Sunday, 28 April 2013

Where are the rest of the Chiffchaffs?

Some general notes on the "Chiffchaff" and some replies.

Below are some notes which I have decided to put on a couple of online sites (including Bird Forum) to try and get a idea of what might be going on with the "Chiffchaff" non-arrivals here within Burton In Kendal, and try and ascertain if others are having a similar experience in their particular areas around the Country.

My Report and Questions  I have been monitoring the breeding Chiffchaffs in and around the village of Burton In Kendal. I have records for the past three years on a spreadsheet. Where I book down the arrival dates and check them every week to two week throughout their stay etc. We have a least 33 singing birds representing the same number of territories. 

This year the birds that have returned are later than the norm by a average of 18 days (general consensus). This delay represents a trend throughout the North and considered to be caused through the adverse weather conditions they would have met prior or during the onset of their migrations North. 

The worrying fact is that only 17 singing birds have arrived back (more or less 50%) on territory. The territory of these birds is the same area every year within a few metres. Its even more worrying to realize that there have not been any new arrivals of this species since the 15th April. I am noting daily arrivals of Willow Warblers, but certainly no Chiffchaffs. 

I have put this on here (the national site: Bird Forum and now also on Wild About Britain) to see if anyone else monitors the Chiffchaffs within a area which would allow them to draw any conclusions or comparisons with this. Any replies would be most welcome. 

Also of note is that the Chiffchaffs on 90% of territories are very subdued with their singing, where in the main they can only manage short burst of song, part song and some even silent. The only Chiffchaffs that seem to be singing OK are the ones in the more sheltered areas eg: Pickles Wood in Lancelot Clark Storth.

Some Interesting replies so far : 
Here are some of the replies I've had directly in response to my blogsite and some also from national bird forums. (subscribers names removed to protect anonymity.

1) In late March and early April there were large numbers reported here in Devon, unusually feeding on the ground and apparently fairly desperate for food in the wintery conditions. It's possible a lot of them didn't make it through that period. 
(Devon -- 27th April 2013.)

2) I've just been checking back on my Chiffchaff counts over the past couple of years at Carsington Water where I regularly attend. On April 16th 2012, I counted 49 Chiffchaffs during a walk around the water. On almost the same date this year (15th) I had 14. A significant difference. Although the walk this year wasn't as far I would not have added many more. A similar walk yesterday produced 21 so numbers are increasing but still way down. 
(Derwent Valley -- 27th April 2013). 

3) Its the same in Norfolk chiffchaff late in arriving and though there seemed good numbers about last week a lot fewer about now so perhaps many of last weeks birds were on passage. 
(Norfolk -- 27th April 2013). 

4) Very few up here. 
(Highlands -- 27th April 2013). 

5) I agree with the sentiments expressed about Chiffchaffs. 
My conclusion is that Chiffs have tried to come in at their normal time and been hammered as a result. For other species the spring passage will be later but more intense than usual. 
I imagine that one or two broods this summer will restore Chiff numbers - boon and bust must be the norm. 
(Farnborough -- 27th April 2013).

6) Serious lack of chiffchaffs here in my corner of the New forest too compared to previous years.
(New Forest – 28th April)

7) I heard reports of Chiffs being found dead around the south coast when we had that sudden cold snap, not sure how reliable this is or how many birds were found but could have been some significant mortality of early arrivals I guess.
(Nethybridge – 28th April 2013)

8) I've noticed less Chiffchaffs than in the previous few years also.
(London – 28th April 2013)

9) I live in beautiful Northern Ireland and I have to tell you we have not had many Chiffchaff over here either in comparison to last year.
(Margaret in Northern Ireland - 29th April 2013)

10) Numbers down in my area too, as are willow warblers. Blackcaps seem to be OK, but no sign of any sedge warblers, whitethroats or grasshopper warblers which are normally in by now. The severely cold dry start to spring and now the cold blustery wet northerly winds, offer no favours to the migrants. Even swallow and martin numbers are down. There simply aren't enough insects around at the moment to sustain them. All looks a bit bleak at the moment. 
(Monaghan - Ireland - 19th April 2013)

So after receiving these reports its looking more and more clear now that there could well have been a major problem for the species during the onset or part way through their migration with some disastrous consequences.  For me its definately a good idea to keep definitive comparison records, it does save all that guesswork of probability!!