Review of the Week: 10th-16th October 2002


An Isabelline Wheatear was seen for several hours on Bardsey Island (Gwynedd) on the 16th. October is the month for this pallid vagrant. Despite several records during the last decade and a better understanding of the identification characteristics from several well-watched birds, it remains a quality find. With all wheatears careful scrutiny of the full suite of identification features is required to eliminate the pitfall of an aberrant Northern Wheatear, but as with most things the genuine article is rather easy to spot compared with poor-quality imposters. October is also the month for Pied Wheatears, so one on North Ronaldsay (Orkney) will have been no surprise.

Much of the interest once again centred on the Northern Isles. The second Red-flanked Bluetail of the autumn was found on Shetland, a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler was on Unst, Lanceolated Warbler and Pechora Pipit on Fair Isle, plus four Olive-backed Pipits scattered throughout the islands. Several Blyth's Reed Warblers were examined in detail, though one at Filey (North Yorkshire) proved once again that close scrutiny in the field can tease out the identification features of this subtle Acrocephalus. As with a number of similar species, what used to be thought only possible in the hand can now be detected in the field, as observers become more familiar with trawling through feather tracts in search of the answer before them. A Black-throated Thrush was an all-too-brief visitor in Cornwall, and the same county hosted Arctic Warbler and Western Bonelli's Warbler, whilst 'Bonelli's warblers' were also reported in Norfolk and Northumberland. Eastern warblers were in relatively short supply, though a Radde's Warbler in Norfolk proved popular and Dusky Warblers were seen in Norfolk, Suffolk and Shetland, though both these paltry numbers were well below the record numbers noted for both species in recent years.

Scarcities featured well, with at least 20 Pallas's Warblers brightening many a day during the week. A supporting cast included at least 80 Yellow-browed Warblers, 17 Barred Warblers and a Marsh Warbler. Other species included at least 18 Red-breasted Flycatchers, five Bluethroats and 10 Wrynecks. Rarer buntings included two Rustic Buntings, four Ortolan Buntings and half-a-dozen Little Buntings. Just a handful of Common Rosefinches were seen, highlighting yet another regular rarity that has been in short supply this autumn. More noticeable was the dashing arrival of at least 33 Great Grey Shrikes, with nearly all coastal birds between Suffolk and the Northern Isles. Always a pleasure to see, their menacing occupation of the coastal bushes is normally short-lived as most rapidly head inland. Elsewhere, at least four Red-throated Pipits were reported, three of which were fly-overs, including one inland in East Yorkshire. Just over a dozen Richards Pipits 'shreeped' their way across many coastal fields and two Short-toed Larks were also noted, whilst Hoopoes in Anglesey and Highland added a dash of colour to proceedings. Dazzling Firecrests, many a birder's favourite bird, featured prominently in the events of the week with exceptional numbers noted in many locations. In Yorkshire the county record count was blitzed over the weekend, and multiple counts were found at many east coast locations - how many more are now associating with inland tit flocks?

Interest for wader enthusiasts is diminishing, but a Red-necked Phalarope was a good find in Staffordshire. Normally associated with westerlies at this time of year, 8 Grey Phalaropes were also reported, including one in Bedfordshire. Spotted Sandpipers have been a bit on the rare side over the past few years, so one on Gugh will have given a number of observers the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with the species. Long-billed Dowitchers included a new arrival in Carmarthen and another remained in Co. Cork, and a Baird's Sandpiper was in Co. Clare. Also in Ireland, a Forster's Tern was seen in Co. Kerry and the Pacific Golden Plover was again on South Uist. Seawatching was a bit disappointing, but a Black-browed Albatross past Lothian suggested that the bird seen in East Yorkshire a few weeks ago is still present in the western North Sea. On the duck front, most interest was provided by a Lesser Scaup and Black Duck in Cornwall, whilst Ferruginous Ducks were seen in Leicestershire, Lancashire and Worcestershire, with the Redhead still in Glamorgan.

More easterlies after the weekend are likely to keep interest and optimism high, though a blast of northerlies before that suggests seawatching might be a good way to spend a couple of days - there's an albatross out there somewhere!

As always if you are fortunate enough to encounter anything of interest, or if you have travelled to see one of the birds mentioned on our Bird News Extra page, please call us on our freefone number 08000 350 444, email us at sightings@birdguides.com or use the submission form from our Bird News Extra page - we would love to hear from you with information on what you have found, or been to see.
Written by: Russell Slack, BirdGuides