Review of the Week: 11-17 December 2023


In a significant development for Welsh birders, BirdGuides has revised and enhanced the locations it uses in its sightings database for Wales. The move sees BirdGuides align its own system with those adopted by the Welsh Ornithological Society, British Birds and local bird groups for the very first time, allowing subscribers to receive county-level notifications for all 13 Welsh regions – an exclusive provision by a bird news service. Subscribers will need to set up new filters and alerts for the updated counties to continue receiving notifications. You can find more information about the changes here.

One of the week's most popular rarities was the dashing male Black-throated Thrush at Tophill Low, East Yorkshire. Present throughout the week, it shared the site with a supporting cast of Red-necked Grebe, several Waxwings and an adult drake Smew. The site has enjoyed a purple patch in recent months, with sightings since the autumn including two Blue-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck and a Barred Warbler. The last twitchable Black-throated Thrushes for Yorkshire concerned a young female at Adwick Washlands RSPB, South Yorkshire, in January 2017 and a male at Wykeham Forest, North Yorkshire, in February 2023.

Black-throated Thrush, Tophill Low NR, East Yorkshire (Lee Johnson).

Waxwings were again part and parcel of the week's news, encompassing an amazing 24% of all sightings on BirdGuides so far during December – numbering 1,424 reports. Birds have now reached most counties in England, with only Wiltshire awaiting their first bird of 2023. A small flock of eight in Fakenham, Norfolk, included a dapper leucistic bird with prominent white cheeks and pink tarsus. This distinctive individual had been earlier reported at Saltholme RSPB, Cleveland, in late November.

Waxwing, Fakenham, Norfolk (Jane Rowe).

In Cornwall, the adult White-crowned Sparrow was reported from a Rosudgeon on two dates, with the Eastern Yellow Wagtail last noted on St Mary's, Scilly, on 11th. A notable flock of Little Buntings at Tremethick Cross, Cornwall, reached an incredible four. A Hume's Leaf Warbler remained at Clennon Valley Lakes, Devon, and six Yellow-browed Warblers were in southern England.

Hume's Leaf Warbler, Clennon Valley Lakes, Devon (Thomas Collier).

Further news included a European Serin in Essex, Hoopoe in Derbyshire and three Great Grey Shrikes – one at Leash Fen, Derbyshire, and two in central Scotland. Two Coues's Arctic Redpolls accompanied up to 30 Mealy Redpolls at Otterburn, Northumberland, on 13th and Shore Larks were at four sites along the east coast.

The Welsh Pallid Harrier kept Carmarthen birders happy by proving twitchable at Llanelli Wetland Centre WWT on 15th and 17th, also putting in appearances in Gower on three dates. Another continued on the north Norfolk coast, with the juvenile Northern Harrier still in Co Wexford.

Northern Harrier, Wexford Wildfowl Reserve, Wexford (Conor Lynam).

White-winged gulls enjoyed a slight increase, with both species just hitting double figures for the first time this winter. Glaucous Gull numbered 10, while 14 Iceland Gulls included an adult at Chasewater, Staffordshire and a returning third-winter Kumlien's on Westray, Orkney. Two Bonaparte's Gulls made brief appearances in Ireland – a first-winter on Rathlin Island, Co Antrim, and an adult at Blennerville, Co Kerry – and Ring-billed Gulls remained in Cornwall and Co Louth.

Two large shearwaters – probably Great Shearwaters – were off Ballycotton, Co Cork, on 17th.

Ring-billed Gull, Hayle Estuary, Cornwall (Derek Julian).

For many, the Essex Canvasback is likely to prove the bird of December and was still present at Abberton Reservoir throughout. Surrey, meanwhile, makes a rare Review of the Week appearance with a presumed returning drake Ferruginous Duck at Thorpe Park on 17th (a drake wintered at the site in 2021-22). Lingering Ferruginous Ducks were in Gloucestershire and Norfolk (two).

Canvasback, Abberton Reservoir, Essex (Lee Gregory).

The strong winter showing of Lesser Scaup continued with the discovery of two new birds on the south-west Pembrokeshire coast – at Bosherston Lily Ponds and Penberry Reservoir. These brought the British total for the week to seven, with one more in Ireland. Additional totals comprised five American Wigeon – including the 'Storm Wigeon' still on Anglesey – 21 Ring-necked Ducks and 13 Green-winged Teal, while four of seven Surf Scoter were in south-west England. The resident American Black Duck was reported again from Mullet, Co Mayo.

Green-winged Teal (front bird) with Eurasian TealHayle Estuary, Cornwall (Martin Webb).

Oare Marshes, Kent, attracted some attention with the discovery of an adult Lesser White-fronted Goose from 15th. However, despite being unringed its appearance with the resident local, feral Greylag Geese doesn't do its credentials any favours as a wild vagrant. The most convincing carrier species for a wild Lesser White-fronted Goose are Russian White-fronted and Taiga Bean Geese, both overlapping with Lesser White-front in parts of their respective ranges.

Lesser White-fronted Goose (centre) with Greylag Geese, Oare Marshes NR, Kent (Alex Perry).

A Red-breasted Goose was again in Norfolk, present with Dark-bellied Brent Geese at Stiffkey on 17th. Others were still in Essex, Lancashire and Northumberland. A Grey-bellied Brant accompanied Pale-bellied Brent Geese in the Dublin outskirts and a Black Brant at Dungarvan, Co Waterford, was joined by three in England. Two Snow Geese were in Scotland.

Red-breasted Goose (right) with Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Bradwell-on-Sea, Essex (Ran Nathan).

Snow Goose (centre) with Greylag Geese, Caolas, Tiree, Argyll (John Bowler).

A Lesser Yellowlegs was back at Southwold, Suffolk, from 11th after a near two-week absence. Birds at Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire, and Swine Moor, East Yorkshire, remained popular. The long-staying Kentish Plover lingered in Somerset and Grey Phalaropes were off Fife and Co Antrim.

Lesser Yellowlegs, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire (Matthew Mellor).


Western Palearctic

This week's regional highlight was the Purple Gallinule discovered in the Azores at Ponta, Delgada, São Miguel. A Great Blue Heron was also on that island, with two American Coot on Terceira. Elsewhere in Macaronesia, the White-faced Whistling Duck lingered on Sal, Cape Verde, and an Allen's Gallinule was picked up exhausted on La Palma, Canary Islands, on 12th.

In France, a Rüppell's Vulture was at Chamaloc and the Cream-coloured Courser continued at Hyères. Germany’s best bird was at Richardson's Cackling Goose at Dümmer, while the Pacific Diver stuck around in northern Denmark at Hanstholm.

The Lesser Flamingo was again seen in Kuwait and there was a welcome report of a Basalt Wheatear from southern Israel. Croatia enjoyed its second Hume's Leaf Warbler at Zagreb on 17th and the fourth Syrian Woodpecker for Germany was at Ninive.


Written by: Sam Viles