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, 30 September 2016

East meets West

It has been an exciting week with new arrivals from the east and west this week. Top billing goes to the Eastern Kingbird found on Barra in the Outer Hebrides on Thursday. This large flycatcher is a widespread breeding bird in Canada and the US and has been previously found twice in Ireland following sustained westerly winds. The Kingbird joined an impressive cast of birds from North America found during the week: two Swainson's Thrushes, four Red-eyed Vireos and singles of Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Red-eyed Vireo by Luke Delve

Arriving from the opposite direction, birds of Scandinavian and Siberian origin continued to arrive despite the prevailing westerly winds. The Yellow-browed Warbler invasion slowed to a trickle, with only single figure counts from coastal watchpoints. However, a few more were noted away from the coast, including one at the BTO's Nunnery Lakes reserve.

Yellow-browed Warbler at the Nunnery Lakes by Neil Calbrade

In terms of more widespread migrants, 1,450 Swallows passed Christchurch Harbour, Dorset during the week and there were counts of several hundred birds from other migration watchpoints. While a handful of House Martins are still feeding young in nests, the majority are on the move south and over 1,000 were counted moving past Filey, East Yorkshire. Pink-footed Geese arrived in numbers this week and the count of 2,000+ passing Spurn, East Yorkshire was the highest noted on the east coast this week. Several sites reported increased numbers of Goldcrest and the species should reach a peak later next month.

Reporting rate of Goldcrest on BirdTrack

All but one of the active tagged BTO Cuckoos have crossed the Sahara and are currently spread between Niger and Chad. Cuckoo "Larry" has jumped ahead of the rest and has reached the Republic of Congo. As of this morning, Cuckoo "Jack" is still in southernmost Italy, but looks set to make the perilous crossing any day soon.

Current location of the BTO-tagged Cuckoos

The south-westerly airflow looks likely to remain in place over western Britain and Ireland into early next week and could well drop another North American rarity or two onto western headlands. A weak low pressure system moving through the Channel on Saturday could bring some north-easterly winds to eastern Britain for Sunday and Monday. This could result in another wave of Yellow-browed Warblers arriving here, as well as winter thrushes. Surprisingly few Ring Ouzels have been reported so far this autumn so that is one bird to look for this weekend on the east coast.

One to look for this weekend - Ring Ouzel by John Proudlock/BTO

Rarer passerines may also make an appearance, and such after species as White's Thrush, Red-flanked Bluetail and Red-throated Pipit all having a track record of making appearance at this time of year. All this makes for an interesting mix of birds on the move and well worth going out no matter which part of the country you are in.

Stephen McAvoy

Friday, 23 September 2016

Yellow-browed Warbler Invasion

The migration story of the week was the remarkable arrival of Yellow-browed Warblers on Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire on Wednesday, with a minimum of 139 recorded during the day. A narrow band of north-easterly wind across the North Sea appears to have funnelled the warblers onto the headland of Flamborough.

There have been plenty of reports elsewhere in Britain, though for the moment, the majority are being noted along the east coast of Britain. In the weeks ahead, the birds should begin to filter south and west, and with more records inland in recent years, there is a chance you may find one on your patch even if you are not near a prime coastal migration site.

Yellow-browed Warbler by Stephen McAvoy

The arrival of Yellow-browed Warblers in the last few days is also reflected on the reporting rate on BirdTrack:

Commoner migrants have also been on the move, with Pink-footed and Brent Geese beginning to arrive in numbers. Meadow Pipits continue to move through, with over 1,000 logged at Christchurch Harbour, Dorset on Wednesday, and 1,200+ at Sandwich Bay, Kent on Monday. Several sites also reported good 100+ counts of Blackcap and Chiffchaff during the week. The 484 Snipe recorded on North Ronaldsay, Orkney on Thursday would have also made a very interesting sight!

Snipe by Liz Cutting/BTO

Looking ahead, the weather looks set to be dominated by westerly airflow, so there is a chance a Nearctic warbler or vireo could make an appearance on a headland or island in Ireland or western Britain. The first Ring Ouzels should also start to arrive at migration points fairly soon, as should the first returning Redwing and Fieldfare.

Ring Ouzel by Paul Hillion/BTO

Paul Stancliffe and Stephen McAvoy

Friday, 16 September 2016

Arrivals and Departures

Bird migration is in full swing as we move into late September and there were some notable counts of some commoner migrants this week despite the generally poor conditions for finding birds.

Wheatear by Mark Johnson (via #Birdtrack Flickrpool)

The obvious migration highlight of the week was the (very lost) Cory's Shearwater seen flying over Regent's Park in London during the week. Small numbers of shearwaters are recorded at inland locations in late summer and early autumn, in many cases recently fledged youngsters that have become disorientated. Large shearwaters such as Cory's or Great are significantly rarer inland and are usually found in the aftermath of particularly strong storms.

Lapland Bunting by Janice Sutton (via #BirdTrack Flickrpool)

Notable scarcer migrants on the move included Lapland Bunting, with up flocks of up to 90 birds reported from western Scotland and Ireland in recent days. A handful have also been reported in southern Britain so it is well worth listening out for their distinctive calls when out and about. The first Yellow-browed Warblers of the autumn have also arrived, hopefully heralding yet another bumper year of these charming Siberian sprites.

Yellow-browed Warbler by Stephen McAvoy

Significant counts of commoner migrants included 3,500 Swallows noted passing Christchurch Harbour, Dorset on the 14th September and just under 3,000 at Skomer, Pembrokeshire on the same day. Fair Isle, Shetland logged 232 Wheatears on the same day, with 150 Wheatears counted on Portland, Dorset the next day.

The Migration Festival at Spurn, East Yorkshire ended with a fantastic movement of over 4000 Meadow Pipits passing through on the Sunday, though the highlight of the weekend was undoubtedly the Kentish Plover found the previous day. A worthwhile event for anyone with an interest in bird migration so keep a space in your diary for MigFest 2017!

Stephen McAvoy