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Autumn bird migration news: Many summer visitors still here

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Nick Moran & Paul Stancliffe (BTO) Nick Moran & Paul Stancliffe (BTO) | 17:57 UK time, Thursday, 17 November 2011

Each week Paul and Nick from the BTO are updating us on all the comings and goings of autumn's bird migration. We'd love to hear what you've been seeing too, whether in your garden or out and about.

Barnacle goose

Low temperatures in the east have prompted large movement of barnacle geese © Jill Pakenham/BTO

With high pressure still dominant on the near Continent and the continuing southerly airflow, the weather conditions are essentially unchanged from last week. However, the temperature in eastern and northern Europe has begun to drop, triggering a large movement of white-fronted, tundra bean and barnacle geese. Skeins of these highly migratory waterbirds have been seen in a number of counties, with numerous records from inland sites as well as a more predictable glut of sightings at coastal locations.


The nightingale, one summer visitor who hasn't left yet © Edmund Fellowes/BTO

Waxwings continued to arrive on a broad front along the east coast, with some venturing as far inland as the West Midlands. We have a long way to go to match last winter's invasion though, as the BirdTrack reporting rate shows. The biggest arrival of the week featured blackbirds, with large numbers being seen at multiple sites along the east coast, presumably another product of the cooler weather further east.

A number of summer visitors are still hanging around, as is the case in most years, although the number and the diversity of species involved this autumn is impressive. During the last week there have been over 30 reports of swifts (both common swift and the much rarer pallid swift), seven wheatears, three house martins, two redstarts, a pied flycatcher, a nightingale, two or three willow warblers, lesser whitethroat, common whitethroat and several swallows.

waxwing flock on tree

Expect more waxwings next week © Edmund Fellowes

Not bad for mid-November, and likely to be at least in part attributable to the particularly mild autumn we've had in many parts of Britain and Ireland.

The weather is forecast to remain in a similar vein for at least the next four or five days, so we can expect more geese, more blackbirds and waxwings, and perhaps a major arrival of Bewick's swans.

Question of the week: When does migration come to a halt?

When we think of migration we think of our summer visitors leaving us to spend the winter in Africa, and the arrival of birds from further north coming to spend the winter with us. However, birds can be on the move throughout the year. During the winter months, periods of harsh weather will produce cold weather movements, as birds from both within the UK and from the Continent seek frost-free areas to feed.

Spring migration can start as early as the end of February and last until early June. In the case of waders heading for the Arctic tundra to breed, birds that arrived there early can often be on their way back whilst some of their congeners are still heading north.

During the summer months, failed breeders can begin moving south long before individuals that are in the process of successfully rearing young, whilst in many species, the young themselves leave later still.

In short, birds can actually make significant movements in any month of the year.




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