19/02/2004
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Review of the Week: 12th-18th February 2004

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With most birders' thoughts turning to spring with the lengthening daylight this week was a reminder that the winter still has plenty of quality birds to be found.

Harlequin Duck: Lewis, Outer Hebrides. Another superb find on the Outer Hebrides. (Photo: Martin Scott)

Without a doubt the highlight of the week was a 1st-winter female Harlequin Duck at Col Beach, Lewis (Outer Hebrides) from Tuesday 17th onwards, and possibly present for a month prior. With just under 20 previous birds this delightful duck is something of a rarity with the majority of records confined to northern Scotland. The most recent record to be accepted was a male for a day on Fair Isle in October 1999, but the last to be seen by large numbers of birders were two 1st-summer females at Girvan (Ayrshire) in April 1996. With increased attention from birders over the past few years from birders willing to forgo the delights of the Isles of Scilly during the autumn, the Outer Hebrides is rapidly emerging from the shadow of Shetland as THE place to find ultra-rare species in Britain. These islands surely offer 'self-finders' one of the best locations for grabbing the Holy Grail of an addition to the British list – have you booked your autumn trip there yet?

Dusky Warbler: Paignton, Devon. How much longer will this bird remain for? (Photo: Paul Nunn) Yellow-browed Warbler: Corby, Northants. At this time of year, describing the call is an essential part of the identification process for a Hume's or Yellow-browed. (Photo: Andy Brett)

American Robin: Grimsby, Lincs. Still present and showing well. (Photo: Alan Clewes) Lapland Bunting: Aldbrough, E. Yorks. Good numbers are present at a couple of east coast sites – note the diagnostic primary projection on this bird. (Photo: Alan Clewes)

Another American Coot was found, this time at Castle Loch NR (Dumfries and Galloway) on Saturday 14th and again on Monday 16th. This is the third on a Scottish water this winter and only the 6th for Britain and Ireland. Given the number of suitable areas in Scotland how many more must be awaiting discovery? Two Grey-bellied Brant (the Brent Geese breeding in the Canadian Arctic only on Melville and Prince Patrick Islands) were picked out at Elly Bay (Co. Mayo) from Thursday 12th onwards. A 2nd-winter Laughing Gull was reported from Rainton Meadows NR (Durham) on Tuesday 17th and three American Herring Gulls were detected, two at Killybegs (Co. Donegal) and one at Culmore Dump (Londonderry). Elsewhere, four 'new' Yellow-browed Warblers were found, suggesting that if you haven't found one on your inland patch yet, then there is still time during the exceptional winter for this delightful sprite; two long-stayers were also still present. Another Pallas's Warbler was reported, with one at Sladesbridge (Devon) on Sunday 15th and apparently present for 10 days, whilst the bird in Dover remains, as do the Hume's Warblers in Co. Wexford and London. It's been a poor winter for Rough-legged Buzzards, so three together at Massingham Heath (Norfolk) on Wednesday 18th were notable, as was a Common Swift reported over Ely (Cambs) on Saturday 14th. Birders throughout eastern and central England were treated to a notable movement of Pink-footed Geese on Thursday 12th, with numbers into four figures over a number of locations.

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Snow Goose: Blairgowie, Forth. (Photo: John Malloy) Ring-necked Duck: Wheldrake Ings, N. Yorks. Late winter/early spring is a good time to look for this attractive duck amongst the commoner diving ducks. (Photo: Darren Starkey)

In Cornwall the Red-rumped Swallow was last noted at Coverack on Friday 13th, whilst many of the popular long-stayers remain in situ. These include the American Robin in Lincolnshire, Penduline Tit in Devon, Little Bunting on Anglesey, Dusky Warbler in Devon, Richard's Pipit in Glamorgan, Forster's Tern in Co. Galway and Northern Long-tailed Tits in Suffolk and E. Sussex. In addition, the American Coot, Redhead and Snowy Owl remain on the Outer Hebrides, adding nice bonus birds for those travelling to see the Harlequin, and the American Coot remains on Shetland. On Guernsey, the Cattle Egret was last reported on Saturday 14th, and small numbers of House Martins and Swallows are still roaming along the south coast.

Tundra Bean Goose: Lurgan Green, Co. Louth. A bird with a lot of orange on the bill, but bill structure and shape all point to Tundra. (Photo: Paul and Andrea Kelly) Tundra Bean Goose: Bolden Flats NR, Durham. More typical birds, with respect to bill pattern. (Photo: John Malloy)

Common Crane: Newton Arlosh, Cumbria. Not the usual size comparison for this species, with Whooper Swans! (Photo: Tristan Reid)
Written by: Russell Slack