Thursday 20 April 2017

Where have all the migrants gone?

Lade - cold, sunny, n 2 - These past mornings I`ve scoured the local patch for spring migrants and all that could be found were a handful of Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Wheatears, plus a Black-necked Grebe yesterday. True, the nights have been clear and dry (infact there was a light frost this morning) which has encouraged nocturnal migrants to press on northwards, but looking around at other local and regional blogs and websites its a similar picture - the numbers of birds just simply aren't there anymore. Looking back at my birding logs (remember them, old fashioned pen and paper jobs) from 40 years ago only hammers home the decline in the likes of migrant pipits, wagtails, starts, chats, flycatchers and most of the warbler tribe.
  Spring falls of warblers in the hundreds at Dungeness, once a regular feature, can nowadays be counted on the fingers of one hand; this year so far there`s been just a single day, concerning mainly Willow Warblers. In the 1960`s and 70`s falls of up to 40-50 Redstarts were often recorded at Dungeness, in comparison to todays single figure reports, for the entire spring period.
  I could go on, but its just too depressing. The worst of it is, in the main, we know the reasons why, as usual us meddling humans. Fair play to Chris Packham for highlighting the ongoing slaughter in the Mediterranean, but equally as sinister is hunting in the migrants` winter quarters and an increasingly hostile landscape here on their breeding grounds.
Dungeness - Anyhow, onwards and upwards, being as its Dungeness there`s always something to lift the spirits and give one hope. As I paused along the causeway road to admire a cracking summer plum Slavonian Grebe on New Diggings a Cuckoo called and flew over, our first of the spring. On ARC a Garganey hunkered down on the island, a Cuckoo showed again and a Lesser Whitethroat sang from Tower Pits near a booming Bittern!
Scotney - After toiling at the allotment news from PB of waders on the grass around midday had me scuttling down the road to check out my favourite birds. Sure enough a tally of 52 Whimbrels, six Barwits, two Ringed Plovers and a Ruff bucked me up no end, plus four Brents sat on the grass and  a Greenshank overhead calling.


Fishing Boats - 1615hrs - A cursory half an hour seawatch, in hazy sunshine, delivered just a few Gannets, Sandwich and Common Terns, two Med Gulls and a line of 12 Common Scoters, plus five Porpoises and the `killer Grey Seal` that yesterday was seen chomping on a Porpoise calf.


  1. You may have a point Paul, about the number of migrants, but over the last few weeks the lists of birds that you are seeing has been far, far better than those of the rest of us, almost enviable. Moving away from your neck of the woods, it is really depressing with just odd single birds being seen. Couple that with bone hard, bone dry conditions on the marshes which so far, is seeing much reduced breeding numbers of typical birds and it feels even worse.

  2. On the reduction in migrants ... on the one hand the number of birds, particularly farmland birds, has gone down massively in the last 50 years or so due to agricultural changes. On the other hand, Portland still see's lots of certain birds, e.g. todays totals 240 WWarb, 9 Gropper, Firecrest, 6 Redstart, SE Owl, Whinchat, 5 Garden W, 25 Wh'throat, 15 YWag, 4 Tripit. So how much of our recollections of past times are compressing exceptional days into a continuum of mass migration?

  3. Thanks for your comments gents. I think both Dungeness and Portland will remain migrant hotspots simply due to their geography, even if numbers are on the slide compared to 50 years ago, as confirmed by constant effort ringing statistics. Farmland birds on the Romney Marsh are in an even worse state, and I really cannot seen any improvement in the near future. As for the `drought`, Derek, the last proper dousing of rain we had down here was the 16th January!