Spring bird migration review

Rustic Bunting (left Chris Cachia-zammit) (right Andy Williams)

Bluethroat (right David Steel), Hawfinch (left David Steel)

Ring-necked Parakeet (left) Icterine Warbler (top), red-backed Shrike (bottom) all David Steel

Friday 18th November comments: Spring migration was generally quiet through the Isle of May as weather patterns from early April followed those of the previous spring, with cool northerly airflows dominating. This resulted in a disappointingly slow migration for many common birds and this trend continued throughout most of the spring. Overall most common migrants appeared in low numbers and some even failed to appear at all, including Grasshopper Warbler.

April was generally quiet with the typical arrival of the first summer migrants of the year although a male Hawfinch was found on the Fluke Street bird table and remained for two days on 13th-14th. Although this was the 15th island record, it was the eighth in the last six years and a trend mirrored at other east coast migration stations in recent years. The month of May is the month in the spring migration calendar, but like all migration, it relies on the right weather. After a mundane opening two weeks with the only highlight being a heavily moulting Hooded Crow for two days, the island eventually witnessed an easterly airflow which started mid-Month and did not disappoint. The start of this purple patch saw an adult Honey Buzzard drift west, only the 11th island record and first spring bird since 1993. A few days later the jackpot came with good numbers of common migrants with a stonking male Rustic Bunting the highlight, discovered near the water tank bushes at the low light. The bird was the 15th island record (involving 18 individuals) and comes hot on the heels of the previous bird seen on 21st-22nd May 2021. The other noteworthy bird during this spell was a female Bluethroat favouring a gully near Altarstanes, on 16th May.

However the excitement of this spell of easterly winds was short lived, the weather patterns returned to a more westerly dominated flow and quieter times. Arguably, the most bizarre event of the avian year occurred in late May though, as an adult Ring-necked Parakeet was discovered coming in-off the sea on 21st. The bird was still present the next day but was discovered sitting on a wall at Fluke Street and took a liking to being hand-fed grapes, eventually preferring to sit on the shoulders of the bemused residents on the island, pirate style! As later discovered, the bird had escaped from captivity from Glenrothes and was soon reunited with its rightful owner, ending a very bemusing and bizarre record for the Island.

As early June arrived, it appeared the end of spring passage was in sight and that the island had experienced another slow spring. However, you can never underestimate or write off the Isle of May, and early June provided a final spring in the tail. Winds switched to the south-east on the 8th and a small flurry of migrants arrived late that day. A fine Icterine Warbler found the Top trap and soon after a belting male Bluethroat was at the base of the main lighthouse. The following day provided arguably the best birding day of the spring as the male Bluethroat was still present but was singing from nearby Elder bushes. Whilst this spectacle drew the crowds, the Icterine Warbler was present for a second day, a female Red-backed Shrike was found by the Low Light and a Cuckoo flew north. It proved to be the last hurrah of the spring, but was certainly well enjoyed by those present. The rest of June fell into a typical mid-summer slumber with a Quail on 5th July the only noteworthy species during the seabird breeding season.

The spring was over and generally disappointing but there was all to play for as autumn approached…   

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