Autumnwatch & Springwatch

Autumn's bird migration - the story so far

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So far, this year’s autumn migration has been far from the norm. True, it has turned up some classic autumn vagrants and a good haul of top-drawer rarities from both the west and the east. But for those that monitor migration something has been missing.

Migration is largely monitored at coastal watchpoints around the UK, where observers religiously count the number of birds they see, either passing over the site, or that have been grounded by poor weather. This year the migration of common birds has been steady, and large movements and falls have been few and far between. In effect, most summer visitors have steadily trickled out of the country, whilst the winter visitors have steadily trickled in.

Exceptions have included a large movement of Jays in eastern England. The BirdTrack reporting rate for Jay routinely climbs at this time of year, as birds make regular foraging flights to collect and cache food for the winter. However, this autumn’s reporting rate has been the highest ever, reaching 39% (compared to the average of 27% for the first week of October). High-flying birds and large numbers were noted in many unusual locations. In Norfolk, for example, at least 668 passed over Hunstanton on 6 October. Such observations hint that some of the Jays being seen may be of continental origin, though the picture is complicated by native birds dispersing from breeding areas in search of food.

In contrast, the number of rarities has been spectacular, with at least twenty-six different species from North America, including the finding of the Western Palaearctic’s first Eastern Kingbird on the west coast of Ireland. Forty-one different species have arrived from the north and east that have included mini-influxes of Lanceolated and Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers. And it’s not over yet.

So what can we look forward to? Last weekend saw the first big arrival of winter thrushes, almost 23,000 Redwing, 10,020 Blackbird, 9,345 Fieldfare, 835 Song Thrush, 57 Ring Ouzel and 10 Mistle Thrush were counted at Spurn Point, East Yorkshire on 22 October alone. The picture has been pretty much the same along the east coast from Northumberland to Norfolk. With the winds due to stay in the east for the next day or so we should see more of these birds arrive. By the end of the week and going into the weekend the winds are due to turn northerly and come straight out of the Arctic. This could prompt the arrival of our first Bewick’s Swans for the winter and a strong movement of Little Auks.

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  • Comment number 5. Posted by Ken Jones

    on 2 Nov 2012 09:20

    Following your report last night re the absence of starlings in gardens a contributing factor may be -
    Some years ago on our estate of about 100+ houses we had several 'posses' of starlings each of a dozen or so families. They used to nest in the roof overhangs where facias and soffits were wood and in places slightly rotten. During the past ten years or so most of these have been replaced with UPVC facias and soffits,so there are now no places for the starling families to be raised. Wood pigeons and collared doves seem to have now taken over.
    Next door to our estate we had a disused army depot with many old buildings - we used to hear owls screeching and hooting in the evenings. The depot has now been replaced by more modern housing and alas the owls have gone.
    A case of loss of habitat caused by humans I fear.

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  • Comment number 4. Posted by Gwyn

    on 2 Nov 2012 08:35

    Please will someone explain the difference between 'less' and 'fewer' to Martin and Michaela otherwise you might end up having fewer viewers and the programme will have less of an impact.
    Otherwise, carry on with the much improved format.

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by rrsmith

    on 1 Nov 2012 21:27

    Can anybody tell me if the Sharp Shinned Hawk is common in Britain.Twice in the last ten days I have seen one,I was able to get to 4 yards of it so I had a good look at it.

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by Tyto alba

    on 29 Oct 2012 15:44

    Not sure when you wrote this but last weekend my friends on the east coast reported a huge movement of redwing into the country: in excess of 20,000 in the day.

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by golfcookie

    on 29 Oct 2012 09:01

    We seem to very short of winter thrushes in the west of Scotland...can anybody tell me I'm wrong?

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