The week at a glance
- Belated news of a White-tailed Tropicbird found dead on a Cumbrian beach
- Black Scoter off the Gwynedd coastline
- Buff-bellied Pipits and Pallas's Warbler popular in Berkshire
- American Coot still in Galway
A much-needed blast of icy air from the east brought an end to several weeks of abnormally mild conditions across Britain and Ireland, sending unseasonable butterflies back into hiding and infusing a sense of dynamism back into birding. But the week's highlight was far from what one might expect from a bout of cold weather...
On a stroll along a Cumbrian beach in January, one might expect to find the odd corpse of an unfortunate Guillemot or Razorbill, but not what Peter Scott discovered along the tideline at Mawbray on 6th. The unlikely victim in this case was an adult White-tailed Tropicbird! News broke of this sensational find on 14th, with many feeling a sense of utter disbelief — who'd have expected that news to blow away the winter blues?!
Of course, Britain can already boast Red-billed Tropicbird on its national list following a bird seen by a fortunate few from the Scillonian back in March 2002 (plus two other accepted records from Cornwall and Scilly since 2001 though not seen by birders), while another was photographed some 25km off the Old Head of Kinsale (Cork) in September 2009. But still, White-tailed seemed simply 'off the scale'. Evidently not, though, and the bird's relatively fresh state of plumage suggested that it had perhaps once danced in the skies above British waters.
The week's other big find was a drake Black Scoter off Black Rock Sands (Gwynedd) on 16th: admittedly a little more predictable than the tropicbird, but an excellent discovery nonetheless. Meanwhile, the two Buff-bellied Pipits continued to commute between Queen Mother Reservoir and nearby Kingsmead Quarry throughout the week, while the American Coot (alongside its Green-winged Teal companion) remained in Galway.
Last week we reported that Berkshire had continued its good run with a Yellow-browed Warbler found at Moor Green Lakes. However, on 12th, news broke that the bird had been reidentified as the county's first Pallas's Warbler! It showed well there until the end of the week. Another Yellow-browed was found at St. Austell (Cornwall) on 13th, while the Dusky Warbler was again seen on St. Mary's (Scilly). The Western Subalpine Warbler was still surviving in St. Just (Cornwall) throughout — the fact that there are only a couple of known winter records from Portugal puts in to perspective just how remarkable a bird overwintering in Cornwall is. There were also plenty of Siberian Chiffchaffs around, primarily in the far south and southwest although records from Warwickshire and Kerry were notable.
Long-staying favourites such as the female Desert Wheatear in Aberdeenshire, the Black-bellied Dipper in Breckland and the Exminster (Devon) Rose-coloured Starling all remained in situ this week, although a Richard's Pipit by the Yeo Estuary, Clevedon (Somerset) was a fresh arrival from 12th. Meanwhile, up on Shetland, a single Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll was again noted at Haroldswick, Unst on 15th. Meanwhile, Inner London's first-ever Bearded Tits attracted large crowds to Hyde Park throughout the week.
White-morph Gyr Falcons were again noted on North Uist (10th), South Uist (10th and 12th) and at Toab (Orkney) on 15th, while the juvenile female Northern Harrier further lengthened her stay at Tacumshin (Wexford) to 13th (five Cranes were also still there). Just two Rough-legged Buzzards — those at Haddiscoe (Norfolk) and Gibraltar Point (Lincs) — were seen.
Shorebird highlight of the week was a new adult Long-billed Dowitcher at Lady's Island Lake (Wexford) on 14th–15th — could this be one of last winter's pair returning? Elsewhere, the first-winter was still on the Gann Estuary (Pembrokeshire) to at least 15th, while the Lesser Yellowlegs in Devon and the Temminck's Stint in Somerset both remained.
The adult Bonaparte's Gull returned to Cardiff Bay (Glamorgan) from 12th, thereby confirming that the adult just along the coast on the Ogmore Estuary is a different bird, for that individual was still present all week. In Antrim, the adult was again seen in the Larne area, while a further new adult was discovered at Padstow (Cornwall) on 14th. At least 15 reports of Ring-billed Gulls came from Ireland during the week, including twos still at Castletownbere (Cork) and Tralee (Kerry). Four British records concerned two first-winters on Shetland: the continuing bird on Fair Isle and a new individual at Scalloway (there have been fewer than 20 records previously in the archipelago). A further new bird was at Chew Valley Lake (Somerset) and the usual Hampshire bird was also still present. A reasonable showing of at least 35 each of Glaucous and Iceland Gulls included plenty of accessible birds in the English Midlands, while the adult Kumlien's Gull again roosted at Grafham Water (Cambs) on 10th.
Snow Geese consisted of the two white morphs again on North Uist and a third again at Sheskinmore Lough (Donegal), plus a new blue morph with Pink-feet at Cockerham Moss (Lancs) on 13th and others still on Bute (Clyde Is.) and in Fermanagh. Meanwhile, the Ross's Goose was again seen in east Norfolk. Of the five Black Brants reported, the most interesting was the continuing juvenile in the Cley (Norfolk) area for it offered birders a rare opportunity to appreciate the subspecies at this age. The Hampshire Red-breasted Goose moved to Thorney Island (W Sussex) following two fly-bys at Selsey Bill on 13th. The Solway bird was again seen at Loaningfoot (Dumf & Gall) alongside both the Todd's and Richardson's Canada Geese, with the Todd's later seen at Caerlaverock on 15th. Further Richardson's remained on Islay and in Sligo, while a bird with Canada Geese at Frampton Marsh (Lincs) on 13th is presumably the recent Cley bird.
Drake American Wigeon remained in residence at Tullaghan (Leitrim), Udale Bay (Highland) and Bawburgh (Norfolk), while sixteen drake Green-winged Teal included new birds in Pembrokeshire, Cork, Mayo (2) and Donegal. The female Lesser Scaup was again reported from Loch of Ayre (Orkney) on 15th and drakes remained in Cornwall and Somerset. The Ferruginous Duck was again seen distantly in the latter county on Curry Moor on 10th. Nine Ring-necked Ducks were split between Britain and Ireland in a 2:1 ratio. New drakes were found at Lough Ennell (Westmeath) and Lough Sheelin (Cavan), while the female at Slapton Ley (Devon) was joined by a drake on 13th. Drake King Eiders remained off the Whalsay and Aberdeenshire coastlines, and Surf Scoters included a new first-winter drake off the Amroth (Pembrokeshire) on 14th, the remaining female in the county at Broad Haven, a female again in Brandon Bay (Kerry) and the young drake still off Dungarvan (Waterford).
Glossy Ibis continued their respective stays at Marloes Mere (Pembrokeshire) and Bickerley Common (Hants), while the Somerset Cattle Egret reappeared at Tealham Moor for a couple of days from 11th and the Donegal bird was again at the pig farm near St. Johnston. Of the 20+ Great White Egrets seen, five were still at Dungeness (Kent) on 11th with four nearby at Lade Gravel Pits on 12th, no doubt some of the same birds. Meanwhile, in Holes Bay (Dorset), a flock of 16 Spoonbills continued to prove popular.
Photo of the Week
It's a common situation for bird photographers: there's a great bird that's been around for some time and has been photographed by many people from every angle. You finally get to visit the bird and wonder what you can do to get the best possible shot. This was the situation for Mick Southcott when he caught up with the Black-bellied Dipper in Thetford (Norfolk) this week. Experienced photographers like Mick know that the best approach is to stop and think about what shot(s) you want, rather than just chasing after the bird 'guns blazing'. As he explains on his blog, Mick spotted the ideal perch and then waited patiently for the bird to oblige. With this approach, it's possible to get fully set up beforehand, including getting into the right position relative to the light and background and even to tweak the perch while the bird is away. Everything is then optimised when the bird finally appears, so it's just a case of timing the shot when the bird strikes the right pose, which Mick pulled off perfectly with this engaging 'angel pose'. Anyone looking to develop the ability to take bird photos that stand out from the crowd can learn from this instructive case study.