BirdTrack migration blog (3–9 May)

Paul Stancliffe

Paul Stancliffe

Paul was formerly the BTO Media Manager and regular author of the BirdTrack migration blog. He is now making a special guest return from his new home in Portugal.

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During the last week, the weather across the Iberian Peninsula has been pretty tumultuous at times. Strong winds, relatively cold temperatures and heavy rain have all featured, and bird migration has slowed to a trickle.

It has been interesting to watch the BTO Cuckoos as they make their way north, and perhaps a little unsurprising that two Irish birds made their way across the Bay of Biscay.

Conditions across northern Spain and the Pyrenees have been challenging and may have influenced these birds’ choice of a sea crossing this year, though they may use this route every year irrespective of the weather (since this is the first time anybody has tracked Cuckoos returning to their Irish breeding grounds, we don’t yet know which routes are typical). We will have to wait and see.

As we go into the weekend the conditions in southern Europe are forecast to improve, with warm southerly winds crossing the Mediterranean. This should open the floodgates for any birds that have been held up, and an arrival of birds could be experienced anywhere along the south coast.

Although not as numerous as it once was, Spotted Flycatcher should arrive in numbers. Interestingly, the putative Mediterranean Flycatcher on the Isles of Scilly has been identified by DNA from a faecal sample as a Spotted Flycatcher.

A further arrival of Spotted Flycatchers could be on the cards in the next week.
Great Skuas could pass close to the coast on their way back to their northern breeding grounds.

Spring always arrives a little later in the Northern Isles than it does further south and with easterly airflow forecast in the north, for at least the early part of the week, spring migration could step up a gear. Alongside an arrival of common migrants, rarer species may be anticipated. An early Collared Flycatcher or one or two Red-flanked Bluetails could turn up.

[Stop Press: Within hours of Paul submitting this text on 2 May, a Collared Flycatcher was found on Fair Isle and another the next morning at Spurn!]

While the Northern Isles are bathed in easterly winds, the south-west of Ireland is forecast to receive strong southerlies straight out of the Bay of Biscay. Arctic, Pomarine and Great Skuas could well pass in numbers close inshore, along with perhaps the first large movement of Manx Shearwaters and Storm Petrels.

Historical BirdTrack records (pre-2024) illustrate Common Sandpiper spring migration in Britain and Ireland peaking in early May.

Numbers of Dunlin, Little Stints, Turnstones, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Greenshank and Common Sandpiper have been building on the saltpans on the coast of central Portugal.

Although northerly winds may well feature during the latter part of next week, many waders are consummate long-distance migrants and won’t find this too much of a problem. Local wetlands and reservoirs may be worth keeping an eye on as these species make their way north to their arctic breeding grounds.

Common Sandpiper migration peaks in Britain and Ireland during early May, beautifully illustrated by the BirdTrack historical reporting rate graph.

So, did Wrynecks turn up last week, as I predicted? At least eight were found with a fairly even split between the east coast and the Northern Isles. What about in the coming week? Numbers of common migrants will continue to grow, particularly during the early part of the week. It looks like the Northern Isles could be the place to be, and with the easterly winds forecast, maybe an early arrival of Red-backed Shrikes is on the cards.

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