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Migration Watch 2003

by Dawn Balmer

Up until last year, the only way to get involved in bird migration studies was to go to the coast or to train as a bird ringer. Now, anyone can contribute to our understanding of bird migration, just by reporting the birds in the local neighbourhood.

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is appealing to birdwatchers in the UK to do more for birds by taking part in Migration Watch this spring. Migration Watch is a web-based survey to chart the arrival of birds returning from Africa. What Migration Watch hopes to do is to record the arrival of the first migrants, track their flow through the country and see how quickly sites 'fill-up'. Migrant birds face many threats on their long flights from Africa and if, as predicted, climate change leads to more extreme and windy spring weather they could find life even more difficult. Migration Watch will help the BTO to understand the effects of weather patterns upon important species such as Cuckoo and Spotted Flycatcher on the amber and red lists of conservation concern, respectively.

CuckooThousands of people look forward to the arrival of birds like Swallows and Cuckoos (left) each spring and we encourage them to report their sightings on our website. Taking part in Migration Watch is easy, its just a case of visiting the website (, registering as a recorder and then recording your sightings using the specially designed webpages.

The best way to take part in Migration Watch is to choose a walk that you do on a regular basis - on the way to work or while walking the dog, for instance - and to make a note of the birds you see or hear each time. You could even record the birds you see from your garden for this survey. Migration Watch is not just about the first birds you see, so by regularly recording from a site we can build up a picture of the pattern of arrival and flow through the site. We hope that volunteers will keep watching until all of the summer migrants have arrived.

Migration Watch was piloted in 2002 and, thanks to the support of 2,500 keen birdwatchers, there are already exciting findings to view on the website. The animated maps showing the locations of migrants week-by-week are really good! 2002 was a strange year; many people noticed how late birds such as House Martins were. Sand storms in Morocco and heavy rain over much of Spain and Portugal held up many migrants. We were starting to think that there had been huge mortality when suddenly birds flooded in during late April.

The Migration Watch website opens on 16 February, although only the luckiest of birdwatchers will have anything to report that early. Once open, there will be daily bulletins of new arrivals, based on the information received in the previous 24 hours. To take part in Migration Watch, visit the website at or send an e-mail to for further details.

Migration Watch has been generously funded by the Swallow Appeal and Northumbrian Water Ltd and promoted by Bird Watching magazine.

Dawn Balmer
Migration Watch Organiser

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