HOW TO WATCH MI­GRA­TION IN AC­TION

Vis­i­ble mi­gra­tion (or vis mig) watch­ing can sound daunt­ing to many bird­watch­ers, but fol­low these 10 tips to en­sure a great haul of species this au­tumn…

Bird Watching (UK) - - Marvels Of Migration - WORDS: MATT MER­RITT

1 Check the records

If you sub­scribe to any bird­ing news ser­vices, or the Twit­ter feeds of lo­cal bird­ing groups, you can get a good idea of which birds are pass­ing through in large num­bers at the time – re­mem­ber that mi­grat­ing birds can move fast, though. But check your own past records, too, or old UKBS re­ports from Bird Watch­ing, as some species mi­grate on pretty much ex­actly the same date each year.

2 Watch the weather

Birds will tend to move in good weather, with east­erly winds bring­ing the best chance of mi­grants from Scan­di­navia and cen­tral and east­ern Europe, and west­er­lies the best chance of transat­lantic va­grants. Strong southerly winds can mean mi­grants pause for sev­eral days on or near the south coast. And at all times, heavy rain can ground mi­grants, some­times for just an hour or two, so take ad­van­tage of the win­dow of op­por­tu­nity!

3 Start early, fin­ish late

First thing in the morn­ing is the best time to look, as birds mi­grat­ing overnight will have sought safe places to feed and roost, but dusk can be a good time, too, as day­time mi­grants do the same, and the night-time mi­grants pre­pare to re­sume their jour­neys. If you can’t do those sort of hours for what­ever rea­son, then use your lunch­break, mi­gra­tion hap­pens through­out the day, too.

4 Let the birds come to you

Stand­ing sil­hou­et­ted against the sky­line can en­sure that any mi­grat­ing birds give you a wide berth, so sit down and stay still. Not only will this give you a stead­ier base, it might even help over­come the shy­ness of some grounded birds and en­sure they come in close. Many ju­ve­nile Arc­tic breed­ers, such as Knot or Ruff, can seem very tame, as they may have seen few if any hu­mans.

5 Choose your spots

A good re­serve is a good re­serve at any time of year, and one which con­tains plenty of dif­fer­ent habi­tats, such as Mins­mere RSPB, will give you a greater chance of log­ging a wide range of species – seawatch­ing in par­tic­u­lar will add a whole new world of birds to your list. But higher ground (even if it’s only a small hillock or bank in oth­er­wise flat coun­try) is al­ways a great place to watch from. It gives you a wider view all around you, and fly­over birds will pass over lower, as mi­grants don’t waste en­ergy main­tain­ing a con­stant al­ti­tude over the land­scape.

6 Be pre­pared

The weather changes fast in au­tumn, and vis-migging in­volves you re­main­ing sta­tion­ary for long pe­ri­ods, so take plenty of warm cloth­ing and wa­ter­proofs. You’ll also need a good field guide, food and drink, per­haps a fold­ing stool, and of course, your trusty copy of Bird Watch­ing mag­a­zine.

7 Learn your flight calls

From the ‘chisit’ of Pied Wag­tails, to the mourn­ful ‘peeooo’ of the Golden Plover, these are of­ten the first in­di­ca­tion that mi­grants are about, es­pe­cially in those early morn­ing au­tumn mists – swot up on them be­fore leav­ing home, and you’ll find twice as many birds. And don’t be daunted by the prospect by the prospect of learn­ing flight calls – it’s far eas­ier to pick up than bird song, which is a dif­fer­ent skill al­to­gether!

8 Get the right op­tics

A scope is of­ten a must for vis-migging – many of the birds you see will be dis­tant fly-bys, while you’ll also want to be able to pick out de­tail on grounded birds, to sep­a­rate that elu­sive Pec­toral Sand­piper from a Ruff, for ex­am­ple. Where binoc­u­lars are con­cerned, don’t as­sume ex­tra mag­ni­fi­ca­tion is nec­es­sary, though – your stan­dard 8x bins may well be the best bet, as they also of­fer a good field of view.

9 Look up!

Our own David Lindo is right – don’t get so en­grossed in what’s in front of you that you for­get that many mi­grants pass over qui­etly and quickly. Watch the skies closely for soar­ing rap­tors, such as Honey Buz­zard.

10 Ex­pect the un­ex­pected

Al­ways re­mem­ber that a field guide is just that – a guide. Dis­tri­bu­tion maps and the ar­rows show­ing mi­gra­tion routes are only ap­prox­i­mate, and both bad weather and in­ex­pe­ri­ence or mis­takes on the part of the birds can push mi­grants into ar­eas where they ‘shouldn’t’ be. And that’s what makes mi­gra­tion watch­ing so end­lessly fas­ci­nat­ing.

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