Review of the Week: 11th–17th December


The week at a glance

Another week of mild and unsettled weather brought similar results to previous weeks, with gulls and crossbills the order of the day. And, with the stormy conditions forecast to continue into the festive period, any hopes of a white Christmas (and, for that matter, any sort of cold-weather bird movement) look somewhat unlikely as 2013 draws to a close.

Highlight of the week was a rather stunning adult Thayer's Gull at the port of Killybegs (Donegal) — that mecca for gull enthusiasts — on 15th. Unlike a number of recent claims, there was no doubting this individual's appearance, which was documented superbly in a series of excellent photographs by finder Derek Charles: this individual sits very much at the safe end of thayeri and, quite remarkably, appears to be the returning Spanish bird that tends to pitch up in Galicia in early to mid-March. Plenty more on this bird anon.

Thayer's Gull
Thayer's Gull, Killybegs, Donegal (Photo: Derek Charles)

Thayer's Gull
Thayer's Gull, Killybegs, Donegal (Photo: Derek Charles)

As predicted, more Ivory Gulls were unearthed this week. The first homed in on a putrid Sperm Whale within just a few days of its washing up on the shore at Evie (Orkney). The whale was first discovered on 9th, and had attracted the gull — a juvenile — by 12th. The Ivory could be found merrily pecking away on the corpse until 14th when it inexplicably disappeared — certainly not for the lack of food! Happily, though, the wait for an accessible long-staying bird was ended on 15th when another juvenile was found feeding on dead fish at Patrington Haven (E Yorks). Lingering there until the week's end and returning to a fishy 'bird table' donated by locals, it gave excellent views at times. Fortunately, juvenile Ivory Gulls show great individual variation in their facial patterns and the Patrington bird, really rather white-faced, could be confidently identified as a different individual from the recent duo at Seahouses — this is therefore the fourth to be seen in the north-east of England already this winter. More will surely follow...

Ivory Gull
Ivory Gull, Patrington Haven, East Yorkshire (Photo: Mandy West)

Ivory Gull
Ivory Gull, Patrington Haven, East Yorkshire (Photo: Dean Eades)

Ivory Gull
Ivory Gull, Evie, Mainland, Orkney (Photo: anon)

Also in Orkney, the Short-billed Dowitcher was refound on North Ronaldsay on 13th–14th, as predicted in our article on the bird's discovery by Mark Warren. It remains mobile and elusive but will probably go on to spend the winter on the island — as will both the Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal seen there this week, though a probable Coues's Arctic Redpoll seen briefly on 14th remained unconfirmed.

Lancashire's Baikal Teal was last seen at Marshside RSPB on 11th, though it could still be in the area somewhere. Interestingly, a drake arrived in the Netherlands on 14th but that bird shows a broad dark stripe through the cheek and is therefore clearly not the same individual. Four each of Green-winged Teal (Norfolk, Dumfries & Galloway, Angus & Dundee and Orkney) and American Wigeon (Cheshire, Aberdeenshire, Highland and County Leitrim) remained in place. Both species were outnumbered by five Lesser Scaup: a new female was identified from photographs among Scaup at Alturlie Point (Highland) on 12th and was still there on 17th and there was belated news of a drake at Loch Watten (Highland) on 8th; the female remained on South Uist; and drakes continue in Glamorgan and County Kerry. Drake Ring-necked Ducks were still at Lough Leane (Kerry) on 11th and Ballyshunnock Reservoirs (Waterford) on 13th, with a third again at Meikle Loch (Aberdeenshire) on 17th. The Ferruginous Duck was seen again at Blashford Lakes (Hants) on 15th.

American Wigeon
American Wigeon, Little Neston, Cheshire (Photo: Dave Kelsall)

Green-winged Teal
Green-winged Teal (and Smew), Loch of Kinnordy RSPB, Angus & Dundee (Photo: Gus Guthrie)

Lesser Scaup
Lesser Scaup, Alturlie Point, Highland (Photo: Alison Ritchie)

It was much of a muchness on the goose front, though a dozen or so Black Brants did include a rare juvenile at Kilnsea (E Yorks) on 17th, and twos still in Essex and Dorset. The Hampshire Red-breasted Goose relocated to Shalfleet (IoW) on 17th, while others were on Jersey and at Loaningfoot (Dumfries & Galloway) on 15th. One Richardson's Canada Goose remained among County Sligo's wintering Barnacle Geese, while a Lesser Canada Goose was with Greylags at Balnakeil (Highland) on 15th. The two white-morph Snow Geese continued to roost at Loch of Strathbeg (Aberdeenshire) and the singleton was still at Carrahane Strand (Kerry).

Red-breasted Goose
Red-breasted Goose, Loaningfoot, Dumfries & Galloway (Photo: Gavin Chambers)

In the Outer Hebrides, the Pied-billed Grebe was still on Loch nam Feithaen at Balranald (North Uist) on 12th. Not one but two female King Eiders were discovered lurking off the Eyebroughy/Fidra area of Lothian during the week, both being seen together on 17th. Three drake Surf Scoters were still in Colwyn Bay (Conwy), the juvenile remained in Brand's Bay (Dorset) and two were seen in the Courtmacsherry area of County Cork.

Reinforcing last week's hints, there appears to have been another significant pulse of arriving Glossy Ibis in western areas. Six were at Rusheenduff Lough (Galway) on 15th and four were at Calanais, Lewis (Outer Hebrides) on 16th. Seven further Irish birds included twos at Tacumshin (Wexford) and Dunfanaghy (Donegal), with single birds over Waterford town, and at Ballinskelligs and Carrahane Strand (both Kerry). In the Hebrides, two were at Daliburgh (South Uist) on 16th and there were further records from Lewis, Benbecula and North Uist, the latter having been killed by a Buzzard! One even made it as far as Loch of Swannay (Orkney) on 17th, while English records came from Scilly, Cornwall, Kent, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, West Midlands, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Cleveland. Of the Great White Egrets, five at Dungeness was the highest count, while the Cattle Egret was last seen at Steeple Claydon (Bucks) on 16th.

Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis, Barvas, Lewis, Outer Hebrides (Photo: John Nadin)

Great White Egret
Great White Egret, Nar Valley Fisheries Lakes, Norfolk (Photo: Ashley Banwell)

Given the remarkable irruption in the northeast United States, it was no great surprise that belated news came of a Snowy Owl near St Buryan (Cornwall) on 7th. As for their route to Western Europe, a photo posted on Twitter of another individual perched on a container ship destined for Antwerp shows that their arrival here is not always unaided. Two Rough-legged Buzzards remained in the Chedgrave Marshes area of Norfolk, while further reports came from Kent and Essex. The Black Kite was also seen again in Kent, at Samphire Hoe on 12th–13th. Could it prove to be lineatus?

A Laughing Gull was reported flying in off the sea at Silverdale (Lancs) on 11th and the Bonaparte's Gull hung around in Devon throughout the week. A brown second-winter gull at Ditchford Gravel Pits (Northants) on 14th–15th was touted as a possible American Herring Gull, while eleven Ring-billed Gulls were split 7:4 between Ireland and Britain, an adult at Sandbanks (Dorset) on 17th being the most notable. Despite the inclement weather, white-winged gulls remain in short supply: 57 reports of Iceland Gull on Bird News Extra during the week included high counts of just two from Lerwick (Shetland) and Reenard Point (Kerry). Glaucous Gulls seemed even scarcer, though up to three were at Killybegs (Donegal) on 15th. There were no reports of the Galway Forster's Tern this week, though a first-winter was reported flying past Garretstown (Cork) on 14th. Apart from a handful of Grey Phalaropes, the only notable wader was the continuing Lesser Yellowlegs at Lepe (Hants).

Grey Phalarope
Grey Phalarope, Hornsea Mere, East Yorkshire (Photo: Tony Dixon)

Grey Phalarope
Grey Phalarope, Walberswick, Suffolk (Photo: Jake Gearty)

The mild conditions appear to be keeping the Hoopoe reasonably content at Abergele (Conwy) — it stayed there throughout the week. A Wheatear was reported in Cheshire and there was no shortage of Swallow reports from southern England. A male Desert Wheatear proved one of the week's most popular birds at Severn Beach (Glos) on 11th–14th, regularly showing to within a few feet of birders (as they typically do). There was another unconfirmed report from Kent, while a female wheatear at Monk Sherborne (Hants), belatedly reported on 18th, appeared either a Pied or Eastern Black-eared Wheatear from photographs. A Richard's Pipit at Kelling Hard (Norfolk) on 11th was seen regularly until the week's end, while a first-winter Rose-coloured Starling on St Mary's (Scilly) joined lingering birds in Cornwall and Norfolk.

Desert Wheatear
Desert Wheatear, Severn Beach, Gloucestershire (Photo: Gary Thoburn)

Desert Wheatear
Desert Wheatear, Severn Beach, Gloucestershire (Photo: Rich Andrews)

Rose-coloured Starling
Rose-coloured Starling, Caister-on-Sea, Norfolk (Photo: The Sunday Birder)

In Northamptonshire, the Hume's Leaf Warbler remained at a private site in the north of the county to at least 15th. Organised access on 11th was successful, with all enjoying good views of the bird, and further access may be arranged in January if the bird is still around. At least eight Yellow-browed Warblers included three on the Isles of Scilly; another remained at Titchwell (Norfolk) to 13th and there was a report from Attenborough (Notts) on 11th. One remained in Winspit Valley (Dorset), though there was no sign of last week's Melodious Warbler.

Hume's Leaf Warbler
Hume's Leaf Warbler, undisclosed site, Northamptonshire (Photo: John Finlayson)

Crossbill totals for the week finished at around 45 Parrots and 30 Two-barreds. A male Parrot was new at Chamber's Farm Wood (Lincs) from 15th and may be one of a flock; 14 remained at Budby Common (Notts) and up to 13 were at Holt Country Park (Norfolk) and Mayday Farm (Suffolk). A male remained in Hemsted Forest (Kent) alongside the male Two-barred, and at least one (possibly three) were at Broomhead Reservoir (S Yorks) where at least eight Two-barreds lingered. Seventeen Two-barreds were still at Brierley (Glos) on 11th with at least seven there on 17th; three remained in the Shropshire section of the Wyre Forest and a male was again at Lynford Arboretum (Norfolk).

Two-barred Crossbill
Two-barred Crossbill, Broomhead Reservoir, South Yorkshire (Photo: John Gray)

Parrot Crossbill
Parrot Crossbill, Chamber's Farm Wood NR, Lincolnshire (Photo: Russell Hayes)

Parrot Crossbill
Parrot Crossbill, Budby Common, Nottinghamshire (Photo: Jamie MacArthur)

Parrot Crossbill
Parrot Crossbill, Budby Common, Nottinghamshire (Photo: Jamie MacArthur)

Parrot Crossbill
Parrot Crossbill, Budby Common, Nottinghamshire (Photo: Dave Kelsall)

Photo of the Week

Dartford Warbler
Dartford Warbler, undisclosed site, Suffolk (Photo: John Richardson)

Suffolk-based bird photographer John Richardson, who blogs as the "Old Man of Minsmere", has uploaded almost 1800 images to BirdGuides, 18 of which have been selected as Notables. In the last year John has contributed a phenomenal collection of photos, over 600 of which document his local birdlife, including both resident species and visiting rarities. Even just this week, John has spoiled us for choice, submitting excellent images of Grey Phalarope, Short-eared Owl and Dartford Warbler. The last of these, though, took the lion's share of this week's comments and thumbs-up and may result in an unexpected peak in Suffolk tourism over the coming days! Isolating this Dartford Warbler in characteristic pose in rich, warm light, John has obviously captured the essence of this popular species. We're delighted to finally award John his first Photo of the Week.

Other notable images

Grey Phalarope
Grey Phalarope, Walberswick, Suffolk (Photo: Chris Darby)

Grey Heron
Grey Heron, Andover, Hampshire (Photo: Jan Galko)

Parrot Crossbill
Parrot Crossbill, Budby Common, Nottinghamshire (Photo: Jamie MacArthur)

Pintail, Newtownards, Down (Photo: Ian Dickey)

Goldcrest, Wigan, Greater Manchester (Photo: David Cookson)

Robin, Lathkill Dale NNR, Derbyshire (Photo: Robert Askew)

Blackbird, Wayoh Reservoir, Lancashire (Photo: John Barlow)

Bittern, Kenfig NNR, Glamorgan (Photo: Bob Hopkins)

Kestrel, Abberton Reservoir, Essex (Photo: Pixellence)

Black-throated Diver
Black-throated Diver, Eastbourne, East Sussex (Photo: Adrian)

Goldeneye, Staines Reservoirs, Surrey (Photo: Andrew Moon)

Desert Wheatear
Desert Wheatear, Severn Beach, Gloucestershire (Photo: Rich Andrews)

Velvet Scoter
Velvet Scoter, Eyebrook Reservoir, Leicestershire and Rutland (Photo: Paul Thomas)

Loten's Sunbird
Loten's Sunbird, Sri Lanka (Photo: Dave Williams)

Hawk Owl
Hawk Owl, Netherlands (Photo: Dave Barnes)