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, 17 December 2014

Mid-winter movement

The weather has been all over the place this week, overnight frosts, strong winds, heavy rain, snow and even overnight temperatures that would rival autumn daytime temperatures but the most dominant factor in terms of bird movement has been the westerly airflow.

The predicted Ivory Gull turned up on the 13 December on the Outer Hebrides and there seems to have been an increase in the number of Ring-billed Gulls. However, the predicted Nearctic passerines failed to show, although I still think there could be a Dark-eyed Junco lurking in a garden somewhere in the UK.

Ring-billed Gull by Peter M Wilson

So, with westerly airflow dominating the scene for the next week or so what might we expect?
True migration is largely over now, although another big blow from almost any direction and a temperature plummet on the continent could result in new arrivals, involving windblown seabirds and gulls from the north and west (white-winged gulls are favourite but Ross’s Gull is still on the cards), Little Auks form the north and east and wildfowl from the continent.

Birds are still on the move within the UK; undergoing a ‘mid-winter’ redistribution. Some of the Pink-footed Geese that have been present in North Norfolk for the last month or so have moved into the Norfolk Broads area, as evidenced by the white-morph Snow Goose that has moved with them.   There have also been Pink-footed Geese heading south past Spurn Point, possibly moving from northern England or Scotland and heading for North Norfolk. Whooper Swans have also been seen moving in small flocks, presumably doing a similar thing.

GBW reporting rate for Chaffinch

Birds are also beginning to move into gardens with BTOGarden Birdwatch reporting rate for Chaffinch heading towards its winter peak and the numbers of Blackcaps using gardens going up.
The generally mild conditions forecast for much of the UK for the next few days will definitely help the small number of Swallows and Wheatears that are still present – if these conditions continue perhaps we could see one or two of these successfully overwintering.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Storm driven arrivals

Last week’s freezing conditions in Eastern Europe and western Russia did push a few birds our way. Several sites around the UK saw an increase in Pintail and Teal, and a small arrival of Woodcock and Snipe was seen on the east coast. 32 Taiga Bean Geese also arrived at the traditional winter site in Norfolk. Despite the cold conditions here in the UK a few Swallows still hung on, the most northerly being in Troon, Ayrshire but it seems that the House Martins that were around have either succumbed to the cold or moved on. A small number of Wheatears are also still being reported.

Taiga Bean Goose by Andy Thompson

The Met Office are forecasting 80mph winds coming in from the Atlantic, arriving in the far north of the UK but affecting most of the west coast during the next couple of days. At this time of the year it is not impossible for the storm to bring the odd North American bird with it, Dark-eyed Junco, American Robin and Killdeer have all been found in December in the past.

American Robin by Luke Delve

A huge storm like this will almost certainly displace some seabirds and the northerly track of this storm could bring some Sabine’s Gulls and Leach’s Petrels with it. On the rarity front Ross’s Gull and Ivory Gull could be on the cards.

Sabine's Gull by Joe Pender

The cold weather here did result in a small movement of Golden Plover and Lapwing within the UK but Skylarks seemed to stay put and during the windy conditions this will probably be the case at least for the next week or so.

The forecast for the next few days is for relatively mild conditions, although in the wind it is likely to feel much colder. West coast seawatching should prove fruitful but it is worth keeping an eye out for unusual visitors to bird tables too.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Cold weather movement

It has been a fairly quiet week on the bird movement front but that could change with the forecast change in the weather. Large parts of the country are forecast to experience hard overnight frosts from mid-week, particularly in the north and the Midlands, and whilst this spell of freezing conditions will only last for a few days it might just be enough to make it difficult for some birds to feed.

Lapwings by John Harding

We could see Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Skylarks moving to the relatively warmer southern parts of the country, and we could see a small surge of birds into our gardens as ground feeding finches and buntings find it a little harder to find food in the surrounding countryside, birds such as Chaffinches, Bramblings and Reed Buntings.

Whilst the overnight temperature is forecast to drop to -3°C in northern England and parts of Scotland, this is relatively balmy compared to the forecast daytime temperature of -9°C that western Russian and Eastern Europe will experience over the next few days. Combined with easterly winds into the Netherlands this could prompt a movement of wildfowl, Teal, Pintail, Goldeneye, Pochard and Smew are the ones to look out for. A short spell of northerlies down the North Sea could also push Little Auks and divers further south, in particular Red-throated Divers, as a result seawatching could prove fruitful from the east coast over the next few days.

Red-throated Diver by Andy Mason

There are still several Swallows and Wheatears in the country along with a couple of House Martins, it will be interesting to see how many linger into the weekend.

Later in the week the winds will be coming from the west and northwest and could result in an arrival of white-winged gulls in the north, Glaucous and Iceland, and divers could be on the move through the Irish Sea, more likely Great Northern and Black-throated Divers.

We might also see the arrival of the Norfolk flock of Taiga Bean Geese, prompted to move by the falling temperatures on the other side of the North Sea.