18/06/2009
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Review of the Week: 11th-17th June 2009

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The week at a glance

The crazy days of spring seemed to give way to the lazy days of summer this week as many birders started to focus their attentions on damselflies, dragonflies, orchids and butterflies. Much of the country was bathed in warm sunshine, temperatures comfortably reaching the mid 70s in the southeast of England as the weekend drew to a close. It wasn't the same everywhere though, as some parts of Britain and Ireland were swamped by heavy thunderstorms, many of these spreading countrywide as it all became rather unsettled.

Royal Tern
Royal Tern, Abersoch, Gwynedd (Photo: Rhys Jones)

There were slim pickings where megas were concerned until the evening of the 15th. A message regarding an "orange-billed tern" in Gwynedd raised an eyebrow or two — could it be the so-called Cayenne Tern of 2006, back again? Would it become an Elegant Tern, or a Lesser Crested maybe? Or would it be, could it be, as predicted in last week's Bird of the Week column, the relocating Irish Royal Tern? It didn't take long for many households to descend into mayhem — it was the Royal Tern and it had settled on the beach at Abersoch. Initially the bird had been seen off Porth Ceiriad before alighting on the Welsh sand, and then the game of cat-and-mouse began all over again as the bird was only present for half an hour or so before heading east (it appears that it may well have been seen (briefly) at Abersoch on 14th). The bird — the third for Wales, but the first definite African Royal Tern; the other two were ringed birds, one proven to be from the USA — reappeared late on 15th at Black Rock Sands where birders ticked away until 10.30pm! (This was the same beach that hosted an Elegant Tern in July 2002 and an Ivory Gull earlier the same year.) There was no sign on the 16th; where will be next on the grand tour?

Elsewhere, a singing male Iberian Chiffchaff on the Outer Hebrides may not have created the stir it would have done a decade or so ago. However, it was still one of the rarest birds of the week, spending some of the 11th around Cheese Bay on North Uist. This may well be the bird seen on the final day of May on South Uist. A "peep" on the Swords Estuary in County Dublin on the evening of 14th was thought to be either a Western or Semipalmated Sandpiper — the Devon bird finally pushing a little further north perhaps? On Guernsey, the two Zitting Cisticolas continued to summer at Port Soif this week, seen to 14th at least. Late news from Norfolk concerns a male Brown-headed Cowbird at West Runton (Norfolk) on 2nd June. The observer has seen many in the United States and, when asked by his wife "what was that funny bird?" as it flew over their caravan pitch, replied "it's a Brown-headed Cowbird", before being reminded that he was in Norfolk, UK (rather than, say, Norfolk, Virginia). That one had been glimpsed just three weeks earlier, just a few miles to the west, only became apparent to the holidaying birders a fortnight later but, like the Royal Tern, there is a decent chance that this bird is still to be unearthed again.

A second-summer Long-tailed Skua was seen on a pelagic off Scilly on 12th (with a Sooty Shearwater on the same trip). In Ireland, a Great Shearwater was seen off Carnsore Point (Co. Wexford) on 14th, while a single Balearic Shearwater was seen off Portland Bill (Dorset) in what has been an exceptionally quiet week for out-at-sea goodies.

A Cattle Egret was at Valley Lakes (Anglesey) on 12th and at least three birds remained around the Tourig River, on the Cork side of the county border, on 13th. As a Canadian rock'n'roll icon paced the boards at the Isle of Wight Festival on 14th, birders on the island had the chance to see a Cattle Egret at Brading Marshes  — a no contest if you ask me (no disrespect to the bird intended). The 11th saw up to five Great White Egrets reported: leftovers from last week were still present at Leighton Moss (Lancashire) and Minsmere (Suffolk), with further birds at Marazion (Cornwall) and Lympstone (Devon) with another reported in flight over Sandwell Valley (West Midlands). The Minsmere bird then moved to Dingle Marshes on 12th, Benacre on 14th and Hen Reedbeds on 15th. The weekly tally of Spoonbills dropped a little this week with around 25 birds seen, including six together at Cley Marshes (Norfolk) on the evening of 17th and groups of three at Loch of Strathbeg (Aberdeenshire), Blacktoft Sands (East Yorkshire) and Old Hall Marshes (Essex). Two Common Cranes were at Pulborough Brooks (West Sussex) on 15th with a single bird still on Shetland, at Mid Walls, the previous day. The 16th saw two Cranes fly over Clifton Ings (North Yorkshire).

Along with a Great White Egret, Minsmere also continued to host a Purple Heron this week, the bird still present to 16th at least. In Somerset, a Purple Heron remained at Ham Wall to 11th before appearing again on 14th. Nearby, the rather dashing male Little Bittern lingered in the reeds at Walton Heath to 17th. In Cambridgeshire, the first-summer Squacco Heron at Wicken Fen was seen on 11th and again on 14th, while the 11th also saw a first-summer Night Heron appear at Porth Hellick Pool on St. Mary's (Scilly), the bird still present the following day. (It has been a very poor spring for this classy overshoot: this is the only confirmed record.) Two White Storks were seen flying along the River Lynher (Cornwall) on 14th and one was reported in Northumberland on 16th. A single Spotted Crake continued to sing on the Outer Hebrides, heard on South Uist on several nights this week, with another still singing in Angus too.

Little Bittern
Little Bittern, Walton Heath, Somerset & Bristol (Photo: Chris Thomas)

In Cornwall, the drake Black Duck remained at Colliford Lake from 11th–17th and the Lesser Scaup lingered on Loch of Benston, Mainland (Shetland) to 15th at least. The only other waterfowl of any note included a drake Surf Scoter near Lerwick on 14th, with one still off Blackdog (Aberdeenshire) between 11th and 13th, and a drake Green-winged Teal on Loch Paible, North Uist (Outer Hebrides) on 17th. Aside from that, there wasn't even a Wood Duck or Hooded Merganser to muse on. Slim pickings indeed.

There was a double hit of Devonian Black Kites on 11th: birds were seen at 9.30am at both Bishopsteignton and Little Haldon, with another on 13th at Steyning (West Sussex). A Black Kite flew over the Little Bittern site in Somerset on 15th and a probable Black Kite flew over the Kingsbridge Estuary (Devon) on 16th, in the company of two Red Kites. A first-summer male Red-footed Falcon was at Thorne Moors (South Yorkshire) on 14th–16th while, on St.Kilda, a male Snowy Owl was again at Hirta on 13th (a female has also been seen "recently" on the islands). A female Snowy Owl was seen this week, on 17th, at Annagh Head, on The Mullet (Co. Mayo).

Wader of the week was undoubtedly the Terek Sandpiper that was found at Saltholme Pools (Cleveland) on the evening of 16th (three weeks short of a year since the Terek Sandpiper at the same site in 2008, drawing the inevitable conclusion...). The bird lingered until the early morning of the following day (last seen around 7.45am) and what must have been the same bird reappeared, around lunchtime, at Gibraltar Point (Lincolnshire), some 130 miles or so to the south. The marvellous Black-winged Pratincole in northwest Norfolk finally gave up the ghost this week after yet more hops from Thornham to Titchwell and back again: the bird was last reported heading over pines towards Brancaster on the early evening of 12th. A Red-necked Phalarope was seen on flood pools in the Montreathmont Forest (Angus) on 11th, with another at Marton Mere (Lancashire) on 13th, and the final birds of the week were both on Orkney: one was at Gretchen Loch, North Ronaldsay on 16th and another was at The Shunan, Mainland on 17th. Also on Orkney, a Pectoral Sandpiper was seen at Loch of Swartmill, Westray on 13th.

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Terek Sandpiper
Terek Sandpiper, Gibraltar Point NNR, Lincolnshire (Photo: Russell Hayes)

Terek Sandpiper
Terek Sandpiper, Gibraltar Point NNR, Lincolnshire (Photo: Graham Catley)

Red-necked Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope, undisclosed site, Shetland (Photo: Dean Eades)

A second-summer Laughing Gull was found on Loch a'Phuill, Tiree (Argyll) on 13th and may well be the bird seen on 2nd June on Coll. Single Iceland Gulls were seen in County Antrim, County Kerry, Argyll, South Uist and Shetland, while Antrim also grabbed one of the week's four Glaucous Gulls; the others were seen in west Cornwall, Orkney and western Ireland. A first-summer Caspian Gull was at Queen Mary Reservoir (Surrey) on 14th and a second first-summer bird was at Sandbach Flashes (Cheshire) on 17th. The adult Forster's Tern was still to be seen at Tacumshin (Co. Wexford) on 11th–14th.

A Bee-eater flew over Stowmarket (Suffolk) on 11th and "heard-only" birds were at Essington Quarry Pool (Staffordshire) on 15th and Cults (Aberdeenshire) on 16th. One was seen on 16th, though, at Knockatallon (Co. Monaghan) and a Hoopoe was reported near Linley (Shropshire) on 13th. Away from the successful breeding birds in Suffolk, a trio of single singing Golden Orioles were noted this week: one was at Sandwich Bay (Kent) on 12th, another was at Donna Nook (Lincolnshire) on 13th with the final songster noted at Pools Brook CP (Derbyshire) on 16th. A heard-only Golden Oriole was reported from Beddington sewage farm (London) on 14th and Sandwich popped in a second bird on 16th.

Golden Oriole
Golden Oriole, Lakenheath (Hockwold) Fen, Suffolk (Photo: Josh Jenkins Shaw)

On 13th, a male Red-backed Shrike was seen on Flamborough Head (East Yorkshire); a female was reported at Holkham Freshmarsh (Norfolk) on 15th while, on 16th, a female was at Kinneil Lagoon and a male was on the Isle of May. Another Red-backed Shrike was reported, belatedly, for 9th on Foula (Shetland). A Great Grey Shrike was seen on Inishbofin (Co. Galway) on 13th and on 16th the first Lesser Grey Shrike of the year arrived on Bressay (Shetland), where it stayed to 17th. The 16th also saw a first-summer female Woodchat Shrike arrive on the Gower Peninsula (Glamorgan), the first in the county in over seven years.

The only warblers of any note this week were single Marsh Warblers at Landguard (Suffolk) on 11th, at Hoswick, Mainland (Shetland) on 11th–16th, at Holkham Freshmarsh on 15th (with three seen on 16th), at Stenness, Mainland (Orkney), at Weybourne (Norfolk) (this bird was trapped and ringed) and at Herrington CP (Co. Durham).

A Serin was seen briefly at Fairlight Cove (East Sussex) on 14th, while singing male Common Rosefinches at Bridge of Weir (Clyde) on 12th–13th and one still at St. Ouen's Pond (Jersey) until 17th round up a rather sparse, though occasionally action-packed, fairly typical review for the time of year.

Common Rosefinch
Common Rosefinch, Bridge of Weir, Clyde (Photo: Keith Hoey)

Photo of the Week

Reed Warbler
Reed Warbler, undisclosed site, Lancashire (Photo: Tom Charles)

We see so many images in our lives today that, to get noticed, a photograph needs to leap off the screen or page at you. In fact, photographers who want to sell photos through stock libraries have realised that an image has to have impact even at thumbnail size to stand a chance of being shortlisted. There is therefore a pressure towards bold, graphic compositions with bright colours and high contrast. Amongst this barrage of high-impact imagery, it's easy to overlook more subtle images, even where these have the finest qualities. Tom Charles' sumptuous shot of a drinking Reed Warbler is a case in point. When first viewing the image, it takes a little while to even realise what you're looking at. Then, as your eye is led down through the line of the bird's body to the head, you first recognise the outline of the bird and then its reflection in the water. A longer look allows you to appreciate the finer details: the perfect timing as the bird's bill just breaks the surface of the water, the pin-sharp feather detail, the sense of depth as you scan from the foreground vegetation at the lower-right into the darkened recess behind the bird and, overall, a sense of being there in the bird's world for just an instant. A timely reminder of the virtues of depth over superficiality.

Black-tailed Godwit
Black-tailed Godwit, undisclosed site, Cambridgeshire (Photo: Will Bowell)

Northern Wheatear
Northern Wheatear, Basta Voe, Yell, Shetland (Photo: Dean Eades)

Puffin
Puffin, Sumburgh, Mainland, Shetland (Photo: Robbie Brookes)

Common Tern
Common Tern, Earls Barton GPs, Northamptonshire (Photo: John Betts)

Spotted Flycatcher
Spotted Flycatcher, Fressingfield, Suffolk (Photo: Jon Evans)

Woodchat Shrike
Woodchat Shrike, Spain (Photo: Steve Fletcher)

Red-necked Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope, undisclosed site, Shetland (Photo: Dean Eades)

Shag
Shag, Farne Islands, Northumberland (Photo: Amanda Hayes)

Swallow
Swallow, Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk (Photo: Ben the plumber.)

Little Owl
Little Owl, Barwell, Leicestershire and Rutland (Photo: Paul Riddle)

Common Rosefinch
Common Rosefinch, Germany (Photo: Rudi Debruyne)

Curlew
Curlew, Ardnave, Islay, Argyll (Photo: Mark Hancox)

Bittern
Bittern, Walton Heath, Somerset & Bristol (Photo: Jeff Hazell)

Written by: Mark Golley