Taking advantage of Spring Migration

Grasshopper Warbler
The secretive Grasshopper warbler arrives in Eire in spring having spent the winter in tropical West Africa.

Spring migration is an thrilling time of yr for birding in Eire.

Throughout this comparatively temporary window from early April till the tip of Could birds are on the transfer. There’s a altering of the guard as our winter guests, like waders, geese, winter thrushes and the occasional unique customer just like the bohemian waxwing, depart for his or her breeding grounds additional north, and we see an inflow of birds from the south transferring into Eire.

A number of the extra acquainted migrants are returning right here to breed: birds like swallows, sand martins, home martins, willow warblers, noticed flycatchers, sedge warblers and cuckoos, as an illustration. Different lengthy distance migrants, just like the spectacular osprey, don’t at present breed in Eire, they merely move by way of on their means additional north — providing a quick alternative for Irish birders to meet up with them presently of yr if their luck is in.

Red-flanked bluetail
The red-flanked bluetail… a really uncommon vagrant that arrived on a West Cork headland in spring 2012.

After which there are the vagrants… birds that shouldn’t actually be right here in any respect. They arrive by mistake — overshooting their supposed mark by way of dangerous luck or unlucky circumstance, and ending up in locations you’d by no means look forward to finding them. These are the rarities, typically from distant components of Asia or North America, that may immediate eager birders to journey the size and breadth of the nation so as to add a tick to their Irish record.

One of the vital interesting facets of wildlife watching on the whole, and birding specifically, is that you just actually by no means know what you may encounter whenever you enterprise out. Throughout spring migration (and once more in autumn… however we’ll cowl that in additional element later within the yr) that sense of anticipation… of by no means fairly realizing what you may see… is heightened exponentially.

What’s Spring Migration?

A number of animals migrate… together with land mammals, bats, bugs, moths and butterflies… however after we discuss spring and autumn migration we are likely to suppose primarily about essentially the most cellular of our fauna: birds. Extra particularly we’re speaking in regards to the motion of birds from one place, the place they’ve overwintered, to a different the place they breed and lift their younger and vice versa.

Why do birds migrate

Wheatear, spring migration Ireland
The wheatear is likely one of the first migrants to reach in Eire and heralds the beginning of the spring migration interval.

In a phrase: meals. Or extra precisely, entry to the correct of meals, on the proper time of yr, to permit them to rear the utmost variety of younger doable.

Insect eaters just like the noticed flycatcher, the barn swallow and lots of warbler species can’t survive the winter in Eire as a result of their principal meals supply, flying bugs, disappear through the colder months (what number of swarms of flies and midges have you ever seen in Eire in January?). In order that they head south, to balmier climes the place they nonetheless have entry to this important meals supply.

That begs the query why do they trouble making the return journey? Why not keep in these milder climates all yr spherical?

It’s to do with meals once more. In the course of the summer time months there’s a large seasonal spike within the availability of flying bugs at northern latitudes. Bugs should cram their life-cycles right into a finite climate window between spring and autumn, so all the things occurs without delay. This glut of winged protein coincides with longer day lengths the additional north birds fly… giving birds extra time every day to forage. It’s a great mixture for efficiently rearing younger birds.

Even birds that eat seeds and fruit come to depend on this abundance of bugs — with most small birds selecting to feed nestlings on protein wealthy invertebrates moderately than the much less digestible meals the adults eat themselves.

When does Spring Migration occur?

Coal tit with nesting material
When resident birds, like this coal tit, begin nesting, you realize its time to look out for migrants.

The brief and apparent reply is in fact “in spring”!

Sometimes the window for spring migration in Eire spans the previous few weeks in April into the primary few weeks of Could, though it will probably shift slightly both means, and be longer or  shorter relying on the prevailing climate circumstances — significantly wind. Many birds — particularly smaller species — depend on a serving to hand from beneficial winds to make some actually astonishing journeys.

You should use cues out of your environment to offer you a heads up on when to begin waiting for migrants.

  • Watch your resident birds: when your native birds begin to sing, pair up, collect nesting materials and customarily gear up for the approaching breeding season, you realize the arrival of spring migrants is simply across the nook.
  • Regulate buds and blooms:  bushes budding and the looks of the primary blossoms and blooms are one other good signal that spring is nicely beneath means, and that migrants will quickly arrive.
  • Hearken to the thrill: whenever you discover bees buzzing round parks and backyard, and see small clouds of hatching flies hanging within the night air, it’s a certain signal that the migrants that feed on them will begin arriving earlier than too lengthy.
  • Look out for early arrivals: study which migrants arrive first in your space yearly… and look and hear out for them from early April onwards. As soon as they arrive, you’ll know that different migrants received’t be far behind.

One of the best locations to search for spring migrants in Eire

Ireland's Migration Hotspots
Spring migrants are likely to hit the south and east coasts first. The west coast will get its fair proportion of migrants too, and there’s at all times a slim probability of turning up a uncommon American vagrant.

Whereas migrants can flip up nearly wherever in Eire, offshore islands and coastal headlands are usually the most effective spots for locating a focus of incoming birds. Wherever that juts out into the ocean with a number of shrubs or small bushes to supply cowl to drained migrants is honest sport. These promontories are usually the primary little bit of land migrating birds see as they cross giant expanse of water, they usually instinctively make a beeline for them.

There may be nothing to cease migrant birds from flying on, and turning up additional inland. Certainly a lot of our summer time breeders will transfer inland to seek out the correct breeding habitat, and in time might be seen and heard throughout the nation. Nevertheless, dispersal throughout a a lot wider space tends to imply that migrants may be tough to pin down away from the coast. As a birder you enormously improve your possibilities of  hooking up with migrants in case you put your self in places the place the birds are probably to focus on arrival.

The south and east coasts

Most migrants arriving in Eire in spring will hit coastal places within the south and east of the nation first. Areas just like the Previous Head of Kinsale, Mizen Head and Cape Clear Island in Co. Cork are acknowledged migration hotspots, though any southern island or headland can harbour a big fall of migrant birds when circumstances are proper. East coast places in County Waterford and Wexford may also appeal to vital numbers of spring migrants as they arrive from the continent.

The west coast

Though farther from the “regular” migration routes (birds arriving into Eire from Europe, Africa and infrequently vagrants from Asia), the headlands and offshore islands of Eire’s west coast nonetheless appeal to their fair proportion of spring migrants. They’re additionally ideally located as the primary level of landfall for American birds blown off target by Atlantic storms.

Whereas American vagrants are usually extra of an Autumn phenomenon, a they sometimes flip up, a good distance from house, on Eire’s west and south west coasts in spring.

The best climate

Balmy spring days (not that we get too a lot of these in Eire, thoughts you) may be beautiful for a stroll on the coast… however they don’t seem to be essentially the most effective circumstances in case your objective is to seek out typically elusive spring migrants. Verify the forecast earlier than planning your journey. When you arrive in the correct spot simply after a spell windy climate you could possibly maximise your possibilities of seeing extra birds.


Ideally you desire a spell of sustained wind blowing from the route the birds are coming from — so from the south and east for many spring migrants — though on the west coast sustained westerlies blowing in from the Atlantic can carry a number of American surprises with them.


In good climate birds that arrive on the coast have a tendency to maneuver on pretty shortly in the hunt for extra beneficial habitat. In much less agreeable circumstances — similar to when it’s raining closely, birds are likely to take shelter and look ahead to the inclement climate to move.

I’m not suggesting traipsing round a headland or offshore island throughout spring downpours… however typically the most effective time to seek for migrants is simply after a spell of dangerous climate. Birds which have taken refuge from the poor climate circumstances are usually extra energetic, busy making up for misplaced time, foraging and refuelling for his or her onward journey — and all that exercise makes them simpler to see.

Spring Migration: The Regular Suspects

Listed here are only a small collection of the various migrating birds to look out for as they begin to arrive in Eire every spring (dates are tough tips and might and can shift from yr to yr… it’s additionally price taking into account that a number of people of any species will typically arrive a lot earlier).

Keep in mind this can be a small pattern, and that actually something that strikes a big distance in spring, nevertheless unlikely, may conceivably flip up in Eire — so hold an open thoughts.

March: wheatear, chiffchaff (the “earlies”)

April: blackcap, sandwich tern, widespread tern, Arctic tern, manx shearwater, willow warbler, swallow, sand martin, home martin, sedge warbler, grasshopper warbler, wooden warbler, cuckoo, whitethroat.

Could: swift, noticed flycatcher, pied flycatcher, backyard warbler… extra of the above… and who is aware of what else!

Spring Migration: what you’ll want

Vanguard Endeavour 8.5x45 in use
Good binoculars are a should for locating and figuring out distant migrants.

There’s little or no you’ll want apart from your eyes, ears, endurance and enthusiasm to search for spring migrants — however right here are some things you may wish to take with you to make your outing extra productive.

  • Good Binoculars: binoculars are maybe the primary birding accent, and few birders can be with out a good pair of binoculars once they’re out within the subject. They assist you spot elusive migrant birds at better distance, and reveal plumage and behavior that may assist with the identification of probably unfamiliar guests. It’s price investing in good binoculars; an honest pair won’t solely improve your views of wildlife each time you enterprise out, however may also final for a few years. You’ll discover impartial opinions of a collection of prime quality birding and wildlife binoculars in our gear evaluate part, and take a look at binoculars we’ve examined and advisable right here.
  • A pocket book and pencil or digital voice recorder: one or the opposite is essential for noting the small print of unfamiliar birds so you may verify their identification later in a subject information. A pocket book has the benefit of permitting you to sketch key traits for reference later. The later may be useful for recording chicken songs and calls… once more to assist with later identification.
  • A superb subject information: a top quality subject information is crucial that will help you establish unfamiliar birds. Keep in mind that throughout migration you might nicely encounter birds that don’t often happen in Eire, so you might want a information whose scope extends past Eire’s birds. The Collin’s Chook Information is the “Birding Bible” for Europe, and a guide I heartily advocate. It covers the entire species you’re more likely to encounter in Europe… together with uncommon vagrants — so, in concept no less than, with this in your glove field you’re all set for no matter spring migration can throw at you.
  • Dependable out of doors gear: spring in Eire means unpredictable climate — so you might want to costume accordingly. Heat layers and a very good waterproof outer shell are the important thing to comfy spring birding in Eire. You’ll discover a collection of out of doors clothes opinions in our gear evaluate part.

The Non-obligatory Extras

  • A superzoom digital digicam: or a dSLR with an extended lens. It may be useful to get a file shot, even a distant one, of an unfamiliar chicken to assist identification later. A photograph additionally helps keep away from confusion in case you discover one thing actually uncommon that no person else is round to confirm.
  • A recognizing scope: cumbersome to hold round a headland with you, however a recognizing scope and tripod may be invaluable for scanning distant hedgerows for migrant exercise, and is crucial in case you’re scanning the ocean for migrating seabirds. You’ll discover opinions of wildlife and birding recognizing scopes in our Gear Opinions part.
  • A “the place to look at” guide: a guide detailing the most effective websites round Eire may be invaluable in case you’re venturing outdoors your native space in the hunt for migrants. The superb “Discovering Birds in Eire” by Eric Dempsey can be high of my record, with “The place to look at birds in Eire” by Paul Milne and Clive Hutchinson coming in second.
  • Smartphone apps: digital subject guides to your iOS or Android smartphone can present fast and handy entry to verify options, songs and calls of birds you see. I extremely advocate the Collins Chook Information app for Android and iOS gadgets (seek for it on the app retailer). One other doubtlessly helpful app is Cornell Lab’s Merlin Chook ID, which makes an attempt to establish birds based mostly in your location, time of yr, and your solutions to a sequence of questions. It may well even try an ID from a photograph
  • On-line information: following the assorted chicken information providers (@KerryBirdNews, @ECoastBirdNews, @WexfordBirdNews, and so forth.) on twitter might help offer you as much as the minute information of what’s arriving the place. The web site Irish Birding can also be an incredible useful resource for chicken information from across the nation, and also you’ll discover varied teams in case you search on Fb.

Get on the market… and don’t overlook to share!

By far a very powerful useful resource for locating spring migrants is time… time spent out within the subject truly in search of them.

It’s humorous, however the extra time you spend trying the “luckier” you’ll are likely to get. So get on the market and discover some migrants… and don’t overlook to share what you uncover with us within the feedback beneath, on the Eire’s Wildlife web page on Fb or with @WildIreland on twitter.

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