Visible Migration Studies - observing bird migration in the Sheffield area

 vismig1Woodpigeons rdha

Migrating Woodpigeons © Richard Hill


The study of bird migration has a long history in the British Isles, with ringing studies in particular contributing most to our knowledge of bird movements, particularly long distance migrants. For many birders however, actually observing migration in action will involve heading to well known bird observatories or coastal headlands to look for falls of migrants and the hope of discovering a wind-blown rarity. Meanwhile, those languishing inland could be forgiven for thinking that the spectacle of bird migration goes largely unnoticed.

The Sheffield area is situated on the boundary of upland and lowland Britain and seemingly far removed from traditional migration hot spots. However, its close proximity to the southern Pennines means that each autumn, literally hundreds of thousands of migrants are channeled through river valleys and along moorland edges, as they search for a safe route across the inhospitable natural barrier that is known as the 'Backbone of Britain'.

The Sheffield Bird Study Group (SBSG) has been a pioneering force in documenting this annual phenomenon. The following pages provide a background to this long-standing study with the hope that it might inspire you to venture out to witness this magical spectacle and perhaps contribute to local birding in the process.

What is Visible Migration?

Visible migration is perhaps best defined as the 'observation of bird migration during daylight hours' and was pioneered by Dutch ornithologists in the 1940's.

Although traditional migration theory has often concentrated on movement that is undetectable to the human eye, such as radar observations of movements into Britain from continental Europe in response to following, or easterly, winds, we have found that it is possible to record significant movements at lower altitudes, as birds follow their favoured habitats and appear to take advantage of light head winds from the south and west.

By selecting a suitable location, it is therefore possible to enjoy the magic of bird migration, not only at close quarters, but also right on your doorstep!

History of Visible Migration Studies in the Sheffield area

In Sheffield, observations first began in the mid 1970's, when long-time SBSG member Keith Clarkson began to record the numbers and directions of birds moving over Redmires Reservoirs, 5 miles west of the City Centre. Keith's youthful dedication was rewarded, as it soon became apparent that Redmires stood at an important crossroads for thousands of migrants moving either west following the tree-line or south along the moorland fringe.

Systematic observations over the following years, including daily observations in 1981, 1982 and 1988, unearthed a fascinating insight into the timing and numbers involved.

A migrant's view of Redmires Reservoirs © Keith Clarkson

Keith's almost evangelical enthusiasm soon inspired others and regular observations at a range of sites, including Concord Park, Ox Stones, Mickleden Beck, Ramsley Res, Rod Moor, and Strines Top revealed movements of a similar nature and composition across the Sheffield area, many of which even exceeded those initially recorded at Redmires. In Sheffield, the best sites tend to be in the west, situated on the moorland fringe overlooking the City. It is here that ridges of high land associated with the area's many river valleys run from the high ground of the Peak District in the north and west, into the heart of the Sheffield.

However, don't be put off if you live further north, east or south of the City, as well-watched sites such as Carr Vale NR, Concord Park and Thrybergh CP have also experienced significant visible movements over the years. Although the upland species typically tend to be on a smaller scale, for species such as Swifts, Swallows, Sand Martins, Skylarks and Yellow Wagtails, the lowlands can still be very productive.

Influence of Topography and Weather

Regular observations have revealed that both the topography of the landscape and the local weather are primary influences on the pattern, timing and numbers of migrants moving through the Sheffield area.

Species have been shown to use their preferred habitats, with Woodpigeons, Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits, Linnets and Goldfinches all avoiding the open moorland and moving south along the zone where farmland and moorland meet. In contrast, finches and thrushes tend to move west and south-west following the tree-line along the edge of river valleys. Other migrants such as Starlings appear to be less selective, moving relentlessly westwards in their thousands on broad fronts, while more specialised species such as Reed Buntings, can regularly be seen undertaking smaller scale 'leap-frog' style movements between suitable areas of habitat, usually in a north-westerly direction.

The best weather conditions tend to be bright days with a light south-westerly wind, particularly after periods of poor weather. Movement is much reduced during rain, easterly winds, prolonged periods of high pressure and fog. Beware of having a lie-in on these days however: a foggy morning in November 1995 may have lacked any visible migration, but it did produce a fall of Blackbirds amongst which was a first-winter Black-throated Thrush - an illustration of what can be found tagging along.

Timing and Pattern of Migration

After over 30 years of regular observations at Redmires Reservoirs, a detailed picture has been built up of which species move at which time. These three bleak moorland reservoirs perched high on the Peak District moors over 1050 feet above sea level are ideally placed to watch visible migration. The following monthly breakdown gives a taste of what can be expected at a typical site on the moorland fringe during the autumn months.

July - August

It seems incredible, but the first returning Sand Martins are usually recorded at Redmires as early as the first week of July, with juveniles in particular often seen feeding amongst the flocks of local Swallows and House Martins. Movement is often sporadic at this time, with any significant passage usually restricted to the south-westerly departure of Swifts, or the occasional irruptive movements of Crossbills.

By early August however, there are more purposeful movements involving Swifts, Swallows, House Martins and small numbers of Grey and Yellow Wagtails, many of which will often congregate on the reservoir margins.

vismig3tipit rdh

Tree Pipit © Richard Hill

It is usually around this time, particularly on clear, high pressure days that the first Tree Pipits will start to move south over the moorland fringe. These are without doubt my favourite species on migration watches, with their presence often only revealed by an evocative buzzing 'sphiiizz' call as they pass overhead in small numbers. The peak time for these birds is usually in the second half of August, when on a good day up to 25 birds have been recorded moving south-west in just a couple of hours.


September sees a gradual increase in both the variety and numbers of migrants. The early weeks are often characterised by large south-westerly movements of Swallows and House Martins, which can sometimes continue throughout the day. If the conditions are right, several thousand birds have been reported drifting south, often accompanied by Sand Martins and the occasional late Swift.

Swallow © Richard Hill

Towards the end of the month, however, things really begin to hot up, with the last week of September and first week of October one of the most exciting periods of the whole autumn. It is during this narrow 'window of opportunity', that the peak movements of Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail and Linnet occur, often accompanied by irruptive movements of Siskin and Lesser Redpoll.

Linnet © Richard Hill

This also tends to coincide with the first records of returning winter visitors like Fieldfare, Redwing and Brambling, together with other transients such as Rock Pipits, Ring Ouzels and Crossbills. These mornings are without doubt the most magical of all, with the first couple of hours of daylight often providing everlasting memories. At Redmires, dawn will break to the 'tsip-tsip-tsip' of Meadow Pipits in loose-knit groups overhead, while lower down, you'll hear the twitter of Linnets and the tinkling of Goldfinches, usually more tightly bunched, as they pass through southwards.

Then, gradually, as the sun comes up, you'll start to pick up straggly lines of Chaffinches and maybe a few compact flocks of Siskins heading westwards, the 'tchizzick' from small groups of Pied Wagtails, perhaps the occasional chirping of Skylarks or a 'tsieu' of a Reed Bunting, all moving south-west. The variety and numbers involved on these occasions make birding both exciting and exhausting: flocks of birds moving through on one side, calls overhead from the other and the observer frantically trying to write everything down in the middle!


October is the month for spectacular movements of continental migrants. The month usually begins with a good passage of Chaffinch and Redwing in the first half of the month. This period will generally also see the peak counts of Skylark, Song Thrush, Goldfinch and Reed Bunting. Later in the month, a second peak will occur, often involving a large arrival of Fieldfare, and usually accompanied by Blackbird, Chaffinch, Brambling, Greenfinch and the first significant movement of Woodpigeon and Starling.

Skylark © Richard Hill

October is also the best time to pull out the unusual. In Sheffield, Rock Pipits, Snow Buntings and Lapland Buntings are now annually recorded in association with some of these movements, but star finds from the past have included Shore Lark and Richard's Pipit, as well as unusual moorland records of Waxwing, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Hawfinch and Corn Bunting.


Although November usually sees a gradual reduction in both numbers and diversity, the first week will often provide another highlight in the visible migration calendar.

Starlings © Richard Hill

It is during these cold, but wonderfully clear, high pressure days that the skies will fill with the spectacular southerly passage of Woodpigeons and the westerly movement of Fieldfares and Starlings, often in their thousands.

These mornings are also characterised by raptors, such as Hen Harrier, Goshawk and Peregrine no doubt attracted by the feast of available prey on offer. Another memorable part of these days, however, comes about 90 minutes after dawn, when Pink-footed Geese - which set out from the Lancashire coast - pass east and southeast overhead in their thousands on their way to their other wintering grounds in Wash.

Pink-footed Geese © Richard Hill

By the third week of November, it's all over and the skies are quiet again for another year, although there is still the chance of migrating wild swans, Water Pipits and both Snow Bunting and Lapland Buntings, which can be recorded right up to the month end. Observations in the past 25 years in and around the Sheffield area have revealed that over 100,000 migrants pass through these sites each year, including annual maxima of 60,000 Woodpigeons, 40,000 Fieldfares, 25,000 Starlings, 30,000 Redwings and 25,000 Meadow Pipits. These annual variations are thought to be attributable to weather systems, breeding success and particularly population changes. It is interesting to note that the declines noted at national level from for species such as Skylark, Tree Pipit, Starling, House Sparrow, Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting, were all detected prior to this at visible migration watch-points in the Sheffield area.

Record Counts 1976 to 2007

The following table shows the main species recorded during visible migration watches, their main period of movement, maximum count recorded, as well as the date and locality at which this was made.


Period of Movement

Max count



Pink-footed Goose


3,135 E/SE


Agden Rocher

Stock Dove


72 S/SW


Redmires Res



34,790 S/SW


Rod Moor



c.2,000+ SW


Redmires Res



650 S/SW


Redmires Res

Sand Martin


24 SW


Redmires Res



2,170 S/SW


Rod Moor

House Martin


3,125 S/SW


Rod Moor

Tree Pipit


32 S


Mickleden Back

Meadow Pipit


10,000 S


Mickleden Beck

Rock Pipit


6 W


Redmires Res

Yellow Wagtail


10 SW


Redmires Res

Grey Wagtail


15 SW


Rod Moor

Pied Wagtail


240 SW


Redmires Res

Ring Ouzel


26 SW


Redmires Res



100 NE


Agden Beck



14,500 S/SW


Redmires Res

Song Thrush


90 SW


Strines Top



41,600 SW


Ramsley Res



72 W


Redmires Res



243 SW


Redmires Res



8,000 W


Redmires Res

House Sparrow


14 SW


Redmires Res

Tree Sparrow


14 W


Redmires Res



2,440 W


Strines Top



1,700 W


Strines Top



856 S


Ramsley Res



210 SW


Rod Moor



490 SW


Rod Moor



800 S


Redmires Res



80 NE


Redmires Res

Lesser Redpoll


350 W


Redmires Res



136 SW


Redmires Res



20 W


Redmires Res

Snow Bunting


9 S


Stanage Pole



12 W


Redmires Res

Reed Bunting


35 SW


Strines Top

Starting out - having a go yourself

Although getting out into the field and observing visible migration can at first appear rather daunting, particularly for less experienced birders, it is worth remembering that the identification of what may initially appear as small, fast moving 'blobs' takes a little time and perseverance.

It is therefore important to learn in small stages and develop your identification techniques gradually in a way that will bring some initial rewards and enjoyment. The flight identification of passerines involves a combination of skills, which once learned will soon become second nature. Start by learning the commonest key species at close quarters, paying particular attention to their flight calls, general shape - particularly the head, body, wings and tail shape as well as any prominent field markings, such as wing and rump patches or wing bars. In addition, attempt to determine the general direction of movement, the size and shape of the flock as these often give additional clues to their identity.

With perseverance, you should then be able to build your knowledge and confidence sufficiently to identify these species at increasingly greater distances. Once the key species are learned, you can then move onto to the more difficult species within each family group as and when you encounter them.

Redmires Reservoirs at dawn © Richard Hill

A good way of getting to grips with the more common species is by trying well-watched localities, where perhaps other birders are already present to learn from or attending the annual SBSG visible migration field meeting, which is held at Redmires Reservoirs at the end of each October. Once you've learnt the basics, you'll be ready to strike out on your own, either somewhere familiar where you already have your bearings i.e. your garden or local patch, or perhaps a new site, where you'll enjoy discovering the patterns of movement for yourself.

Wherever you decide to watch, ideally your site will have some elevation to look down from; a prominent hillside or the head of a wooded river valley. From here, during the first few hours of daylight, you should be able to scan with your 'bins' or telescope and pick up any migrants as they break the skyline. After a couple of visits, you should gradually begin to 'tune in' to both the pattern and direction of movement through your particular site. Hopefully, this will lead you on to one of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of visible migration - the systematic recording of everything you see. The benefits of this are that your observations will now have some purpose, not only in the context of your chosen site, but also the local birding scene within Sheffield area - why not try to put your site on the local ornithological map?!

To get the most out of your recording, count for a minimum of 2 hours in 15 minute splits, identifying and counting the estimated number and direction of each species you see or hear. Also make a note of weather features such as wind speed and wind direction, cloud cover and visibility as well as anything else that may have influenced your movements. So, why not give it a go?

From the Archives - Five days to remember

If I've not managed to tempt you so far, here are five of my best days at Redmires in the hope it might inspire you to venture out??

2nd November 1986 - The Great Fieldfare Flood

The autumn of 1986 was one of disappointment: September saw the lowest numbers of Meadow Pipits on record and counts of Linnets and Goldfinches also struggled to reach the three-figure mark. For most of October, things didn't really improve much apart from two Ring Ouzels on 2nd and a peak passage of 55 Skylark moving south on 11th.

By half-term week, time was running out fast; the migration season was in danger of fading out to a whimper. However, this all changed in the last few days of the month as large numbers of Woodpigeons, Starlings and finches battled through westwards in strong winds on 31st October. Although 4,037 Woodpigeon, 1,965 Starling, 634 Chaffinch and 149 Brambling were the chief exponents of the day at Redmires, one of the less obvious highlights was a superb westerly passage of Bullfinch - a count of 20 birds remains a record count to this day. A deep low pressure system bringing rain and strong NE winds applied the brakes on 1st Nov, but when the skies cleared on the morning of 2nd, what happened next remains one the most memorable days in Sheffield visible migration history.

As dawn broke, every part of the heavens seemed to echo to the 'chack-chack-chack' of Fieldfares. Over the next four hours, the numbers of these Scandinavian invaders moving through the Sheffield area was simply staggering, with a conservative estimate of over 65,000.

Fieldfares © Richard Hill

At Redmires, the assembled team of Paul Ardon, Kevin Gould and myself were soon running out of biro ink and paper as seemingly endless flocks of 'Snowthrushes' streamed westwards, whilst towards the eastern horizon, huge packs of Woodpigeons were moving south. The diversity was also impressive, with Skylarks, Starlings, Redwings and other passerines all moving alongside. Highlights included another 11 Bullfinch, 4 Goosander and perhaps the pick of them all; 5 Corn Buntings - this still represents the last record of these chunky blighters at Redmires and given this species' perilous state nationally, you're more likely to see a flock of Cretzchmar's!

As the movement subsided around lunchtime, a quick dash home for a bite to eat was followed by an equally speedy return for the remaining hours of daylight. This involved a continued movement of Fieldfare and Woodpigeon, plus the added bonus of 18 newly arrived Goldeneye on the middle reservoir. All in all, a truly magical day, which still lives long in the memory. For a wide-eyed kid just 4 months past his 15th birthday, I was completely hooked!

Woodpigeon 5,325; Stock Dove 25; Skylark 52; Meadow Pipit 3; Rock Pipit 2; Redwing 373; Fieldfare 9,888; Blackbird 2; Starling 2,396; Chaffinch 96; Brambling 2; Greenfinch 1; Goldfinch 4; Bullfinch 11; Yellowhammer 1; Corn Bunting 4

Grand Total: 18,185

29th September 1988 - Meadow Pipit Magic

The autumn of 1988 proved to be a classic and as luck would have it, early on in the season Keith and I subconsciously decided to go for the 'full monty'. For only the second time, we managed to count on every suitable day at Redmires between 1 August and 15 November - a marathon effort all round, but a worthwhile one as a staggering 100,000 migrants of over 40 species were logged.

For me, the autumn will forever be remembered for the vast numbers of Meadow Pipits moving over the moorland fringe. Although this species would almost certainly appear on most birders top ten 'most boring birds', the humble Meadow Pipit has always held a fascination for me since I used to count them from the steps of my Crosspool home before school. It is also a great example of how visible migration can transform even the most dullest and non-descript species into one that actually quickens the pulse'. Well, maybe just mine!

Early September gave a hint of what was about to come, with an impressive 415 south on 4th - a particularly early date for such a decent movement. This was eclipsed by a further 750 south on 11th; clearly this species had seen an upturn in its recent poor fortunes, with an excellent breeding season. This was followed by a prolonged run of poor weather for the middle two weeks of September.

Meadow Pipit © Richard Hill

We waited for the conditions to improve, and so they did on 25th, when Keith logged a record 4,695 Meadow Pipits moving south. Where was I you may wonder? - on my way to Spurn. Having previously arranged a day out with my old birding buddy Chris McNaghten, we soon realised it was going to be one of those days when the exhaust dropped off his rusting Fiat Uno before we'd reached the end of the Sheffield Parkway. An hour's delay and we were on our way, where after 8 hours slogging around the famous peninsular, we had amassed just one Short-eared Owl and six Whinchat. When the conditions are right, Spurn is legendary, when they're not, it's like sticking a pencil in your eye.

The afternoon of 26th saw me forlornly mooching around Redmires in the wind and rain with the dawning realisation of what I'd missed the previous day. All was not lost however, as on 27th, the skies cleared and for three solid hours, the skies were literally full of blocked Meadow Pipits. A total of 4,695 flew south, accompanied by amongst other things 25 Skylark, 68 Pied Wagtail, 6 Grey Wagtails, 4 Ring Ouzel, 250 Linnet and a pair of Twite. We assumed that practically every 'Mipit' in the northern hemisphere had now passed through Redmires, but we were wrong! After poor weather the following day, the 29th September brought a return to clearer conditions with a light south westerly breeze. To our amazement, the floodgates opened once again with even more Meadow Pipits on the move. Scanning eastwards, the sky was literally black with loose flocks of these drab beauties and the air was filled with their incessant 'sip-sip-sip' calls. Using Keith's trusty Optolyth 30 x 80 telescope, we took turns at counting the flood of migrants, switching every 15 minutes or so to give our eyes a rest. By 11 o'clock, I looked like a Marty Feldman tribute act. Boggled eyed, I somehow managed to cycle home to count up a final total of 5,217 Meadow Pipits - a record breaker that would have had Roy Castle tap-dancing down Redmires Road.

Woodpigeon 19; Skylark 7; Swallow 75; House Martin 35; Meadow Pipit 5,217; Pied Wagtail 49; Ring Ouzel 1; Jackdaw 36; Jay 7; Starling 138; Chaffinch 67; Greenfinch 1; Siskin 8; Linnet 197; Goldfinch 5; Lesser Redpoll 5; Yellowhammer 1

Grand Total: 5,868

24th October 1994 - Viva Variety

Autumn 1994 saw me reincarnated as a fully-fledged, soap-dodging Geography undergraduate. I had loads of free time on my hands, but was marooned in Derby without transport. The birding that autumn was equally frustrating, with poor weather plaguing my return at the weekends. By late October I had the chance to salvage something. On 24th October, the weather cleared and the following five hours brought not only excellent numbers but perhaps more significantly, a superb variety, with nearly 12,000 birds of 21 species. After an early migrant Woodcock at dawn, Fieldfares led the charge with nearly 1,900 in the first hour alone and consistent numbers thereafter. Meanwhile, Woodpigeons stormed southwards, whilst passerines called from all directions. The diversity was fantastic, loose flocks of Chaffinch, Brambling and Greenfinch plodding west, tighter-knit flocks of Goldfinch heading south, Redwings, Blackbirds, Reed Buntings and Yellowhammer all calling overhead. At times it was impossible to know where to look next, such was the range of species on the move. At 0936, a rolling 'prrrrp - sieu' rang out and a single Snow Bunting made its way south amongst the masses. With Crossbill, Skylark, Jackdaw and Lesser Redpoll all added by late morning, a superb count finally came to a close.

Woodpigeon 3,435; Skylark 25; Meadow Pipit 145; Grey Wagtail 2; Pied Wagtail 2; Fieldfare 6,510; Blackbird 2; Redwing 816; Mistle Thrush 1; Jackdaw 25; Starling 136; Chaffinch 380; Brambling 213; Greenfinch 44; Goldfinch 11; Lesser Redpoll 14; Linnet 22; Crossbill 1; Yellowhammer 3; Reed Bunting 19; Snow Bunting 1

Grand Total: 11,808

8th November 1996 - Woodpigeon Wonderland

Autumn 1996 saw me back in the People's Republic of South Yorkshire and entering my final year at University. One benefit of being a so called 'mature' student meant I somehow had the means to run a 1985 Ford Fiesta, complete with detachable sunroof. A hectic schedule of two days worth of lectures a week allowed me to hammer Redmires and the autumn got off to a flyer, when on 9th September, Tony Morris and myself watched in awe as a pristine 2nd-summer Sabine's Gull pattered about in front of us on the middle reservoir - the stuff of dreams for local patch-watchers. On the passerine front, Meadow Pipits were in good numbers, 4,100 S on 28th with a supporting cast of 115 Siskins and a whopping 726 Linnets.

This good form continued into October, with an excellent run of Rock Pipits, 32 Reed Buntings on 9th and 3,400 Starlings on 22nd. By early November, Woodpigeons were on the move in big numbers, but rain on 7th stopped them in their tracks. The morning of 8th was clearly going to be a classic, but I had a dilemma; a double-lecture on the Japanese economic miracle or another kind of miracle - that of migrating Woodpigeons.

Woodpigeon © Richard Hill

As the rising sun emerged over Roper Hill, I was naturally stood observing packs of Woodpigeons streaming southwards. The scale of movement was incredible; flocks of several hundred at a time could be seen moving across the eastern horizon in wave after wave. I vividly recall one flock so large that as they flew overhead, the noise of their beating wings was almost deafening! Amongst these flocks, record numbers of Stock Doves were also noted, as well as steady numbers of Fieldfare and Starling.

After 3 hours of movement, Kevin Gould and I had logged over 18,000 birds. With an even wider view of the east of Sheffield and beyond, an eagle-eyed Keith Clarkson had managed a grand total of over 27,000 'Woodies' from across the valley at Rod Moor. The strange thing about all this of course is that the long accepted theory on Woodpigeons is that they don't migrate and that these observations are related to just 'feeding movements' - surely one of biggest mass hallucinations by so-called experts in the history of bird migration.

Stock Dove 72; Woodpigeon 16,355; Fieldfare 725; Starling 837; Skylark 3; Meadow Pipit 5; Redwing 15; Chaffinch 54; Brambling 60; Greenfinch 20; Siskin 4; Lesser Redpoll 2; Bullfinch 1; Linnet 2; Goldfinch 3; Jackdaw 12; Reed Bunting 2

Grand Total: 18,172

27th October 2006 - The Great Redwing Rush

The autumn of 2006 saw me hurtling towards middle age and the joys of mortgages, children, and income protection insurance. Could I manage one last big count before I faded into vis-mig obscurity? On my way home from work on 26th October, I called in at Redmires. The skies had cleared and Redwings were clearly on the move. A quick half hour count before dark saw movement increase dramatically, with wave after wave appearing on the NE horizon. As dusk fell, the air was filled with the 'seep' call of these enigmatic migrants and with a total of 1,300 birds in such a short space of time, there was real cause for optimism for the following day.

A few drinks in the City Centre later that evening saw Redwing calls continue to fill the air, with the following morning displaying all the makings of a classic. For once, I was spared the panic of hastily rearranging work and family commitments, as a stroke of genius had seen me book the day off the previous week. Having also not put the clocks back yet, I was also able to complete domestic responsibilities the following morning and still get in position before the gloom lifted.

Taking my place on the dam wall, things were slow to start. Then the first flock of Redwings passed overhead and all hell broke loose. In all the years of 'vis-migging', I've never seen anything like it. Flock after flock after flock of Redwings in almost biblical proportions. Amongst the thrush-bonanza I also managed to log a couple of thousand Woodpigeon, several hundred Fieldfare, a couple of Ring Ouzel and an impressive 13 Song Thrush. At one point, the whole expanse of skyline from Stanage Pole to Lodge Moor was literally alive with Redwings. With a spinning head, I somehow attempted to put a figure on the sight before me. On reflection, my exasperated shout of 'oh b******s, call it 5,000' seems a little conservative now, but at times, they were almost impossible to count. With fellow sky-watchers Keith Clarkson and Roy Frost easily surpassing my efforts, the final estimate moving through the area was probably in the region of 80,000 birds - truly staggering.

Stock Dove 6; Woodpigeon 2,350; Fieldfare 550; Song Thrush 13; Redwing 17,315; Ring Ouzel 2; Chaffinch 64; Brambling 96; Greenfinch 27; Siskin 19; Lesser Redpoll 45; Bullfinch 2

Grand Total 20,489

And finally

So, there's a brief summary of what visible migration's all about. Sure, the species involved may not be rare, but on 'big' days, the sheer visual spectacle of the numbers involved soon gets the adrenalin pumping - if only at the thought of what might be tagging along. Whilst you are out scanning the horizon, you also increase your chances of picking up something else of interest: unusual wildfowl, waders, gulls and raptors. The other attraction is that every year is different, so your observations actually have some purpose in identifying the patterns of movement for different species, as well as the short and long-term trends in the numbers of British and continental migrants.

But best of all, everything you discover is largely your own, with no need for phone lines, bleeping pagers or herds of stampeding twitchers - many of whom don't seem to know their a*se from their elbow these days. Even if you're a complete duffer at birding, don't worry; just find a good place, get out there at dawn and fill your soul with the natural wonder of migration in action and the sight of potentially thousands of birds on the move!

In recent years, visible migration has encountered a bit of a renaissance at national level, with a network of observers gradually growing throughout the UK. The SBSG's high reputation in this area has largely been down to Keith Clarkson's efforts in promoting the Group's activities both at local and national level over the past 25 years. With the development of the internet, user groups such as as well as designated websites like are now bringing observers together across the country, so there's never been a better time to start this rewarding form of birding.

As next autumn approaches, why not dust down an Ordnance Survey map, look for a local vantage point and get yourself out 'vis-migging' - like other forms of birding, you may become addicted and despite the early starts, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you're watching something special whilst also contributing to local birding in the process.

Good Luck!

Richard Hill