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, 5 February 2016

Storm driven birds

After a short cold spell in mid to late January, which brought frost and some snow to most areas, Atlantic weather patterns have reasserted themselves. A procession of storms has affected Britain and temperatures have reached double figures again. It feels much more like autumn than winter.

At this time of year many birds are settled on a winter site, with the largest movements undertaken being those from roosting site to feeding site. However, the storms have stirred a few birds up. Here in Thetford, Norfolk, there has been an obvious passage of Common Gulls during the last couple of days, presumably storm driven birds. There have also been several records of Kittiwakes in inland counties, including Surrey and Northamptonshire.

Kittiwake by Edwyn Anderton

In general, it has been a very good winter for gulls, with more than 20 species recorded, including the likes of Ross's Gull and Glaucous-winged Gull. It has also been a good winter for Caspian Gulls, with the reporting rate on BirdTrack well above average so far. The two large "white-winged" gulls, Iceland and Glaucous Gull, have also been noted on more complete lists submitted to BirdTrack in 2016. 

Reporting rate of Caspian Gull on BirdTrack
Intriguingly, two Franklin's Gulls have been found in our area in the last ten days. The species winters in the Caribbean and South America and is only rarely recorded north of Florida in winter. Have "our" two Franklin's Gull been swept across the Atlantic by one of the recent storms or have they been hiding unseen in gull flocks since the autumn and only now been discovered by birders?

The stormy conditions appear to have displaced divers in the North Sea, with some good counts of Red-throated Divers passing Spurn, East Yorks. Auks, mainly Guillemots have also been a feature, passing sites along the west coast in good numbers. Presumably, when conditions ease many of these birds will begin to make their way to their breeding colonies, but for now riding out these storms seems to be the order of the day.

Looking ahead, a further storm may affect the south coast of Britain on Monday, potentially bringing some more seabirds to inshore areas.

Paul Stancliffe and Stephen McAvoy