Spring Bird Migration

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For many people the world over, spring migration with the return of our summer songsters is an exciting time of year. The first swallow or cuckoo heralds in the summer and floods our thoughts with summer haze and the smell of wildflowers. When I lived in Ireland March was typically cold and wet and summer seemed a distant illusion. Here in Bahrain the spring migrants are very much in evidence and thousands of birds, from waders to passerines to raptors are already gracing us with their presence. The hoopoe is the harbinger of the migration season for us.

Hoopoes are one of the first migrants to arrive in Bahrain

There are several major flyways ferrying birds north across the continents. In Europe and North America these flyways are well studied. Millions upon millions of birds have been ringed over the past century, their recoveries helping us piece together the paths taken over eons of time. Three flyways are identified in North America, the eastern, central and western flyways. Recent publications by the Canadian and US governments have documented our knowledge species by species based on these data. In Western Europe the publication of the Migration Atlas by the British Trust for Ornithology http://www.bto.org/has mirrored the situation in North America.

There is a recognised flyway here in the Middle East but our knowledge of the ebb and flow of birds through here is much patchier. Birds wintering in east Africa pulse through the gulf region on their drive to reach Eastern Europe, west Asia and even venturing through east Asia to Alaska in the case of the northern wheatear.

Some of the Northern Wheatears passing through Bahrain breed in Alaska

With the discovery of oil and the insatiable drive to supply the world energy need, the gulf countries have changed dramatically. Birds today are less dependent on the traditional oases for respite as the agricultural greening of the deserts now supports lush green vegetation after the winter growing season. A day flight over the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia reveals crop circle after crop circle in areas which were devoid of vegetation only two decades ago. Birds can refuel and build necessary reserves for their onward flights to unknown destinations in temperate or even arctic regions.

As a bird ringer (bander) with the only consistent ringing project in the gulf we are trying to put some of the pieces of the puzzle in place, to help us understand a little more about one of the greatest mysteries of nature, migration. We recently had a ring recovery of a Pied Wagtail (Motacilla Alba) which travelled from Bahrain to Petrilovo, north of Moscow, in the Russian Federation. The straight line distance was 3,806 Km. And the time between ringing and recovery was 180 days.

A pied Wagtail ringed (banded) in Bahrain was recovered in Russia 6 months later


How much more is yet to be discovered? For further information on our ringing activities go to http://www.hawar-islands.com/blog/gen_stub.php

Brendan Kavanagh

Brendan

Brendan Kavanagh

Brendan Kavanagh is a Zoology graduate from Trinity College Dublin. In Ireland he developed the ‘National Conservation Strategy for the endangered Grey Partridge”. Based in Bahrain, Brendan has established the first sustained bird ringing programme using the British Trust for Ornithology ringing scheme, has trained local Bahraini personnel, Wildlife Rangers from Saudi Arabia and conducted research on the Grey Hypocolius, a species endemic to the Middle East. He has ringed over 10,000 birds and amassed a significant data set on the morphology of migrants in the Gulf Region.

Brendan

Brendan

Brendan Kavanagh is a Zoology graduate from Trinity College Dublin. In Ireland he developed the ‘National Conservation Strategy for the endangered Grey Partridge”. Based in Bahrain, Brendan has established the first sustained bird ringing programme using the British Trust for Ornithology ringing scheme, has trained local Bahraini personnel, Wildlife Rangers from Saudi Arabia and conducted research on the Grey Hypocolius, a species endemic to the Middle East. He has ringed over 10,000 birds and amassed a significant data set on the morphology of migrants in the Gulf Region.

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Ken_Billington

Brendan, a fascinating article richly illustrated with great images – I especially like your Hoopoe image. I didn’t realize that pied wagtails migrated over such large distances. When I’m in West Cork during the summer I see many pied wagtails in the farmyards feeding on the insects. Would you know where such “Irish” pied wagtails migrate to in the winter?