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Migration news 21 October 2010

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Nick Moran & Paul Stancliffe (BTO) Nick Moran & Paul Stancliffe (BTO) | 14:38 UK time, Thursday, 21 October 2010

Great news to start the week from AMikeA regarding the chaffinches and bramblings he had been feeding aboard a seismic survey vessel in the North Sea:

We arrived back into Den Helder, Netherlands, yesterday morning [Sunday 17 October]. It was really satisfying to see the chaffinches and bramblings that I'd kept alive for two weeks by providing food, flying off with a chirp into some trees as the ship pulled alongside. It was just after sunrise when we docked, so the birds had not been active for long, but they waited until the ship was a mere 50 metres from the dock before flying off in two groups, one five minutes after the other.

Back here in Britain the fieldfares have landed, right on cue! This species typically arrives a couple of weeks later than its smaller relative, the redwing, and Wednesday 20 October saw a large-scale arrival of these Scandinavian thrushes. We can look forward to more of these smartly-dressed winter visitors reaching us over the next few days as a window of high pressure is forecast over Scandinavia on Saturday night, which should provide the right conditions for take-off.

Fieldfare (photo copyright: Chris Mills/www.norfolkbirding.com)

Fieldfare (photo copyright: Chris Mills/www.norfolkbirding.com)

Whooper swans were another species predicted to arrive in force during the last week and they have not disappointed, as the BirdTrack reporting rate illustrates. The weather is something of a mixed bag over the coming week but if we do get prolonged periods of fairly strong northerlies as forecast, more of these Icelandic-breeding swans will make the crossing.

Whooper swan (photo: copyright Jill Pakenham/BTO)

Whooper swan (photo: copyright Jill Pakenham/BTO)

Particularly strong northerly winds could spell trouble for the auk species that spend the winter offshore in the seas around Britain. Starling-sized little auks, which breed no closer than Spitsbergen on the edge of the Arctic Ocean, are especially prone to displacement in such conditions. Unfortunately if they do get pushed in to coastal waters around the UK, they are vulnerable to attack by gulls and other predators.

Waxwing copyright John Harding/BTO

Waxwing (photo: copyright John Harding/BTO)

A very popular scarce winter visitor might be on the cards for next week, particularly in the north and east: the waxwing. Small numbers have already begun arriving from Scandinavia and the same conditions that are good for fieldfares leaving that part of the world might also bring more waxwings our way, which would be fantastic. A 'waxwing winter' is overdue, so here's hoping 2010/11 proves to be one!


  • Comment number 1.

    Never seen a waxwing, so hope a "waxwing winter" is indeed approaching. The birds in my garden and my dad's garden are certainly scoffing berries like crazy. There's an old local saying "Bushes red with hip and haw, weeks of frost without a thaw."

  • Comment number 2.

    I used to work offshore Aberdeen and every autumn we used to get thousands of Redwings flying round and round the platform along with other birds like Nuthatches. One sad occurence was that some of the birds flew into the flare and at times it was almost like it was raining Redwings, some survived after landing on deck and we sent them ashore but for the majority they ended up in the water only to be eaten by the gulls. Kestrels and Ospreys were common sights along with the odd Sea eagle.

  • Comment number 3.

    Last Monday we were fishing about 12 miles south of Brighton and were visited by a great skua. It was interesting to see another seabird that was able to give the black back gulls a run for their money when food was involved. I guess it was transiting from the North Scottish Isles to winter somewhere off North Africa

  • Comment number 4.

    We went on cruise ship Independence of the Seas sailing from Southampton Saturday 9th, first stop at Madeira Tuesday 12th. During the course of Sunday in Bay of Biscay, I began to notice a number of small birds flying around the open deck of the ship. By monday we were out in the Atlantic heading south & there must have been around 50 plus birds on or around the ship. I was unable to identify many positively, forgot to pack my book. However I am confident of saying there were a number of robins, pied & grey wagtails, song thrushes. a redstart, various warblers. A wader (snipe? brown, long bill) flew on to the ship, had a rest then flew off. A falcon (perhaps a little bigger than a kestrel, very light grey) was overhead for a while & appeared have have a small bird in its talons which it was eating on the wing. Surprised to see so many & particularly birds that are resident in UK. After leaving Madeira there were none, so looks like they all decided to take a holiday there as well.

  • Comment number 5.

    Flock of about 15 waxwings on the Isle of Rum today Sunday 24 October

  • Comment number 6.

    Flock of 10/12 waxwings seen at Tollerton, North Yorks, today at midday.
    Its the first time I've seen this bird, but they were very distinctive, and with a distinctive peeping call.

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi Can anyone tell me why my garden House Sparrows are nest building now (end of Oct). They are going after little feathers bits of straw hay etc. Surley they are not nesting or are they preparing to hunker down for a cold winter, we live on the south coast.

  • Comment number 8.

    hi team what does BTO stand for

  • Comment number 9.

    Large flock of waxwings spotted today (approx 30) in Alness in ross-shire, also large numbers of fieldfares and redwings!

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi, Just like to report a sighting of twenty plus Waxwings on a busy road in the centre of Inverness the morning of 25 October. Managed to get a short record on the camcorder which we always carry. regards Mick

  • Comment number 11.

    hi team what does BTO stand for

    Thanks for asking, purplelavender. We are the British Trust for Ornithology; find out more about us at www.bto.org

  • Comment number 12.

    Good question southerly. Birds of the Western Palearctic suggests the following answer:
    "In late September, adults return to colonies and roost in old nests. Young returning to colonies in early autumn form communal roosts there in thick thorn hedges, trees, or bushes; as leaves fall and cover reduced, move to more secure sites, e.g. evergreens, ivy-covered walls, interiors of buildings, particularly if heated. Nest-material may be added in early winter and this has given rise to idea of roost nests (i.e. nests built specifically for roosting in cold winter areas), particularly as these may not be used subsequently for breeding. This, however, could merely be facet of autumn sexual activity and inexperienced young birds using sites unsuitable for nesting, though such insulated sites could clearly be of advantage for roosting."

  • Comment number 13.

    I had never seen a waxwing before yesterday so it was a lovely surprise to see a flock in the trees beside our house. I dont think they are a regular visitor to the west coast of Scotland so all the more exciting. I have uploaded a home video (not very good i'm afraid!) of them stripping the hawthorn tree beside our house!!

  • Comment number 14.

    Re earlier post. Have now got injured waxwing in a box in the shed. Think it flew into a passing car. Any help appreciated !!

  • Comment number 15.

    Great to hear you've seen Waxwings on the west coast of Scotland and sad news about the road casualty Isabel Byrne.

    Waxwings usually arrive in the north and east but this year many have 'overshot' and found themselves on the west coast of Scotland (probably due to the prevailing conditions during their - unusually early - migration).

    Regarding your injured bird, if it was simply stunned, rest, warmth, water and food should revive it. If there are any broken bones though (which might be indicated by one wing 'drooping') you will need to seek veterinary help.

  • Comment number 16.

    I saw my first waxwings today, 27 October at 13 00 hours. About 8-10 landed at the very top of a tall conifer near my house in a village in the Yorkshire Dales and I had an excellent view of them.They stayed for about 7 or 8 minutes and then moved on.

  • Comment number 17.

    BTO. We kept the bird in a warm basket (used to tending to sick wildlife!) and fed it berries. Took it to an open door and when it heard all the other waxwings outside it took off into the trees so all is well!

  • Comment number 18.

    A flock of circa 50 Waxwing passed through on morning of 26th Oct, later same day a small flock of 8 settled in orchard for 30 mins, on 27th am a small flock of 12-14 settled in garden for approx 30 mins prior to flying south.

  • Comment number 19.

    A single Waxwing in my garden at Beccles Suffolk today.

  • Comment number 20.

    House Sparrows will be collecting nest material for winter roosting purposes. Back to waxwings c100 at Pasteur Road Great Yarmouth Norfolk in Rowans just east of Lidls car park. The biggest flock in Norfolk so far this winter.

  • Comment number 21.

    There was a flock of waxwings in my garden yesterday. I was very excited. I live in Swindon and they were feeding on Cotoneaster berries

  • Comment number 22.

    yesterday i was at an address in bury st edmunds there was an injured bird on the floor. i did not know what it was but it was beautifull so i took some pictures. i also reported it to the house owner who took the bird to her local vet. after many hours serching rspb site i have discovered it was a waxwing. i hope the bird is ok think i will the house owner and ask


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