Tuesday 6th November

7:15 – 8:45 5˚c Wind: 7 – 14mph WSW 1022hPa

Mainly clear with some low cloud developing. Woodpigeon passage nearly all in first 30 mins. Not as many as last year on the same day (655). Starlings, fieldfares and redwings mainly in groups of 10+ throughout watch. First bramblings (c5) to land, grounded by juv. sparrowhawk. Very late solitary house martin!

VisMig Counts (all SW apart from thrushes which mainly NW)

Woodpigeon – 265

Fieldfare – 63

Redwing – 56

Starling – 90

Chaffinch – 18

Brambling – 12

House martin – 1

Juvenile sparrowhawk and magpies chasing each other around the park..

Peregrines (pair on taller spire) on CCC didn’t seem too bothered by the woodpigeons!..

Woodies flying overhead..


Sunday 7th October – Redwings

7:15 am Temp : 5°c Wind: N 2mph / gusts 6mph 1020.6hPa

Pretty clear with light airs. Little to no visible migration (ostensibly due to lack of head-wind to give any lift), but our first redwings of the Autumn moving in all directions. Looks like they must have ridden in high on north-easterlies overnight, over-flown and have been making their way back, generally eastwards during the morning. Plenty stopping to feed on the holly around Cabot Tower.

Last years redwings arrived on the 14th October – exactly 1 week from now on the same day as 2011’s first big wave of fieldfares.

Next watch will be Friday 12th from 7:15.

Thursday 4th October 2012

6:45 – 10:15 am Temp : 7°c Wind: SW 3mph / gusts 7mph 1005.8hPa

Our first decent count of meadow pipits this Autumn along with the first signs of finches on passage and alba wagtails moving S or SW rather than W. Peregrine pair seen together on the Clifton perches, another seen stooping over Bedminster and a passing early morning great black-backed gull.

Migration Watch

Alba wagtail – 42 (mostly white, largest group 8)

Meadow pipit – 363 (largest group 20)

Swallow – 9

Chaffinch – 96 (mostly between 7:30 – 8:00, largest group 9)

Siskin – 7

Linnet – 1

All birds moving S / SW

Thanks Sam, Alex, Liz, Maddie

Friday 28th September

6:45 – 8:30 am Temp : 11°c Wind: SSW 10mph / gusts 15mph 1011.4hPa

A cloudy and blustery first meeting of the Autumn, with plenty of peregrines and a trickle of passerine passage.

Lots of black-headed gulls moving into town first thing, mainly via Brunel Lock side of New Cut and Floating Harbour. Gorge peregrine on the Wills Tower just before sunrise, then in flight e-chupping and between Clifton Cathedral and Christchurch just after sunrise. Town peregrine pair on Castlemead, then after mobbing by large group of crows (one of which attacked by tiercel) first record of female peregrine perched on the very top of the tower.

Visible Migration

Grey wagtail 1 W

Alba wagtail 11 W

Meadow pipit 26 SW

Swallow 33 S

Lots of local greenfinch movement, with some potentially on passage.

Thanks Sam, Alex, Liz and Brenda

Saturday 29/09/12 7:00-9:00 7°c W 7 / 12mph 1016.7hPa

Saturday morning solo watch very similar to Friday with mips heading SSW and albas WSW. Fewer swallows. Clearer and less blustery.

Meadow pipit – 49 SW / SSW (largest group 15)

Alba wagtail – 24 W/WSW (1s & 2s then group of 14)

Swallow – 9 S

House martin – 4 S

group of 15 passage finch sp. distant moving west

8:15 60+ carrion crows on Castlemead

8:30 9 crows mobbing peregrine on Clifton Cathedral

Autumn Update 2012

Firstly, apologies for the lack of updates over the Spring and Summer – weather-wise, 2012 has been an extremely unpredictable year, and even after some almost considerable effort by a stalwart skeleton crew to persevere during a dismal Spring.. We saw no interesting visible migration from Cabot Tower (apart from a solitary hobby flying due north only a stone’s throw away) and made an executive decision to cancel the CTBSG Spring migration watches. We had anticipated that even though Autumn 2011 saw plenty of action (most notably the mass influx of winter thrushes in mid-october and “woodpigeon day” on the 6th November), Spring migration might be a different story, with birds flying north choosing different flight paths, which avoided flying directly over the city before reaching Brandon Hill and Cabot Tower – and regrettably, our predictions proved to be accurate.

However.. I am pleased to report that the CTBSG will be meeting up again this month to continue to study the Autumn migration over Bristol, to contribute valuable data to the BTO and to compare results with last year and with the other major urban study taking place this Autumn in central London: T42BSG. After just as dismal a start to the year for the Tower 42 group in the shape of a complete shut-down (due to administrative problems and a change of ownership), I can report that David Lindo has managed to work his magic with the new owners of T42, and they have kindly agreed to give him the go-ahead to recommence proceedings – so it looks like it is going be an exciting Autumn for urban visible migration study in the UK.

This Autumn has already seen some interesting goings on in Bristol, with a few unusual signs of migration over the city coming from the remains of the city-centre peregrines, which I have been closely monitoring. After unexpectedly finding a common tern carcass floating in the harbour earlier this Summer – right underneath the peregrines’ perch in the heart of the city, I was even more surprised just recently to find the remains of a whimbrel on the roof of a city-centre car park..

The tall building overlooking this location was used as a perch by the town peregrines to feed the solitary juvenile in the few weeks after it fledged, and they had obviously been busy picking off passing migrants, as in the same week that the whimbrel was discovered, I also found this feather from a juvenile cuckoo (identified by Ed D) – an equally unusual urban vagrant..

At Brandon Hill, the most notable sighting this Autumn has been a nuthatch feeding in the trees and shrubs around Cabot Tower at around the same time as the peak of the phylloscopus warbler passage. Nuthatches are common in some areas of Bristol, but are typically sedentary (not a single British-ringed nuthatch has ever been recovered outside of the UK and similarly, no foreign-ringed nuthatch has yet been recovered here) and this was my first ever record at the Hill – WWT Slimbridge also with a recent sighting and only their 6th record.

From the top of the tower, the signs of Autumn are becoming increasingly regular. The adult peregrines that nested in the Avon Gorge are now frequenting their off-season perches on Christchurch, Clifton Catholic Cathedral, the Wills Memorial Tower and the old tobacco houses by Cumberland Basin.

And not escaping the attention of the local corvids!..

Visible migration is starting to pick-up with the odd meadow pipit and trickles of white wagtails already passing over south and west in the first hour after sunrise. In the coming weeks, there should be a sharp increase in numbers of both of these species and hopefully it won’t be long before the finches and thrushes start to join them.

With that in mind, the first official 2012 meeting of the CTBSG and visible migration watch session of the season will take place on Friday the 28th September 2012. This will be entirely dependant on conditions as usual – but all being well, we should see the Autumn passage of passerines in full swing. As always, we will also be monitoring Bristol’s local raptors and looking out for passing migrants – and with my first red kite sighting in Bristol earlier this year, I am hoping for something even more exciting.. Maybe in the shape of an osprey.. ;)

If you are interested in joining the group, please comment below (email address not publicly displayed) or contact us here. For those of you already on the mailing list, please register your interest and I will confirm and send out further details during the week commencing 24/09/12.

Hope to see you at the top of the tower!

Sam Hobson

Friday 4th and Sunday 6th November

Since the first big influx of thrushes in mid-October, things have slowed down a little – largely due to the weather remaining pretty mild and stable over the UK and the continent.

Although quiet, the autumn migration has steadily continued with groups of passerines passing over Cabot Tower most mornings, and a few new species have been added to the list including brambling and reed bunting.

This weekend looked like the first window for a while, with high pressure building over the UK and Scandinavia, northerly winds over the North Sea and a cold front moving down from the Arctic into eastern Europe.

To make the most of the conditions, we arranged 2 watches on the mornings of Friday 4th and Sunday 6th, both of which had comparatively quite different results – Sunday was definitely woodpigeon day!

Friday 4th Nov 7:00 – 8:45 11°C SSW 3-8mph (all S / SW unless stated otherwise)

Fieldfare – 147

Redwing – 10

Chaffinch – 44

Goldfinch – 18

Meadow pipit – 8 (first for over a week)

Siskin – 2

Linnet – 2

Pied wagtail – 3

Starling – 15

Woodpigeon – 67 (including single group of 55 SW)

Thrush sp. – 18

Finch sp. – 10

Sunday 6th Nov 7:30 – 9:30 6°C  NNE 8-14mph p1021.8hPa

Woodpigeon – 655 all SW

siskin and skylark heard going over high roughly SE

The woodies were mainly passing to the north-west, with some large groups moving south-west down the Severn that were too distant to count without a scope.

Local redwing, fieldfare, mistle thrush and blackbird numbers all much higher than usual, but no significant directional movement – assume that many have arrived overnight.

Cabot Tower BSG Launch

Sunday morning (2nd Oct) was our first official visible migration watch from Cabot Tower. In between the introductions, pictures, interviews and general chit-chat, we managed to get in a bit of birding and had some good sightings of migrant passerines (often flying right past us at eye-level) heading south over Bristol.

9 of us, including myself, Ed Drewitt and David Lindo (The Urban Birder) were in attendance. We weren’t expecting any significant movement after the extended spell of good weather, light winds, lack of cloud and average visibility – but we had lots more finch movement than previously (including our first siskins and larger groups of migrant chaffinches), plenty of pied / white wagtails (but fewer grey wags) and as usual, a patchy but consistent stream of meadow pipits.

The session lasted c2hrs from 6:45, but all counts are conservative, due to a general lack of vigilance by myself whilst discussing the project etc. during the inaugural session. All movement generally south unless stated otherwise:

meadow pipit – 130 (at least with largest group of 30)

pied / white wagtail – 61

chaffinch – 52 (largest group 15)

siskin – c30 (largest group 8)

goldfinch – 32

A few other bits moving south including a couple of starlings, collared doves and greenfinch, but no significant numbers. No hirundines.

Other sightings (non-migrants) were 8 ravens close by, with a few distant groups of 2 or 3 to the north-west, a pair of adult peregrine (possibly Gorge pair due to size of female) on Clifton Catholic Cathedral and an extremely close sighting of a sparrowhawk flying directly towards the tower, lit from underneath by the early morning sun.

A few pictures by Edward Felton and Tina Smith and a soundbite from Ed Drewitt below (please follow link if soundcloud media player does not display properly)..

Cabot Tower Bird Study Migration Watch Launch with Ed Drewitt:


The next session will be in the coming week depending on the weather and planned Tower 42 meetings, and we are hoping for higher numbers of finches and our first redwings of the autumn.

Thanks to Ed D, Ed F, David, Tina, Alex, Liz A, Liz S and Pete for making it not only a success but plenty of fun too.

Sam Hobson

Official launch this Sunday 2nd October with The Urban Birder

David Lindo – The Urban Birder, will be visiting Bristol this weekend to help launch the first official Cabot Tower Bird Study Group urban visible migration and raptor watch session. The session will be c.3 hrs, depending on conditions, kicking off at 6:45.

We are hoping to count meadow pipit and other passage migrants moving south over Bristol and will also be watching for raptors over the city.

We have had mixed results during the preliminary sessions in the last week, with highlights being lots of meadow pipit movement, migrating grey and pied wagtails, a few hirundines (although plenty on Saturday 24th moving down the Avon Gorge to the west), large groups of ravens and plenty of peregrine and sparrowhawk action. This morning, during an hour long watch from 9-10 am, 40 meadow pipits went over, a charm of 40 goldfinch, then 30 mixed gold and greenfinch landed at Brandon Hill, and just as the sun came out at 10 o’clock, a sparrowhawk flew only metres above CT and a buzzard passed over Clifton Triangle, heading into town.

Lots happening at the moment – hopefully luck will be with with us on Sunday!

Preliminary Findings

Before setting up the CTBSG, it has been necessary to get the correct permission to access Cabot Tower early enough in the day to make it worth while, as most movements of the types of birds we will be monitoring take place before the tower is open to the public.

After gaining access, a few trial sessions have taken place, with mixed results.

On Friday the 23rd of September things were looking promising with lots of movements of gulls down the Avon into Bristol, a couple of peregrines, a few cormorant, a large conspiracy of 21 ravens grouped tightly together just overhead, and movements south of 62 meadow pipits, 20 grey wagtails and 5 pied wagtails. The session lasted c2 hrs from 6:45 , winds were light with few gusts (SW 10 – 18mph), it was bright and clear with temperatures of 14°C.

For the second preliminary session on Sunday the 25th, I was joined by Ed Drewitt. After being greeted with a grey heron and a peregrine we registered no movement of any passerines apart from perhaps a couple of grey wags that we heard passing over. We were up there for c1.5 hrs, again from 6:45, winds were more gusty (S 12 – 21 mph), grey with drizzle and temps of 15/16°C.

These results perfectly illustrate the nature of bird migration and its unpredictability. Within the space of 2 days, significantly different results with conditions not too dissimilar. The most likely explanation for the lack of movement on the Sunday, was that the weather had turned after a particularly mild day on Saturday with light winds and plenty of sun. Hirundines were definitely making the most of the Saturday’s conditions, with c1k moving south down the Avon Gorge.

Birds over Bristol…

Brandon Hill is one of the best places in Bristol to see urban birds and wildlife. The hill is alive with activity all year round, but Spring and Autumn are the best times to see raptors and passage migrants, with sightings of peregrine, sparrowhawk and buzzard on a daily basis and migrant passerines constantly moving through.

This video is of Clifton’s urban peregrine falcons. The first 2 clips are views from Cabot Tower, looking out to the Wills Memorial Tower at the top of Park Street and the spire of Clifton Catholic Cathedral on Pembroke road.

Brandon Hill has a large variety of resident songbirds, with nesting blackcaps and goldcrests, many passage migrants like redstarts, willow warblers, garden warblers and the occasional kingfisher that stop for short periods and seasonal visitors like overwintering redwings.

Cabot Tower has recently reopened to the public, which has given a new perspective from which to view Bristol’s bird life. Since reopening this summer, it has provided unique opportunities to monitor Bristol’s urban peregrines – from Clifton Village down to the City Centre, and so far this autumn, it has delivered some exciting sightings of passage migrants that would have been missed from ground level.

The reason for the formation of the Cabot Tower Bird Study Group is to monitor this visible migration over Bristol, and submit valuable data to the BTO about bird movements over cities. We will also be comparing data with the Tower 42 Bird Study Group in central London.

After movements of willow warbler, garden warbler and chiffchaff in the last few weeks, wagtails and pipits are now starting to pass over regularly. Perhaps skylark next, some Scandi thrushes, siskins or maybe some woodies in October..?