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, 28 March 2014

The floodgates could open this weekend

With a warm south-easterly airflow forecast for the next few days, the scene is set for a rush of long-distance migrants to arrive. Chiffchaffs have trickled in steadily during the last week but this weekend should see the floodgates open.  Along with Chiffchaffs we should see a rush of Blackcaps, Sand Martins, Swallows and Ring Ouzels.

Blackcap by Adrian Dancy

The BTO satellite tagged Cuckoos are still in West Africa but will be getting ready to cross the Sahara any day now. Chris the Cuckoo was the first to do this on 4 April last year. So, of the eleven birds that we are following any one of them could move any day now. Check them out here. Knowing this, it came as a surprise when the vis mig watchers at Hengistbury Head, Dorset, saw a Cuckoo coming in off the sea on 27 March. Maybe there will be more during the next week taking advantage of the forecast weather.

Cuckoo by Steve Ashton

Although a good variety of species of summer migrants have already been recorded this spring, we should see this increase rapidly during the next week and there could well be some interesting birds too. It is still a little early but I wouldn’t be too surprised if the odd Bluethroat was found and, even though it is not traditionally a spring bird, Rustic Bunting is not unprecedented at this time of the year, bearing in mind the forecast conditions.

Bluethroat by Amy Lewis

Any lingering winter visitors should also clear out during the next week, so we could see odd flocks of Redwing, Fieldfare and ducks, geese and swans on the move too. It could be well worth checking out those inland lakes, gravel pits and reservoirs for a scoter or two.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Spring has arrived!

The high pressure system over the UK during the last few days brought the forecast spring-like conditions, and the expected rush of long-distance summer migrants. Wheatears made it as far north as Mull, Argyll, and the first House Martins joined Sand Martins and Swallows but it was a reeling Grasshopper Warbler and a couple of Yellow Wagtails that were most surprising amongst the common migrants. The average arrival date for the former is 13 April and 7 April for the latter, according to BirdFacts.
Yellow Wagtail by Jill Pakenham
Chiffchaff numbers began to build, bang on cue, and Meadow Pipits were on the move too, 330 were counted during a visible migration watch on Hengistbury Head, Dorset on 12 March, with four figure totals for Portland, also in Dorset on the same day. Smaller numbers of ‘alba’ wagtails also featured at both sites. The first Ring Ouzels were seen, along with a few Little Ringed Plovers and, as predicted, overshooting Hoopoes arrived, at least six were found, all in the south-west, with the exception of one in Kent also arrived in perfect overshoot conditions, which also brought a Great Spotted Cuckoo and a Wryneck to Pembrokeshire.

Great Spotted Cuckoo by Cliff Woodhead
Redwings have featured as a species on the move at several migration watchpoints, along with small flocks of Pink-footed Geese and Whooper Swans – twenty-five of the latter were seen sitting on the sea off Flamborough Head on the 12th, with another twelve past there on the 13th .
Whooper Swans by Jill Pakenham
High pressure is still set to dominate over the next few days with light north-westerly airflow setting in. This may well slow things down a little but won’t stop migration altogether, so, things are set to continue in a similar vein. Saturday into Sunday looks best for any overshooting migrants with Hoopoe still being favourite, and we could see the first large movement of Meadow Pipits and White Wagtails, and perhaps a few more Ring Ouzels.  

Friday, 7 March 2014

Get ready for an arrival of Chiffchaff

The last week has been fairly quiet migration wise, largely as a result of a fairly stiff westerly airflow, and the fact that it is still quite early in the season. However, a few summer visitors did manage to find their way here. At least four Ospreys were seen during the week, all in southern counties, and at least two more Garganey joined the couple that were here from the week before, along with a handful of Sand Martins.

Osprey by Luke Delve

With high pressure forecast to and warm southerly air forecast for Saturday we could see the first noticeable push of migrants into the UK and Chiffchaff has to be the favourite species to lead the way. At present we are in week ten of the year and the BirdTrack historical reporting rate shows that Chiffchaff begins to rise rapidly from week 11 (see below), so the timing couldn’t be better. 

ChiffChaff reported to week 10 (blue), historical (red)

The warm sunny and relatively still conditions are forecast to run well into next week too and, with high pressure stretching all the way from North Africa to northern Britain, we could see the odd Mediterranean overshoot. It is a little early but Hoopoe and Alpine Swift could be on the cards.

Migrants leaving the UK will also be able to take advantage of the light winds and good conditions and we should see an exodus of many of our winter visitors over the next few days. A migration watchpoint will definitely be the place to be over the next few days.

March is also the month when gulls are on the move and this was in evidence at Christchurch Harbour yesterday (6 March) when two Iceland Gulls, a Glaucous Gull, thirty-four Mediterranean Gulls, two Little Gulls and 98 Common Gulls were counted moving west past the site.

Mediterranean Gull by Andy Mason

Pelagic Birder who is currently off the coast of Ghana is reporting a large movement of skuas, mainly Pomarine but also involving Arctic and Long-tailed and a good numbers of Black Tern.