Autumn bird migration news: Out of Iceland
Whooper swans were part of the exodus from the north this week © Jill Pakenham
As we were basking in summer-like sunshine, winter arrived in Greenland and Iceland, where heavy snow and freezing temperatures were very much the order of the day. This was the trigger for Greenland wheatears to leave there. Monday saw a large wave of these birds pass through the UK, with at least 250 birds were counted at Spurn Point alone.
This peak is also reflected in the BirdTrack national reporting rate. It's amazing to think that some of these birds breed in western Alaska and still migrate to Africa for the winter, crossing Greenland, Iceland and the western edge of Europe on the way. Around the size of a robin, they will fly 10,000km (6,000 miles) before they reach sub-Saharan Africa.
Goldfinch numbers are beginning to build, with flocks in the low hundreds on the move, however, siskins and linnets are still dominating the finch movements. 1,350 linnets were counted heading east over Hengistbury Head, Dorset on Wednesday morning. Redpolls are beginning to get in on the act too. At present most of these seem to be lesser redpolls, at least with birds that have been trapped for ringing.
Wheatears: on the move from Iceland and Greenland © www.grayimages.co.uk
Birds also exiting the north included whooper swans, geese (mainly greylag, pink-footed and brent, with smaller numbers of white-fronted and barnacle) and dabbling ducks such as wigeon and teal.
Most swallows have already made their final big move south and reports of this species have already dropped dramatically. House martins normally leave a little later than swallows and they've certainly been seen in larger numbers this week.
So what can we expect over the weekend?
Leading into the weekend the winds will turn north-westerly and for a while come straight out of Greenland and Iceland, providing ideal conditions for swans, ducks and geese to leave, so we should see a significant arrival of whooper swans, greylag, pink-footed, barnacle and pale-bellied brent geese and wigeon and teal. We could also see the first big arrival of Icelandic redwings.
Question of the week: Why are some migrants very tame?
Every year there are stories of migrants like goldcrests that seem unusually confiding when encountered at coastal sites. From time to time much rarer migrants hit the headlines because of their tameness.
Famous examples from the 1980s included both baillon's and little crakes (in Sunderland and Sussex respectively) and an upland sandpiper on the Scillies, and more recently, a steppe grey shrike in Lincolnshire in 2008. All these birds were watched at extremely close range; the upland sandpiper was even seen to take a worm from a birdwatcher's mouth!
Sheer exhaustion is likely to be one of the reasons that can make migrants particularly tame. Birds use a huge proportion of their energy reserves when migrating. Hence their number one priority on making landfall is to find food, even if that means being less wary of predators. When humans provide food, tired migrants will often take advantage of the free meal much quicker than they would under normal circumstances.
Many vagrant birds that reach our shores come from places with low human population density and the fact that such species therefore don't associate humans with danger is another reason often given for tame behaviour. Finally, birds that have been disorientated by bad weather and attracted to lighthouses or lights on ships may be slightly dazed; this could also account for tameness.
Have you noticed any birds leaving yet? Anything unusual or surprising? As always, we'd love to hear, so post a comment below.