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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