Review of the Week: 11-17 September 2023


Nearctic species were again high on the agenda this week, with a particularly special treat reserved for a fortunate few on the East Yorkshire coast. It was the far-flung St Kilda, however, that landed the rarest bird of the week, while birders with a keen eye on weather systems point to the coming days as promising some of the most exciting conditions for Nearctic vagrancy so far this autumn.

St Kilda's big prize was a Tennessee Warbler from 15th, which sparked the archipelago's first major twitch on 16th when a handful of eager twitchers made the adventurous crossing from the Isle of Harris. There cannot be many more exciting places in Britain to connect with a Nearctic vagrant than St Kilda, which is an isolated archipelago situated 60 km west of the main Outer Hebridean island chain. The Tennessee is the island's second record after one in a similar spot on 20 September 1995.

Tennessee Warbler, St Kilda, Outer Hebrides (Craig Nisbet).

The species has enjoyed an exceptional run in Britain and Ireland since the well-twitched bird on Yell, Shetland, in October 2020 – that being the first in some 25 years. This latest individual is now the fourth in four years, with the others concerning birds on Inishbofin, Co Galway, in October 2020 and Skokholm, Pembrokeshire, in October 2022. If anything, Britain and Ireland had been seriously overdue a run of birds, with this species one of the commonest warblers in north-east North America and having racked up an additional 11 Western Palearctic records.

Unfortunately, the only American Cliff Swallow to make it to Britain so far this autumn was found dead onboard a grain ship at Liverpool Docks, Lancashire, with no proof that it expired while in British waters. The American Yellow Warbler was last noted on Foula, Shetland, on 11th – its seven-day stint making it the longest-staying British record.

American Cliff Swallow, Liverpool, Lancashire (James Conlan).

American Yellow Warbler, Foula, Shetland (Penny Clarke).

An Upland Sandpiper became the 56th species of wader to grace the recording area at Spurn, East Yorkshire, when it flew high south on 16th. Its fleeting appearance disappointingly meant that the majority of birders on site failed to connect, with five lucky observers catching a glimpse and three others only hearing it as it flew overhead. The wait goes on for another twitchable bird in Britain, with the last multi-day stayer as far back as October 2011 on St Mary's Scilly, and the last to be gettable on the mainland occurring in Somerset in November 2005.

In a better week for Nearctic shorebird arrivals, Co Clare's fourth Wilson's Phalarope – a first-winter – was on a small pond at Kilbaha on 16th. Elsewhere on the west coast of Ireland, a juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher arrived at White's Marsh, Co Cork, on 14th, with adults still in Norfolk and Orkney. Five juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs made for a good arrival, with birds in Gwent, Norfolk, Cumbria, Co Cork and Co Donegal. A juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper lingered in Co Cork on Monday and up to 17 Buff-breasted Sandpipers were across Britain and Ireland, while five of the week's eight American Golden Plovers concerned new birds.

Long-billed Dowitcher, White's Marsh, Cork (Richard Mills).

Lesser Yellowlegs, Port Carlisle, Cumbria (Jack Bucknall).

Buff-breasted Sandpiper (left) and Pectoral Sandpiper (right), Davidstow Airfield, Cornwall (David Lamb).

The adult Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at Montrose Basin, Angus, proved elusive and wasn't noted at all after 12th, with the same date seeing a probable Pacific Golden Plover photographed near Ogston Reservoir, Derbyshire. As many as 28 Pectoral Sandpipers included three at Tacumshin, Co Wexford, and twos at three sites, with Temminck's Stints in Cleveland and Norfolk, and 11 Eurasian Dotterels nationally.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Montrose Basin, Angus & Dundee (Dan Pointon).

Eurasian Dotterel, St Agnes Head, Cornwall (Nick Watmough).

As many as three Brown Boobies along the North Sea coastline would have been unthinkable only a few years ago and highlights the rapid changes taking place in our avifauna due to climatic warming. The adult female at South Gare, Cleveland, continued to attract a steady stream of admirers to the Tees Estuary throughout, while the Firth of Forth immature was again off the Lothian coast on 16-17th. An adult that flew distantly west past Kelling, Norfolk, on 11th is perhaps the bird reported nearby back in August. The pale-morph immature Red-footed Booby continued roosting on Bishop Rock, Scilly, until 15th at least.

Brown Booby, South Gare, Cleveland (David Carr).

It appears that the late summer influx of Scopoli's Shearwaters isn't quite over yet, with one photographed from the Scillonian III in Scilly waters on 14th. All of the week's Fea's-type petrel reports came from the North Sea, with birds considered confirmed by observers past Hartlepool Headland, Cleveland, on 12th, Sandilands, Lincolnshire, on 13th and Longhoughton Steel, Northumberland, on 15th. Other mega-rare seabird action saw a Barolo-type shearwater reported off St Ives Head, Cornwall, on 16th.

Scopoli's Shearwater, Scillonian crossing, Cornwall (Michael McKee).

A decent showing of Leach's Storm Petrels in the North Sea saw birds pass 11 locales, with others off Pembrokeshire and Co Mayo. A number of Great Shearwaters were also in the North Sea, passing at least 11 sites between Norfolk and Northumberland – including three in past Whitburn, Durham, in only a couple of hours. A healthy 2,000 were at sea off Brixham, Devon, on 13th, alongside 800 Cory's Shearwaters. A high Cory's count comprised 4,100 past Pendeen, Cornwall, on 12th, with a handful again in the North Sea. One flew up the River Thames East Tilbury, Essex, on 17th before promptly U-turning. Long-tailed Skuas and Sabine's Gulls both remained widespread in coastal areas, with smaller numbers of Grey Phalaropes.

Great Shearwater, Scillonian crossing, Cornwall (James Sellen).

Cory's Shearwater, Scilly pelagic, Isles of Scilly (James Sellen).

The Double-crested Cormorant managed another week at Doon Lough, Co Leitrim, with other long-stayers consisting of the Azores Gull at Annagh Beach, Co Mayo, and the Forster's Tern at Arne RSPB, Dorset. A White-winged Tern lingered off East Halton Skitter, Lincolnshire, for a few minutes on 16th, with a Caspian Tern overflying Holy Island, Northumberland, the following day.

Playing second fiddle to the Tennessee Warbler in the Outer Hebrides was a European Roller on Vatersay from 12-14th. A first for the island and second for the 'Hebs', it follows one on Barra in September 2013. Other vibrant Mediterranean visitors included as many as 15 Hoopoes, with a small cluster of up to four on the Pembrokeshire coast. A male Bluethroat continued to show sporadically at Alkborough Flats, Lincolnshire, and an adult Woodchat Shrike at Seatown, Dorset, was popular, with two more in Scilly. Ortolan Buntings were audible in flight over Hampstead Heath, London, Meppershall, Bedfordshire, and Gorran Haven, Cornwall.

European Roller, Vatersay, Outer Hebrides (Dan Pointon).

Hoopoe, Skokholm, Pembrokeshire (Richard Brown / Skokholm Warden).

On 16th, North Ronaldsay, Orkney, hosted a Rustic Bunting, Lundy, Devon, bagged a Grey-headed Wagtail, and a Tawny Pipit flew inland over Happisburgh, Norfolk. Three Little Buntings kept close company on Out Skerries, Shetland. An adult male Red-breasted Flycatcher trapped and ringed at Newton Pool, Northumberland, was the best of a small cluster along the east coast, with three in the Spurn, East Yorkshire, recording area alone. Others were in Kent, Norfolk (two), Shetland and a second in Northumberland. An astounding few minutes at Brownstown Head, Co Waterford, late on 17th saw a Black-headed Bunting appear while observers patiently confirmed the presence of a Paddyfield Warbler in the very same spot! It is only the sixth Paddyfield for Ireland and tenth Black-headed, with the most recent records occurring in 2010 and 2009 respectively.

Little Buntings, Out Skerries, Shetland (Dave Bywater).

Fair Isle enjoyed steady drift migration throughout the week, starring two Arctic Warblers. A Red-flanked Bluetail on the island on 17th was followed in quick succession by one at Sammy's Point, East Yorkshire, that afternoon – the first and second records of the autumn. A Blyth's Reed Warbler was logged on Fair Isle the previous day, with others at Bakkasetter, Mainland, and North Ronaldsay, Orkney. 

Arctic Warbler, Fair Isle, Shetland (Alex Penn).

The West Sussex Aquatic Warbler continued to draw a crowd to Upper Beeding until 13th, with its four-day stay marking the longest on the mainland since one at Salford Priors GP, Warwickshire, in 2009. Another was trapped and ringed at Nanjizal Valley, Cornwall, on 11th. Two Western Bonelli's Warblers were in Ireland – on Cape Clear, Co Cork, and Rathlin Island, Co Antrim – with a singing male on St Mary's, Scilly. A brief Booted Warbler was also on St Mary's, with a Greenish Warbler on Great Saltee, Co Wexford. Five Melodious Warblers were noted, with two in Cornwall and singles in Scilly, Pembrokeshire and Co Wexford. A remarkably early Yellow-browed Warbler reached the west coast at Carmel Head, Anglesey, on 13th, with a scattering recorded in eastern areas towards the week's end. Barred Warblers numbered into double figures, while an Icterine Warbler remained in Co Clare.

Aquatic Warbler, Upper Beeding, West Sussex (Richard Allan).

A Rosy Starling was at Seaford Head, East Sussex, on 16th, to go with four in Cornwall and one still on Lundy, Devon. Three Common Rosefinches were in mainland Britain, with tallies in the Northern Isles reaching double figures. Additional scarce migrant totals included more than 50 Wrynecks and seven Red-backed Shrikes. Red-rumped Swallows blogged over Kilnsea, East Yorkshire, and Hartland Moor, Dorset, with two more reported in Norfolk.

Wryneck, Swalecliffe, Kent (Jonathan Dodds).

New Pallid Harriers were at Wallasea Island RSPB, Essex, Insh Marshes RSPB, Highland, and East Lomond, Fife, with one again at Compton Down, Isle of Wight, while juvenile Montagu's Harriers were at Froward Point, Devon, and Old Parish, Co Waterford. An adult female Red-footed Falcon was at Bough Beech Reservoir, Kent, on 11th.

Two Purple Herons were in Cornwall, with others at Combs Reservoir, Derbyshire, and Lower Quinton, Warwickshire. In Lincolnshire, the Black Stork was back at Frampton Marsh RSPB on 15th, with other lingering birds comprising the Durham Black-crowned Night Heron and Derbyshire's young Spotted Crake.

The King Eider lingered at Musselburgh, Lothian, although there was no sign of the Stejneger's Scoter this week. A drake Ferruginous Duck visited Cantley Beet Factory, Norfolk, and a single Blue-winged Teal persisted at Tophill Low, East Yorkshire. Otherwise, the resident American Black Duck was again in Co Mayo and a Todd's Canada Goose was still in Lancashire.

Spotted Crake, Ogston Reservoir, Derbyshire (Glyn Sellors).


Western Palearctic

The Azores's first Nearctic warbler of the season kicked off with an American Yellow Warbler on Corvo on 15th, with visiting waders including a Hudsonian Whimbrel and Semipalmated Plover. The young Marsh Sandpiper remained at Cabo da Praia, Terceira, too, while a Pacific Golden Plover at Lagoa dos Salgados, Algarve, is the third for mainland Portugal.

An action-packed week in Spain saw a likely Black-browed Albatross fly leisurely past Mirador de Corporales, Cantabria, on 15th, with a Brown Booby off Armintza, Basque Country, on 12th. A Booted Warbler was also in the Basque region at Hondarribia, with an Elegant Tern still in Andalucia and a Pacific Golden Plover on Mallorca. The long-staying White-backed Vulture resurfaced near Algeciras, Andalucia, on 14th. An American Cliff Swallow was in the Canaries at Gran Tarajal, Fuerteventura, on 17th.

Astonishingly, the Solitary Sandpiper in the Channel Islands at Rue des Bergers, Guernsey, wasn't so 'solitary' anymore after it was joined by a second juvenile on 12th! In France, the adult Eastern Imperial Eagle was again at Lac Du Der and a Brown Booby flew north past Saint-Denis-d'Oléron on 13th.

Solitary Sandpipers, Rue des Bergers NR, Guernsey (Dave Carre).

Up to six American Cliff Swallows were in Iceland, with two continuing at Keflavík, two on the Reykjavík outskirts and two more at Hafnarfjörður. Incredibly, the second Desertas Petrel in as many weeks was photographed in Faroe Islands waters approximately 130 km south-west of Suðuroy on 12th, becoming the second record confirmed to species level and just the third record for the species complex. A Rustic Bunting at Viðareiði, Viðoy, on 16th is just the archipelago's fourth.

An excellent few days in Sweden comprised the nation's sixth American Black Duck at Trollhättan from 11th, plus a lingering Lesser Kestrel and Baird's Sandpiper, while the immature Bonelli's Eagle nervously attempted to head out to sea over Falsterbo on 14th.

Only the second Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler for Germany was trapped and ringed well inland at Saarlouis on 12th, a stone's throw from the French border, while Romania's second Western Bonelli's Warbler was mistnetted at Agigea. A returning drake White-headed Duck was at Westkapelle, Netherlands, with a Booted Warbler on Texel. In Belgium, a Pacific Golden Plover was at Wenduine and a Pygmy Cormorant was near Bocholt.

Pacific Golden Plover, Parc Natural de s'Albufera, Mallorca (Geoff Athey).


Written by: Sam Viles