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.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Yellow-broweds keep on coming!

So far, this autumn has seen the largest arrival of Yellow-browed Warblers for many years, possibly ever! The record day count at any one site in Britain was broken on 21 September, when 53 Yellow-browed Warblers were present on Fair Isle, Shetland. Being on Fair Isle at the time, I was immersed in the experience. It began just after lunchtime when four Yellow-browed Warblers were seen chasing each other on the island’s most southerly beach; as we were watching they were joined by a fifth. A look in the garden behind us produced another three, which were joined by a fourth that seemed to fall out of the sky.

Yellow-browed Warbler by Trevor Codlin

Walking back up the island towards the Bird Observatory during the afternoon, Yellow-browed Warblers seemed to be everywhere, three together on the road; several in the roadside Angelica’s, birds on the walls and fences, and every garden seemed to have one or two – Yellow-browed Warblers were everywhere! The record day count only stood for a short while; a week later 76 Yellow-browed Warblers were counted on the same island.

The last week has seen Redwing and Fieldfare numbers increase, however, the numbers are still small and we might have to wait for easterly winds before we see a large arrival of these birds – it is worth listening out on still nights for the characteristic, high-pitched ‘tseep’ call of these nocturnally migrating thrushes, nocturnal recordings at Portland, Dorset have shown that even though they aren’t being seen during the day, they are passing through at night. At this time of the year any thrush movement will include a few Ring Ouzels and that has definitely been the case in the last few days – October can be a good month to catch up with Ring Ouzel.

Fieldfare by John Harding

Finches have also been on the move. During the last couple of weeks Siskins have been pouring out of their northern English and Scottish breeding forests and heading south in force. Most of this migration has been witnessed inland and on the south coast as they make their way out of the country – it won’t be too long before the first Bramblings of the season begin to appear. Goldfinches are on the move bang on cue, as evidenced by the BirdTrack reporting rate. Even though it seems that many of us have Goldfinches in our gardens all winter, a large percentage still leave the country to spend the winter months in southern Europe and North Africa.

BirdTrack Goldfinch reporting rate

Pink-footed Geese have also been a feature of the last week – flocks have been seen quite frequently as they cross Britain heading for the east coast, with the wind in the west we should see more of this in the next week, along with a few Whooper Swans heading south.

Blackpoll Warbler by Martin Goodey

Now that we are in October and the wind is in the west, any fast tracking Atlantic storm, or deep depression crossing the pond – ex hurricane Joaquin gets here on Friday -  could well bring Nearctic landbird migrants with them. There have already been a couple of Grey-cheeked Thrushes, a Blackpoll Warbler and a Red-eyed Vireo. Every October I think how Black-billed Cuckoo is long overdue – the last was seen twenty-five years ago, on the 10 October 1990, on the Isles of Scilly, perhaps this weekend could change that.

Paul Stancliffe

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Migration in full swing

It feels strange writing a migration blog for Britain when I am much
closer to Oslo than London. With Fair Isle so far north, it is to be
expected that winter visitors might turn up earlier than further south
and there is definitely a taste of winter. Since arriving, the Snow
Bunting flock has grown, and the first Fieldfare of the autumn has
been joined by small flocks of Redwings.
Snow Buntings by Trevor Codlin

Summer hasn't given up quite yet though; there are still small numbers
of Whinchats, Wheatears, Blackcaps and Willow Warblers, all birds that
are making their way to Africa. These summer visitors were joined
today by a Swallow and a House Martin.
Whinchat by Trevor Codlin

Further south, migration is in full swing. Swallows are moving out of
the country in force, and the first Brent Geese are turning up, it
really is a great time to see summer meeting winter. It is also a
great time to see rare and scarce visitors, particularly here on Fair
Isle. Yesterday saw a record count of Yellow-browed Warblers turn up.
A remarkable 53 were found around the island, remarkable not only
because no other single site has received this many on a single day
before, but because the normal wintering area for this species is Southeast Asia.
Yellow-browed Warbler by Trevor Codlin

Back on the mainland, birdwatchers are reporting large numbers of Siskins on their BirdTrack lists and a ringer in Thetford reported over 400 Siskins ringed in his garden on Friday. The BirdTrack graph below shows the remarkable peak in Siskin reporting rate compared to previous years.
Reporting rate for Siskin from

The forecast high-pressure system should see migration continue apace,
with more summer visitors leaving and winter visitors arriving.
Chiffchaff should begin to outnumber Willow Warblers at coastal
watch-points and we could all see Redwings. Strong westerly winds have already brought north American landbirds to the UK in the form of a Blackpoll Warbler and a Grey-cheeked Thrush, both at St Agnes on the Isles of Scilly. With strong westerlies forecast for the next week we could see more getting blown across the Atlantic.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Winter visitors and rarities

The emphasis has been very much on drift migrants; birds that are moving south in continental Europe and that get caught up in a weather system that drifts them across the North Sea. These conditions often involve birds such as Red-backed Shrikes, Bluethroats, and Barred Warblers but at this time of the year these are the scarce migrants and they are often accompanied by Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Redstarts, Willow Warblers, Whinchats, Lesser Whitethroats and Meadow Pipits. 

Red-backed Shrike by Luke Delve

Now is also the time to keep an eye out for winter visitors, Redwing, Fieldfare and Snow Bunting are all on the cards and, at least here in the east, Siskins are on the move in large numbers, seeking out bird feeders in gardens as they go.

Siskin by Luke Delve

However, the weather for the next week or so looks like it could be dominated by storms that have crossed the Atlantic and we may well see a few birds being brought with it. At this time of the year American Wood Warblers are on the move and it is possible that one or two might get caught up in the weather fronts, Yellow-rumped Warbler is a possibility but who knows, maybe something much rarer could occur; another American Redstart and Blackburnian Warbler is long overdue. Buff-breasted Sandpiper is also an early North American migrant and is probably favourite to turn up.

Blackburnian Warbler by Luke Delve

Our satellite-tagged Cuckoos are now well on their way with the last bird in Europe finally making his way into Africa. Charlie the Cuckoo has finally left Greece and is currently in Libya, embarking on his desert crossing. Coo is also the first to move down to the Congo Rainforest, having left Chad in the last couple of days. Follow the Cuckoos here.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Autumn is here

One Swallow doesn’t make a summer but small flocks on the move at this time of the year are a sure sign that autumn is here. On days when the weather permits some of the staff at the BTO’s headquarters in Thetford, Norfolk, meet in the grounds during morning and afternoon coffee time. This week, the overhead northerly movement of small flocks of Swallows has been a feature. Swallows heading north at this time of the year seems a little wrong, surely they should be making their way south, flying to warmer climes for the winter?

This northerly movement is often observed in other parts of the country and a possible explanation is that these birds are heading to a communal roost that is to the north of their favoured feeding areas. However, some of these birds might be heading north to the north Norfolk coast before turning and following the coast south – the majority of bird movement is observed along the coast. It seems that birds are reluctant to just head out to sea and will move along the coast before they have no choice but to cross the sea.

Swallow by John Harding

This week has seen a good number of birds drifting across the North Sea – Wrynecks were reported from at least 70 different locations, an impressive 40 Red-backed Shrikes, 25 Icterine Warblers and 20 Barred Warblers were also seen around Britain. All of these birds will have spent the summer in northern and eastern Europe and are making their way to Africa for the winter.  There has also been a flavour of the south this week. A record flock of Cattle Egrets arrived on the south coast and settled for a short time just north of Christchurch, Dorset, before heading off north up the Avon valley, and at least six Hoopoes were reported around the country.

Common migrants have also been well represented and numbers of Wheatears on the move have swelled, joining the ever growing number of flycatchers and warblers that are being seen at coastal watchpoints such as Hengistbury Head and Portland, both in Dorset.

Offshore, skuas and terns have kept migration watchers busy but with the wind now coming from the north, and forecast to do so for most of next week, we might see the arrival of some of our winter visitors during the next few days. The first flocks of Pink-footed Geese, Redwings and Fieldfares could well be on the cards, and who knows, we might get an early rarity from the far north, possibly a Brunnich’s Guillemot?

Brunnich's Guillemot by Edmund Fellowes

Friday, 28 August 2015

Migration moves into another gear

If you are interested in scarce migrants, the east coast was the place to be this week as it was set alight with Icterine Warblers, Barred Warblers, Wrynecks and Red-backed Shrikes, courtesy of a few days of easterly airflow. Wryneck led the numbers with around a hundred being reported from over sixty different sites and whilst the number of Icterine Warblers was much lower there was still around fifty birds reported. Surprise of the week has to be the mini-influx of Red-footed Falcons.

Wryneck by Jill Pakenham

Common migrants were equally as impressive, led by a huge fall of Pied Flycatchers on the east coast, accompanied by good numbers of Whinchats, Yellow Wagtails and Willow Warblers.

BirdTrack graph for Pied Flycatcher

It was also an amazing week for Wood Sandpiper, with the peak counts of 34 individuals at Seaton Marshes in Devon and 22 together at Pennington Marshes, Hampshire. Swifts have all but gone from their breeding areas but a small number are still moving through coastal watchpoints.

The weather forecast for the next week is looking mixed but with a dominant westerly airflow. However, there is a small window of easterly airflow on Saturday into Sunday so we might see a few more migrants drifting across the North Sea. Red-backed Shrike, Wryneck and Greenish Warbler are all possible but we could see good numbers of Pied and Spotted Flycatchers once again.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Migration stepping up – guest blog by Ben Moyes

In terms of migrating birds in the UK, it’s a similar story to last week, with several Shearwaters being seen on the south-west coast and Isles of Scilly, including a very rare Fea’s Petrel amongst the Great, Cory’s, Manx and occasional Balearic Shearwaters.

Fea’s Petrel by Joe Pender 

There are also still a some Skua’s being seen of coastal points, with Arctic and Great Skua’s being the most abundant, but Pomarine Skua’s are still being a seen with a couple of Long-tailed Skua’s starting to be seen.

Waders are still on the move across the country, with more Wood Sandpipers, Ruff, Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint being seen, with the odd rarity mixed in, as White-rumped, Spotted and Baird’s Sandpiper have been seen this last week across the UK.

Little Stint by Tommy Holden

As autumn has really climbed a lot closer (if it isn’t here already), passerines are coming through, with 138 sightings of Redstart, 177 of Pied Flycatcher, 21 of Wood Warbler and 258 of Whinchat. A few scarcities have been seen too, with a small number Icterine and Barred Warblers, Red-backed Shrikes, Wrynecks, and even a Bluethroat has been sighted.

Redstart by John Harding

Our Hirundines are starting to pack their bags, but some have already headed off, with several Swifts being seen flying high south past coastal bird observatories, with over 4000 past Landguard, Suffolk in one morning. As for Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins, they are feeding up ready for the big journey south to Africa.

Another migrant bird in the UK is the Osprey. They have already bred in Scotland, Wales and some parts of England, but are now on their way south to their wintering grounds in Africa. In the past week or so, there have been 64 sightings of Osprey across the UK, so there are definitely signs of migration happening right now.

Osprey by Hugh Insley

As for the week ahead, the winds are staying a constant South, South-Westerly, so you can expect more sightings of Shearwaters along the south west coast, but in terms of migrants, maybe we will see some more Pied Fly’s, Redstarts and Whinchats, but the weather isn't looking promising for any rarities along the east coast, but you never know! On the scarce and rarer front, maybe a few more Wilsons Petrels that have been sighted on the Isles of Scilly Pelagics and south-west Ireland, or maybe even a rare Shearwater, like a Macaronesian Shearwater or another Fea’s Type Petrel.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Shear delight

With the right weather conditions - low pressure weather systems crossing the Atlantic - August is the best month to get to grips with a few shearwaters, and the south-west and southern Ireland is the place to be. During the week there have been small numbers of Cory’s, Great and Sooty Shearwaters off Cornish headlands and Isles of Scilly pelagics, along with Manx Shearwaters and small numbers of Balearics.

Cory's Shearwater by Joe Pender

Now tern numbers have started to build skuas have started to move too, Pomarine, Arctic and Great Skuas have all been seen on the move in that last few days.
Waders are still on the move and the adult birds that have been around for a few weeks are being joined by juveniles. There has been an increase in the number of Wood Sandpipers on the move and Curlew Sandpipers are turning up too.

Pied Flycatcher by John Harding

On the passerine front, Pied Flycatchers and Redstarts are being seen at coastal watchpoints and Sedge Warbler numbers are growing in southern reedbeds.
Highlight of the week on the rarity front has to be the three or four Black Storks that have been found, two of them, one in Aberdeenshire and the other in east Yorkshire, are youngsters from the same nest in northern France.

Wryneck by Jill Pakenham

The weather forecast for the next week is a bit of a mixed bag. During Saturday into Sunday we should see some southerly airflow, courtesy of high-pressure extending well into France, this may well bring the odd southern European migrant with it. Maybe one or two more Black Storks, or Hoopoe and Alpine Swift. As the week progresses the winds will turn south westerly and westerly, possibly good news for west coast seawatchers, and by the middle of the week the wind will be coming from the north east, perhaps it is a little early for Barred Warbler and Wryneck but you never know.