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Spring bird migration highlights - 24 May: only house martins to go

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Jeremy Torrance web producer Jeremy Torrance web producer | 11:42 UK time, Tuesday, 24 May 2011

It has been a much quieter week this week, reports the BTO's Paul Stancliffe. Migration has been suppressed by the wind being in the west all week and times being pretty strong. But most of our migrants are now here, with the exception of house martin.

House martin copyright John Harding/BTO

House martin © John Harding/BTO

"After the early rush of birds in April the main thrust of house martins arriving has been slow and many colonies still only have low numbers present," he says. "However, the species can often have a protracted migration with some birds not turning up at colonies until mid to late June and even into early July. So there is still time."

The BTO has also reported this week that house martins are finding nest building difficult in some parts of the country. The dry conditions, especially in the east and south-east, means they can't get the mud they need to build them. You can help by providing a mud-filled puddle in your garden and also by taking part on the BTO's house martin survey. Sadly the number of participants has more than halved since 2009 so you really could make a difference.

Back to migration news: "It really has been a spring for southern overshoots," says Paul, "and even though the wind has been from the west these Mediterranean migrants have still been seen, with bee-eaters in Kent and Dorset, short-toed larks at several sites, At least five hoopoes [a few of our intrepid Flickr photographers have managed to get pictures of these beauties] and red-rumped swallows reported from 15 sites across the country."

Lucky LeeDingain, on last week's migration news post, reports spotting one of these swallows at Dungeness this year.

"Interestingly, this is the first week of the spring that there have been no records of waxwings," says Paul. "The influx is well and truly over." We certainly enjoyed the influx and so did you judging by the amount of sightings on our waxwing blog post.

Quail copyright Abbie Marland/BTO

Quails are returning © Abbie Marland/BTO

"We are now left with the late returning migrants appearing," says Paul. "Quails have been reported from lots of sites around the country with a bias to the southern half, and more spotted flycatchers have arrived." Again on last week's post, 09angie123 comments on the fact that they've had a pair of spotted flycatchers nesting in their garden for three years in a row. How nice!

Whitethroat copyright Dawn Balmer/BTO

Whitethroats are everywhere © Dawn Balmer/BTO

So what should we look out for this week? Paul says now's the time to get out and about locally and enjoy our summer visitors that have set up their breeding territories and are getting on with the serious business of rearing young. Whitethroats, garden warblers and blackcaps seem to be everywhere, he says.

And what of next week? "The winds are forecast to drop and turn more south-easterly in the middle of the week. At this time of the year these winds can often bring very rare birds to the UK. I would very much like a white-throated needletail, an incredible swift from the far-east."

As always, we'd love to hear which migrants you've been seeing. Any rare ones? Any regular visitors? Any more or less than usual where you are? What about those house martins?


  • Comment number 1.

    So, it is not just we Wapping-ites who are missing our regular visitors ... we keep checking, but there are still no signs of our familiar house martins! They have been visiting in noisy numbers for many years now, always building nests under the Thames-side balconies here on the edge of the City of London, using the regularly wetted mud from the river below, and entertaining us with their squealing agility. However ... we Do have sand martins this spring!! This is a first (we believe) in the twenty or so years that we have been living here and we have been delighted for many weeks now by their amazingly agile, implausibly fast, and sociably squeaking aerobatics. They are apparently nesting in holes in the banks of a nearby erstwhile dock basin, flying along a miniature canal and feeding frenzedly over the water of a far smaller ex-dock basin just by our home. When they arrived I couldn't believe that we could have these birds in this essentially (densely!) urban, man-made location - but I similarly couldn't understand why the (house) martins were behaving so differently to usual (and that they seemed to have arrived much earlier than in previous years), and I thus felt certain that they were indeed sand rather than the familiar house martins (we have now managed to confirm this). What a new treat for this wonderful watery wildlife haven!

    Although we have, sadly, not seen the once regular kingfishers here for the last few years, jays, uncharacteristically, returned only a week or so ago (we usually see (and hear!) them only in autumn, gorging on nearby sessile oak trees, and have often wondered where they spent the rest of the year ... but this is the first time we have seen these birds in spring!) - and only this morning I saw a young crow chasing a bird of prey through the sky over our home (I couldn't see which kind it was, but we have quite often seen (and, again, heard!) kestrels (a pair of which nested successfully right above our home here many years ago!), sparrowhawks and peregrine falcons around us - and the gulls, crows and others also regularly mob visiting grey herons ... and each other!). Most years we also see/have seen several types of finch (green, gold, bull and chaf-finches I think), sparrows, starlings, cormorants, grebes, tufted ducks, thrushes, robins, moorhen and coots (the latter having recently successfully hatched two cute cootlings on the "pond"!), swans and geese, mallard, little egrets, ravens, grey and pied wagtails (pairs of both%2

  • Comment number 2.

    Cont'd ..!!! - (pairs of both are similarly currently raising young very nearby), terns, etc etc etc ... many of these types being resident year-round in quite large numbers, with others also regularly breeding here!!

    In fact (in this country, any how), we have never witnessed birds so easily, accessibly and intimately as we have since living here in the old City docks area, especially as so many varieties pass right by our own balcony (as well as actually landing and feeding on it ..! - over the years we have been blessed with around fifteen different avian types visiting this tiny outside space, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous (gulls, ducks and jays appear impossibly large when landing suddenly right outside the window; a wren, tits, blackbirds, crows and wood pigeons visit even when we two are also both standing in the tiny space - and the ever inquisitive (and greedy!) magpies and wood pigeons have even ventured right in, past the French doors, pecking at whatever they find inside ... and also the gold tops of beer bottles being kept cold outside in winter!!)). This spring, several blackbird pairs have already again enchanted us by feeding their freshly-fledged youngsters right in front of us on the balcony (and the space seems unnaturally quiet and empty now that the latest birds have left...)! Birds are such dedicated, hard-working parents!! And I also dearly love the triumphant croaks and joyful antics of the adolescent crows, as their voices start to break and they practice being proper grown-up crows!

    Whoops ... I've written so much, again - sorry! So - "Good Luck" to all for the start of this year's "Spring"!*Watch next week ... what a lot of weather we've been having this year! (indeed, my partner is currently stuck near Newcastle airport on account of the wind blowing the Icelandic dust cloud over the UK ..!!). Best regards, TB.

    PS - I also saw my first ever slow worm last week, on a visit to the New Forest - "he" was obligingly basking in the middle of a suburban pavement in New Milton, on our walk from the rail station, but eventually retreated to the safer verge-side greenery! I may even get organised enough to post an image on SW/Flickr eventually ...

    * Certainly closer to SummerWatch now here in London, particularly ..!

  • Comment number 3.

    The house martins have not yet arrived up here is the Highlands, however for the first time we have a huge amount of swallows, their daily ritual is flying around our bridge and around the trees along the burn, it is an amazing sight with so many of them. As yet they are not making any nests. Prior to Spring I had four house martin nests put up under the eaves near the old nests built previously, now I am wondering if the house martins will be back or did I put up new homes in vain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Just in case anyone's interested - especially following your slow worm and other snake feature on the prog.last night - I've since posted a couple of Flickr pics.of the above-mentioned New Forest slow worm (taken using Mr mobile 'phone!). We were delighted to see this obliging creature, especially as we don't get too many wild reptiles in this part of London (and in fact, neither of us has ever seen more than a handful of snakes in the wild during our many fortunate years of working all over the world). Thanks, as ever, for more wonderful wildlife progs. - the presenting style is also particularly entertaining (and professional!) this spring and adds greatly to our enjoyment (I know that it's impossible to plse all the people all the time tho'!). I have so many things which I'd like to ask the experts, and have so many requests for special features and more info. I'm especially hoping for anything more you can show on mini-beasts (stag beetles, moths and caterpillars, bees/hovers/wasps, spiders, worms, and all the mini beetles and earth-dwellers, including microbes, and fungi, etc, etc, etc!) - and more snakes and amphibians! Also anything you have on the brilliantly intelligent and entertaining crow family - today I have again been privileged enough to enjoy watching (and hearing!) them working-out tactics, lining up their approach (and, critically, departure!) and then snatching food from right in front of me on our balcony ledges. We also enjoy their drinking from the gutter/drainpipe just above us, seeing their bright beaks and "clever" eyes (which miss nothing!) and getting showered with water as they raise their heads!! - it's amazing to see and hear them so intimately and I only wish that I were able to record it all! (I loved the short film of the snow-sliding corvid!!) Additionally, some more segments on the "greening" of eg. tiny city spaces (like ours!) ... and of all those ever encroaching front car "gardens"! (I welcomed the highlight features on both the local and national BBC news today concerning the increasing and rapid loss of green space in the UK - particularly, of course, here in impossibly congested London! Maybe you could include a link to the referenced NHM bug survey on your show/front web page (I haven't noticed one yet, but may have missed it).) Plus, I'm sure we'd all love any techie-type tips that your film-makers and sound-recordists - plus, of course, the brilliant CP et al - might be able to provide ... Well, here's hoping! - and looking forward to tonight

  • Comment number 5.

    Well, here's hoping! - and looking forward to tonight's bumper edition of SW. Thanks again, TB/EB.
    These are the photo links ...




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