even though they are a week or so ahead of the historical average from BirdTrack data. Small flocks were seen on Fair Isle, the east coast of Scotland and North Norfolk, and with more, if the same weather forecast next week we could see more arriving along with the first Whopper Swans of the autumn. The majority of the world's population of Pink-footed Geese (estimated at around 225,000 birds) winter in the UK, in Scotland and Norfolk.

BirdTrack reporting rate for Pink-footed Goose showing the earlier than normal arrival last week.

These aren't the only wildfowl arriving to winter in the UK, Wigeon and Pintail numbers will start to build in the coming weeks as birds arrive from Northern Europe and Russia to take advantage of the relative warmth of UK winters.
Any strong westerlies at this time of year could also produce Grey Phalarope, this species spends the winter at sea but can be blown close to shore or even inland given the right conditions and can stay for a few days, entertaining the crowds with their mesmerising feeding technique which involves spinning around on the water to pick off insects pulled to the surface.

Species focus

Wheatears for many people signify the start of spring as they are one of the first summer migrants to reach the UK, but autumn can also produce large falls of this much-loved passerine. Wheatears of the race oenanthe bred in the UK but many of the Wheatears seen at this time of year will be of the Greenland race, leucorchoa, which undertake one of the longest transoceanic migrations, from their breeding grounds in Greenland and northeast Canada to their wintering grounds just south of the Sahara. It is believed that many individuals fly non-stop from Greenland to Britain and Ireland and other parts of Europe. These Greenland birds are slightly stockier, longer-legged and longer winged than their European counterparts and tend to stay around for a few days as they fatten up before continuing their southward migration.

Wheatear -Photo by Allan Drewitt

BirdTrack reporting rate for Wheatear showing the autumn peak in mid-September.

Weather for the week ahead.

The week ahead promises to deliver a mixed bag of weather with the wind direction seemingly changing from day-to-day. High-pressure over the southern half of the UK over the weekend and the resultant light winds should help those migrant departing out shores- swallows and martins ought to feature in visible migration counts and warblers, Reed, Sedge ad Willow, along with Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat, should be a feature amongst grounded migrants. Both Meadow Pipit and Grey Wagtail also take advantage of these lighter winds and a steady stream of these is often a feature of clear autumn mornings.
With a stronger northerly wind direction forecast for the middle of next week keep an eye on the sea for Great Skuas which can often be seen harrying the southbound Gannets and larger gulls.

Grey Wagtail - Photo John Dunn

Scott Mayson and Paul Stancliffe