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, 22 December 2015

Stopping short

With the very mild weather that has been a feature of this winter also being experienced in central Europe, it appears that quite a few of our winter visitors are here in smaller numbers so far.

After an initial rush of migrants in late October and November, reports of Fieldfare and Redwing have tapered off, with reports on BirdTrack below average so far this month.

Reporting rate of Fieldfare on BirdTrack

Waxwings have arrived in small numbers so far, with several highly mobile flocks reported along the east coast. Wildfowl also appears to be a little thinner on the ground with Bewick's Swan, Bean Goose, Pintail, Pochard and Tufted Duck under-represented this winter. Most appear to be staying further north and east as water bodies remain ice free.

Of course there are other factors than just the weather to consider. Food is the most important component in deciding whether to stay or go. The weather may be mild, but if there is a failure in the food source - Beech for Brambling or winter berries for Waxwings and thrushes for example - then the birds will have to move on. Migration is always a hazardous, especially if it involves a sea crossing, so stopping the migration short where conditions are suitable seems a good option.

Currently there are still a handful of Swallows being reported and these birds are effectively short-stopping. However, these may still move further south if the availability of flying insects is reduced. It does seem unlikely that they will fly as far as southern Africa though - a few spend the winter in southernmost Portugal and Spain. It is anybody's guess where the Swifts reported from Kent, Cambridgeshire and elsewhere in the last ten days have come from and where they might be going to.

Iceland Gull (Nick Moran)

Low pressure systems crossing the Atlantic look set to dominate the weather with even more wet and windy conditions prevalent at least into the new year. Some models show a particularly strong weather system towards the end of the month with strong winds reaching from north-western Greenland and north-eastern Canada all the way to western Britain and Ireland. Similar conditions have brought good numbers of Iceland and Glaucous Gulls to our shores, as well as rarities like Ross's and Ivory Gulls.

Paul Stancliffe & Stephen McAvoy

Friday, 4 December 2015

Goldfinches still on the move

Goldfinch migration has been one of the highlights of this autumn, and it is still ongoing. Usually, it should have drawn to a close by this stage, with birds arriving at their wintering sites in southern Europe and North Africa. But they are still on the move and being counted at some migration watchpoints - 280 were counted moving past Hengistbury Head, Dorset and 520 past Portland, Dorset in the last few days.

The recent wild weather seems to caused some diver movement along the coast, with many sites noting Red-throated and Great Northern Divers passing offshore. The BirdTrack graph shows a notable spike in Great Northern records in mid-November - possibly birds arriving from elsewhere? Some birds also moved close to shore in search of sheltered waters, giving excellent views.

BirdTrack reporting rate for Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver (Nick Moran)
A few Swallows are still hanging around, braving the recent poor weather. However, there have no further sightings of House Martins since the end of November. One or two Yellow-browed Warblers are still being noted in western Cornwall and may stay on if the weather remains mild in the next few months.

After a rush of sightings in October and early November, Brambling and Great Grey Shrikes appear to have moved on with reporting rates about average on BirdTrack. Waxwing numbers appear to be building slowly, with small flocks noted in East Anglia and along the north coast in recent days. More settled conditions with winds coming from the east would probably encourage more to arrive, but the weather models are currently predicting no let-up in the storms arriving in off the Atlantic.

Paul Stancliffe and Stephen McAvoy