Glossy Ibis, Scott Mayson

BirdTrack migration blog (27th May - mid-June)

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As summer approaches, the pace of migration slows; most species will be on their breeding grounds and raising their young.

The past week has seen a steady slowing of migration, with the volume and diversity of species on the move dwindling.

However, some species have been well-reported, including Spotted Flycatcher. This is a typically late-arriving species with a peak arrival around the end of May. Let us hope this surge in reports results in a good breeding season for this declining species.

Turtle Dove is another typically late arrival, and reports over the last week increased and were about on par with the last few years. You can help monitor the population of Turtle Doves by adding your records to BirdTrack - including any breeding evidence where possible.

Mid to late May is also when later migrating waders pass through Britain and Ireland; Dunlin, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Turnstone were all noted during the past few days and many will have been in full breeding plumage. For most of these species, fewer birds are seen on spring migration than in the Autumn, when numbers peak as this year's young take on their first southward migration. 

The change of wind direction to moderate westerlies was brought about by a shift in the jet stream, and this - combined with some wetter weather - resulted in a noticeable lull in migration in the last couple of days. It did however produce a couple of rare birds from across the Atlantic in the form of a White-throated Sparrow in County Wexford, and a Dark-eyed Junco in Pembrokeshire.

It wasn’t just rarities from the other side of the Atlantic that made the birding headlines though. A nice selection of other species was found during the past week, most likely originating from Southern Europe, the Western Mediterranean, and Central Asia. These included Eleonora's Falcon (Kent), Moltoni's Warbler (Pembrokeshire), White-tailed Lapwing (Norfolk), Egyptian Vulture (Cornwall) and Short-toed Eagle (Highlands). Many will be hoping this is an indication of what is to come over the next few weeks, a time of year that often produces some off-the-wall rarities!

Listen to Quail's distinctive call

Quail can be extremely difficult to see. Their "wet-my-lips" call is often the best way of locating them.

Species Focus - Quail

The Quail is one of our later-arriving summer migrants, with numbers fluctuating wildly, dependent on breeding success further south. In some years the first Quail aren’t heard, or seen until June, or even early July.

Quail start to occupy breeding areas in North Africa and southern Europe as early as December, and breeding is not unusual in February. A large percentage of these birds, having bred successfully, migrate north to breed again, along with a high percentage of the recently fledged young. Young Quail reach sexual maturity at 12-15 weeks, and these northward moving young will be able to breed in northern Europe in the same year that they were hatched.

It is very difficult to assess breeding numbers as Quail is such a secretive bird, and any estimates are based solely on counting singing males. The population estimate published in APEP4 suggests that between 2013 and 2017 there were, on average, around 350 pairs. However, in some years there could be many more and in others, far fewer.

British breeding Quail are likely to spend the winter months in southern Europe and North Africa but some might even cross the Sahara to winter in the dry Savannah south of the desert – Quail is a common bird here during the winter months. There is a paucity of records of Quail at desert oases and it is thought that migrating Quails cross the 2,000 miles expanse of desert in one single flight.

Seabird colonies have a music of their own

Visiting a seabird colony can be an amazing experience with thousands of birds to see and hear. Listen to the Isle of May during the breeding season:

Audio: Steve Willis

Looking ahead

With summer fast approaching, and migration tailing off in late May and early June, most species will be at their breeding grounds; it is only really failed breeders or young birds going through the motions of migration that will be on the move at this time of year.  The weather as always will platy a big part in the species that are will turn up, and the intensity of any influxes. Quail could arrive in increasing numbers over the next couple of weeks, and this will to some extent be governed by the success of the breeding season at lower latitudes and the wind direction during their movements. The same southerly winds that would help Quail move northwards could also bring other species such as Bee-eater, Serin, or Glossy Ibis

For most of next week, the weather looks set to continue with westerlies, swinging northwards as we progress through the week. This will bring a drop in temperatures and bands of rain, neither of which is conducive to producing a wealth of migrants. However, with such a strong jet stream in control, we could yet see a few more American vagrants such as Franklin’s Gull or White-throated Sparrow - or maybe something even rarer such as Brown-headed Cowbird. Towards the end of the week, the winds ease and switch to an easterly direction, opening the door to some of the late-arriving species such as Marsh Warbler, which breed in variable numbers each year. Any easterlies at this time of year also have the potential to deliver some scarce and rare species such as Black-headed Bunting, Black Stork, Lesser Grey Shrike, and Icterine Warbler.

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Another species that could occur is Rose-coloured Starling. A couple of birds have been seen already, and could hint at what is to come; will we see another summer invasion of the Starling's dapper eastern relative in June and July like we did last year? 

No matter the wind direction, this is a great time of year to soak up the results of spring migration - to sit, listen, and watch the diversity of species that have travelled from far and wide to spend the summer across Britain and Ireland, and to raise the next generation. So why not visit a seabird colony, get up early and listen to the dawn chorus, or visit somewhere new and see how many species you can find in a day?

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