HOC member Dan Webb has started recording visible migration over Sellack, near Ross-on-Wye, and is keen to encourage others birders to contribute to this survey, which is growing in importance both nationally and internationally.
Read below Dan’s account of his introduction to ‘vismigging’ and the fascinating records that are emerging. If you are inspired, and would like to become involved please contact Dan at email@example.com.
“A warm high pressure front had settled over the UK to the north of Herefordshire with big white cumulus clouds and a steady 10-12 mph south westerly breeze meant a beautiful afternoon over Sellack in south Herefordshire on 31st July 2017. I had an afternoon off work so wandered out to the large field overlooking a wooded valley and dropping down to the River Wye at Sellack Bridge. Not much appeared to be moving at first but after half an hour I picked up a large flock moving to the north in a south westerly direction, it was a group of about 100 swifts. A few minutes later a slightly larger flock materialised, then groups of 50 plus birds were coming past closer, some right overhead all moving purposefully south west. Two hobbies flicked along with the flocks, a few house martins also moved south west and then two huge ‘cauldrons’ of hundreds of birds moved up the valley. I only had an hour to watch but at a conservative estimate a minimum of 1120 swifts passed through on their epic migration to Africa.
To see birds on the move, to know they could be hundreds of miles away the next day, to feel the power and drive within these feathered sprites is simply awe inspiring and reassuring but it also allows us to generate some scientific information. What weather and pressure conditions instigate migratory movements? What is the main direction of movement for different species? Are the numbers of migrants consistent year on year? Is the timing of migration changing? Do adults and juveniles of a species migrate at different times? These are just a few of the questions that we can help answer by carrying out systematic Visible Migration counts from a site regularly throughout the main passage periods (March-June and late Jul-early November) can help us answer some of these questions. I have carried out counts at this site in a very unsystematic manner for a couple of years as well as at my ‘patch’ Goldcliff Lagoons and submitted my records on Bird Track. However late this autumn I decided I need to start recording more systematically and submit my records on the international migration site www.trektellen.nl.
Late last autumn I started recording systematically and was amazed at my results, and it has been one of my most moving birding experiences. Highlights included hundreds of redwings and starlings passing through in single mornings, a nice smattering of bramblings and siskins, both kestrel and merlin on obvious high flying migration and best of all, a flock of around a hundred redwings being led by five snipe! Some of these days have been frantic with birds passing in big flocks regularly and often simultaneously with me desperately jotting down numbers and directions of flight.
In autumn 2017, Andrew Strong and I had spent three days at Spurn Point watching the biggest Pomarine Skua passage witnessed at the site, ‘blythi’ type Lesser Whitethroat making landfall and newly arrived thrushes in their hundreds, but the thrill of seeing at this inland site that flock of redwings being led by five snipe or the three black-tailed godwit that steamed over south west one July morning on their way back from Iceland is just as special. It can be tricky initially to identify high flying passerines and many are identified by call but if you are a keen birder and like a challenge I truly recommend ‘vismigging’”.