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.



Monday, 24 November 2014

Still summer-ish

The weather has been very much a mixed bag but on the whole relatively warm. So, it is probably unsurprising that there are several summer migrants still around. Swallows are still a long way north, with a handful of reports coming from Scotland, House Martin was also seen north of the border over the weekend. There are still a few Wheatears around and a Redstart thought to show characteristics of Ehrenberg’s Redstart (samamisicus, eastern race of common Redstart) is still present in Yorkshire, and a Common Redstart was seen much further north on Orkney. A Whitethroat is still being seen in London and there are still a couple of Lesser Whitethroats around. With the temperature dropping it will be interesting to see if any of these birds attempt to stay around for much longer.

Wheatear by Simon Gillings

With the temperature remaining relatively warm and very little sign of any frost, there hasn’t been any cold weather movements; it will have to get much colder before there is. However, Bewick’s Swans were reported flying over several parts of eastern Britain during the last few days which might hint at a small arrival of this species.

Bewick's Swans by Andy Mason


The forecast is for it to remain mild for the rest of the week and into the weekend. However, we are in for some easterly airflow, if this combines with falling temperatures on the continent we might see a few more birds on the move. Thrushes are always favourite this late in the season but we might see some finches arrive, Brambling in particular.

Monday, 17 November 2014

All quiet on the migration front - but maybe not for long.

Unsurprisingly it has been fairly quiet on the migration front this week and, with the exception of a reasonable showing of Pomarine Skuas moving through, there has been nothing much to report. However, as we are now into the winter period any serious drop in the temperature on the continent could result in a series of cold weather movements.

We could see a further arrival of Rough-legged Buzzards and Short-eared Owls and, who knows, maybe a Snowy Owl or two.

The BirdTrack reporting rate shows what an exceptional year it already is  for Rough-legged Buzzard. If it is cold enough, and waterbodies in Eastern Europe freeze over, we ought to see wildfowl on the move, Tufted Duck, Pochard and Goldeneye numbers could swell, and we might even see a good showing of Smew. Bewick’s Swans have been thin on the ground the last few winters but this could change with freezing conditions on the continent.

BirdTrack Rough-legged Buzzard reporting rate

In these conditions Woodcock and Snipe can also be forced across the North Sea. In some years more than a million Snipe make their way here. For more on this read the Demog Blog.
A small number of Waxwings were found in the north and east during the week and a small number of Little Auks were on the move, hinting at what might be if we do get a sudden cold snap further north.

Little Auk by Andy Mason

The forecast for at least the next few days is for it to remain mild, with a largely easterly airflow, which is good news for the handful of Swallows, Wheatears and warblers that are still in the country, we should also see further arrivals of Starlings and winter thrushes (Redwings, Fieldfares and Blackbirds) on the east coast. There is a hint of things cooling down for the latter part of the week, and if we do get any ground frosts we might see Lapwings and Golden Plovers on the move.

I received an email this morning from a friend who is working on a survey vessel 100 miles out in the North Sea, showing just how difficult the North Sea crossing can be even for the toughest of birds.

Hi Paul - a couple of hours ago 3 Bean Geese flew past my ship - we are more or less stationary- just riding out a nasty easterly F8/F9 gale. I lost the birds from view but 20 minutes later after battling the 33 knot easterly they returned. After circling the ship 3 times they managed a very rough and dangerous landing on the deck- after clattering and skidding into some stowed kit they shook themselves off, inspected their feet, did a brief preen then started roosting! I'm amazed they managed such a difficult landing in such a small deck space in 6-8 metre seas as well as the gale force winds!


Tundra Bean Geese by Andy Williams


I have some concerns about takeoff with lots of obstacles in the way but hopefully the weather will settle down tomorrow- I imagine they will stay put overnight as no one is allowed on deck on these seas.


These geese were extremely lucky and fingers crossed, they make it off the deck and on their way as soon as conditions improve - there must be lots of birds that get caught out over the sea that are far less lucky.  Check out Pelagic Birder's blog for more.

Paul Stancliffe

Friday, 7 November 2014

Woodpigeons are go!

The crisp, clear conditions and light easterly airflow earlier this week was perfect for a Woodpigeon spectacular, and the Woodpigeon fans among us weren’t disappointed. Woodpigeon migration pretty much signals the end of the autumn migration season, often beginning during the first week in November and petering out during the third week of the month.

Woodpigeon by Jill Pakenham - a truly dynamic bird

It can however, be spectacular , and to have been on the other side of the North Sea earlier in the week must have been the things that dreams are made of (for the vis-migger that is). Earlier in the week an amazing 3,000,000 (yes there are six noughts) Woodpigeons were counted migrating through the Netherlands and Belgium, and on Wednesday morning (5 November), 202,000 were counted in three hours, moving south-west over Portskewett, Gwent.

Other migrants weren’t left out. Starlings, thrushes, crests and Robins featured at some coastal watchpoints, and the predicted Desert Wheatear duly turned up, in fact three were found, a male each in Suffolk and Kent, and a female in Norfolk.

Kittiwakes passing Portland Bill by Martin Cade


The weather over the next few days is forecast to be unsettled and a little stormy, so there will probably be little movement, although the sea is worth a look for divers, seaducks, Kittiwakes and a few late skuas and a few early Little Auks.. However, if we get a return to clear, cool conditions, Woodpigeons will certainly begin to move again, and we could get a small influx of Great-grey Shrikes.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Plenty of birds still to come

The last few days have seen a large movement of thrushes (mostly Fieldfares) and Starlings across the North Sea, prompted by high pressure and resultant light winds from the east coast of Britain to the Continent.

Fieldfare and Redwing by Anne Cotton

Falsterbo Bird Observatory in southern Sweden have also experienced a large movement of birds but of different species. Goldcrests. Long-tailed Tits and Robins have dominated there.

The weather forecast for the next week is for predominantly westerly airflow, strong at times as weather fronts cross the UK. However, in between these fronts the winds will become lighter and although not enough to allow Goldcrests to cross the North Sea, we should see further arrivals of thrushes and Starlings. There does seem to be a small window of light easterlies forecast for the middle part of next week and we could see a mass arrival of Goldcrests and Robins then, not to mention Short-eared Owls

Short-eared Owl by Amy Lewis

There is also a chance that we could see some frosts, and if the conditions are clear, with light easterly wind we could see what for me is the greatest autumn migration spectacle: large numbers of Wood Pigeons making their way south and west. This species is responsible for my own largest visible migration count, an almost continuous stream of around 50,000 birds migrating west over Hengistbury Head, Dorset.

If we do get the promised easterlies, we might see a Desert Wheatear on the east coast too.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Winter is here

Well, at least winter thrushes are. It finally happened during the early part of this week; Redwings seemed to be everywhere as they arrived in force, with flocks moving inland very quickly. Ring Ouzels also moved bang on cue, but in impressive numbers – over 500 were recorded at Dungeness, Kent on 14 October, and 150 were counted heading out to sea at Foreness, also in Kent. The BirdTrack graph shows just how bang on cue they were.

BirdTrack graph showing reporting rate for Ring Ouzel

Other birds on the move included Goldcrests and Robins but in much smaller numbers. Bramblings have also started to put in an appearance. We might have to wait a little longer for a large arrival of these, the weather for most of next week will put us firmly in a westerly airflow.

Goldcrest by Jill Pakenham

Things were much quieter on the rarity front, however, Britain’s seventh Audouin’s Gull was found at Dungeness, probably pushed north by the strong southerly airflow of last weekend.
The first big movement of Woodpigeons was recorded earlier in the week too; on the other side of the North Sea. Over 40,000 were counted migrating through Falsterbo, Sweden on the 14 October. Again, we will have to wait for clear conditions and some east in the wind before we see anything like that sort of movement here. The largest counts of Woodpigeons on the move here are often made during the first two weeks of November.

So, what might we expect nest week? The west and south-west ought to be the place to be, and we could well receive one or two American vagrants off the back of Hurricane Gonzalo, which is due to leave the North American seaboard on Sunday morning, arriving here, although having lost a lot of its energy, around lunchtime on Monday. As I am going to be on the Isles of Scilly next week I am hoping for anything from across the Atlantic, although I would love to see a Black-and-white Warbler. During quieter spells visible migration should pick-up again and we ought to see more Fieldfares in the mix of thrushes.

by Paul Stancliffe

Thursday, 9 October 2014

You know it's October when birds begin turning up from all points of the compass. The first real westerly storms of the autumn brought more North American birds with them, with the cream of the crop being a Scarlet Tanager on the Outer Hebrides. This is the eleventh to be found in Britain and Ireland. The second Swainson’s Thrush of the autumn was found on Loop Head, Clare, there was a Solitary Sandpiper in Wexford and a couple more Red-eyed Vireos made it across the Atlantic, one to Northumberland and one to Mayo.

As predicted, birds also arrived from the east. A Steppe Grey Shrike arrived in North Norfolk over the weekend, a Blyth’s Pipit was identified on the Isles of Scilly and the first 2 Radde’s Warblers of the autumn were found on Shetland, while a Little Crake graced Minsmere, Suffolk. At least four Rough-legged Buzzards were reported and the northern islands saw the largest arrival of Redwings, although we are still waiting for the main arrival of winter thrushes.

Song Thrushes, Robins, Starlings and Goldcrests have begun to move through coastal watchpoints on the Continent but the low pressure system that has been wheeling around off our west coast has largely blocked a crossing of the North Sea. However, the stormy conditions will abate over the weekend and there will be light south-westerly/westerly airflow across the North Sea, light enough to perhaps encourage a few birds to attempt a crossing.

Brambling by John Harding


So, we should see the first big movement of Starlings and thrushes. Bramblings should also feature in visible migration counts, and we could see the last flocks of Swallows and House Martins heading off. The latter species is of particular interest to the BTO; we have lost over half of our breeding House Martins during the last twenty-five years and whilst we know that they are faring better in Scotland and Northern Ireland than they are in England, we don’t really know why. Is it a loss of complete colonies or a general reduction in colony size and why are losses greater in certain parts of England compared to others. To help find this out we will be launching a special survey in 2015 & 2016 to gather further information. Find out more here.

House Martin by John W Walton

The early part of next week will see the next low pressure system cross the Atlantic, so birds from the west are on the cards once again, but just like this week as the front/fronts pass through we should see the arrival of birds from the east too. It is anyone’s guess what might turn up but Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Radde’s Warbler would fit the bill.

Friday, 3 October 2014

West meets east.

The westerly airflow produced the good in the shape of several North American landbirds this week. At least three Red-eyed Vireos were seen, a Swainson’s Thrush and Yellow-rumped Warbler graced Shetland and an Ovenbird put in a brief appearance in County Cork. It seems ironic that a week of mostly westerly airflow should also turn up some top-drawer eastern rarities too. An obliging White’s Thrush was found in a garden on Mainland Shetland, a stunning male Eyebrowed Thrush graced the North Ronaldsay Observatory Garden in Orkney, with a Pechora Pipit being seen over the Obs garden on the same day.

Ovenbird by Bryan Thomas


Whilst westerly airflow spanned pretty much right across the North Atlantic for the latter part of the week, a low pressure system was creating north westerly airflow out of central Russia, which made landfall in Scandinavia, which could the almost simultaneous arrival of the White’s Thrush and Yellow-rumped Warbler around four miles apart on Shetland.

Skylark movement got underway this week, 119 were counted over Spurn, East Yorkshire on 2nd October, with Bardsey, Gwynedd, counting 205 over on the same day. Chaffinches are also starting to feature in visible migration counts too, although it could be a couple of more weeks or so before they really get moving.

The 2nd of October also saw a record 45,800 Pink-footed Geese arrive at Martin Mere, Lancashire, much smaller numbers have been seen moving south on the east coast of Britain, however, the east coast has seen a reasonable movement of Red-throated Divers and Common Scoters.
Swallow counts still exceeded the 100 mark on several days at several sites on the east and south coast during the week but House Martin numbers have been low.

Ring Ouzel by Luke Delve

The forecast of wet and windy weather from the west over the next few days should pretty much knock the head on visible migration. However, it might ground a few migrants that move between fronts. Ring Ouzel is definitely one to look out for. The quieter moments will see migration resume again and could result in some impressive hirundine and finch movements towards the middle of the week, Goldfinch in particular.

The westerly airflow will hit much further south this week than it did last week; possibly just in time for the start of the Scilly season. Maybe the islands will get its first North American landbird of the autumn, and later in the week something from the east. Blackpoll Warbler and Blyth’s Pipit would do.