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Lost in transit

Key facts

  • In 1965 the sky darkened in Lowestoft as thousands of birds put down due to poor weather conditions
  • Yellow-browed and Pallas’s Warblers do a seemingly suicidal "reverse-migration"

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"Probably worry. Follow my head"


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Born in the USA

… but lost in transit. This year a number of migrants from the USA ended up in the UK. Among them was the first ever Alder Flycatcher to be seen in the UK.

Themes information

Sometimes animal journeys don’t go to plan. Food and energy supplies may dry up and the traveller has to put down in an unexpected place. More frequently it’s the weather that sabotages migration. Birds and insects are especially prone to disruption en route as their travel plans are altered by bad weather.

A Redstart on Your Shoulder

On September 3 1965, the residents of Lowestoft in Suffolk were showered with thousands of migrating birds including willow warblers, whinchat and flycatchers. All were heading south, many probably from Scandinavia when their flight path was blocked by heavy rain. The resulting “fall” of migrants filled the town with birds and some people even reported birds landing on them.

Waifs and Strays

On the western fringes of Europe, the British Isles attracts migrating birds which have taken the wrong route or have been blown off-course by winds. Every year, North American songbirds such as Blackpoll Warblers and Red-eyed Vireos turn up on remote islands including Shetland, the Outer Hebrides and the Isles of Scilly. Some are diverted by hurricanes, others may take a wrong turn and travel via Greenland and Iceland. Many of these are inexperienced youngsters and it is doubtful if any reach their intended winter homes in Central America.

Going The Wrong Way.

Every autumn, birds such as Yellow-browed and Pallas’s warblers migrate from their breeding grounds in Russia to winter in South-east Asia. A small proportion travel south-west rather than south-east and small numbers regularly occur along the north and east coasts of Britain. This habit, known as “reverse migration” looks like suicide, but for the birds that survive it may be a lifeline for the species if threats emerge along their traditional routes

Insects Too!

Insects can easily be blown around by the weather, but incredibly some travel thousands of kilometres across the oceans. In the British Isles, some places such as Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are regularly visited by Monarch butterflies from North America. Most are blown off-course by hurricanes. Even dragonflies, such as the Green Darner have made it across the Atlantic Ocean.

World On the Move

We'll be tagging reports so you can find out who's lost right here during the 2008 migration season.

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