Autumn bird migration news: Waxwings, finches and skylarks
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.
Starlings are on the move, so we'll soon see more of these spectacular sights © Jill Pakenham
It’s been a week of ups and downs. During the early part the winds had once again turned westerly and slowed migration down, and any movements involved small numbers of birds. After the weekend of easterlies waxwings continued to arrive. Around one hundred birds have now been seen on the east coast from Shetland to Kent.
Although most wildfowl failed to arrive, the first smew did © Edmund Fellowes
Wildfowl again failed to show. It’s still warm enough on the continent for them not to have to move. However, as always there will be individual birds that move no matter what and the first smew of the winter duly turned up, with single birds being seen in Cambridgeshire, Nottinghamshire, East Yorkshire and Lancashire.
By mid-week the winds turned southerly and promise to remain light and from this direction throughout the coming weekend and into early next week. There is also the promise of clearer skies for most of us.
This change immediately got finches on the move again, mainly goldfinches and chaffinches but also prompted skylark migration. Although the largest numbers were observed on the east coast, skylarks also migrate overhead further inland and can be seen moving in any county, particularly when the winds are light. This is definitely something to look out for this weekend. The clearer skies should also prompt the long-awaited woodpigeon migration.
During Saturday the winds might just turn south-easterly and provide the conditions for an arrival of black redstarts, particularly in the south and east. However, these birds can turn up almost anywhere even in land-locked gardens.
The last few weeks have seen a pretty steady arrival of siskins and redpolls. Both of these finches feed on the cones of alder and pines. With the wetter conditions earlier in the week a lot of cones will have closed and the seeds become harder to get at. In these conditions siskins and, more recently, redpolls turn to garden feeders, migrating from the wider countryside in search of food.
So what can we expect this weekend?
The last few days have seen more starlings on the move and this should continue through the weekend. As more and more of these birds arrive from Eastern Europe, so the size of the winter roosts will increase and the nightly spectacle of the pre-roost waves of birds become more impressive.
Could there be an arrival of black redstarts this weekend? © Jill Pakenham
Along with the black redstarts, robins could also be a feature with a noticeable increase in both the countryside and gardens. Although the movement of largely freshwater wildfowl has been pretty slow, that of seaducks has been quite impressive and anyone out by the coast this weekend should look out for lines of common scoter flying just above the waves, these are often accompanied by the rarer velvet scoter, whose white wing flashes give away their presence amongst their all dark cousins.
Question of the week: Why do some individual migrants stay further north whilst other individuals of the same species migrate much further south?
Using blackcap as an example, the majority of European blackcaps leave their breeding quarters and head south to North Africa where the winters are much warmer. However, there is an increasing number that undertake a very short movement and remain in northern Europe all winter long. For these birds this is a real gamble. If they experience a very hard winter with prolonged ice and snow many of them will likely perish. However, if the winter is mild and they survive they then have the advantage of being much closer to their breeding grounds next spring.
Being closer to the breeding grounds at the start of the breeding season means that they will undertake a much less arduous and hazardous migration, arriving back in good condition and earlier than those from further south. This allows them to take up the best territories with the consequent probability of a more successful breeding season.