Review of the Week: 13-19 November 2023


It was a largely settled week on the weather front and this was reflected in the birding scene, with the rarity front dominated by a few lingering megas. For most, it is likely that Waxwings once again stole the show. The species was reported some 589 times on the BirdGuides sightings pages during the week and birds continue to spread further south and west. Birds are now present in large numbers as far south as Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, with some popular large flocks including more than 200 at Consett, Durham, and no fewer than 1,000 across Glasgow, Clyde, while 60 at Ballybogey, Co Antrim, was a notable count for Ireland. A big influx into southern is eagerly anticipated.

Waxwing, Lowestoft, Suffolk (Jim Mountain).

Despite having appeared in Britain some 30 times, American Robin is an incredibly rare visitor to Ireland. So rare, in fact, that it has appeared on just eight previous occasions, with the most recent coming in the summer of 1983. This meant that pretty much every Irish twitcher was game for a trip to Dursey Island, Co Cork, when one was found there on 13th, with local birders scrambling for the last cable car of the day at 4.30 pm. It would end in disappointment for those travelling from further afield, however, as there was no sign the following morning.

Scilly continued to attract a steady procession of twitchers throughout the week, with the young female Cape May Warbler providing stunning views on Bryher throughout. As eloquently expressed by the finder, Scott Reid: "If Cape May Warbler proves to be the last American wood warbler to grace our shores in 2023, it would be a fitting way to bring the curtain down on the greatest autumn of transatlantic vagrancy in British birding history." Read his detailed account of the find here.

Cape May Warbler, Bryher, Isles of Scilly (Andrew Jordan).

After a 14-day absence, the young male Red-headed Bunting was back at its adopted patch of Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire – its tail now completely regrown. Indeed, it is looking far more advanced than the rather grotty individual 'enjoyed' by many at the end of October, with bright lemon-yellow underparts and further red feathering starting to appear on the throat and around the eye.

Red-headed Bunting, Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire (Brett Richards).

Shetland had one last push in the tank, with a Hume's Leaf Warbler at Tresta, Fetlar, from 14th. A late push of Pallas's Warblers, meanwhile, included doubles at Portland, Dorset, and Saltash, Cornwall, while birds on the east coast at Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk, and The Naze, Essex, were likely fresh arrivals. Both species are often two of the latest autumn vagrants to reach Britain, arriving into November most years. Elsewhere, a likely Central Asian Lesser Whitethroat candidate was still at Landguard NR, Suffolk and a vocal Cetti's Warbler at Colby on 16th was a notable record for the Isle of Man.

Hume's Leaf Warbler, Tresta, Fetlar, Shetland (Paul Macklam).

A Red-throated Pipit on North Ronaldsay, Orkney, made it into its third week; a surprise find in Clyde concerned an Olive-backed Pipit over Strathaven on 17th. Another was at Voe, Mainland Shetland, with Richard's Pipits in Cornwall and Somerset. A bumper flock of six Shore Larks at Brean Down was a Somerset 'mega', though unfortunately news didn't emerge until a week later. Birds at Audenshaw Reservoirs, Greater Manchester, and Loch na Keal, Mull, Argyll, were also notable, with others at eight east-coast sites, including an impressive group of up to 21 near Whitby, North Yorkshire.

Shore Lark, St Andrews Bay, Fife (Tom Moodie).

A moulting female Siberian or Amur Stonechat photographed at Rossie Bog, Fife, on 18th unfortunately wasn't relocated. Elmley NNR, Kent, hosted the only Eurasian Penduline Tit of the week and Wrynecks were in Devon and Pembrokeshire. A paltry three Great Grey Shrikes were noted – at Morden Bog, Dorset, Kielder Forest, Northumberland, and Lake Vyrnwy RSPB, Powys. At least three Northern Treecreepers remained in Scotland, alongside small numbers of Continental Coal Tits and Northern Bullfinches.

A steady procession continued to visit the Norfolk coast throughout the week, where a juvenile Pallid Swift allowed for some excellent close-up views over the church at Winterton-on-Sea. Further Common or Pallid Swifts flew over Ingleby Barwick, Cleveland, and Helvick Head, Co Waterford. The Co Wexford Northern Harrier spent much of the week along the lower reaches of the River Slaney, with the Pallid Harrier still near Warham Greens, Norfolk. Disappointingly, no Rough-legged Buzzards were reported from anywhere during the review period.

Pallid Swift, Winterton-on-Sea, Norfolk (Ian Curran).

In Essex, the Canvasback remained with large numbers of Common Pochard at Abberton Reservoir throughout. As a widespread species in captivity, its appearance was always likely to raise questions – and an eyebrow-raising find saw no fewer than three unearthed at Flixton GPs, Suffolk. A check of past Suffolk Bird Reports shows this to be a site where unwanted, captive wildfowl have been commonly dumped for several years, which included six Canvasback at the site in the spring of 2020. Thankfully, these three were later found to be pinioned – and are therefore unlikely to be responsible for the appearance of a fully winged bird at Abberton. An in-depth thread looking at these two records and the vagrancy potential of Canvasback by Alex Lees on X can be found here.

Canvasback (left of centre) with Common Pochard, Abberton Reservoir, Essex (Josh Jones).

Lincolnshire boasted an adult drake Ferruginous Duck near Langtoft on 17th. Lingering birds were in Dorset and Cambridgeshire. Five Lesser Scaup – in Cornwall, Clyde, Outer Hebrides, Co Antrim and Co Donegal – all lingered, as did the Bufflehead at Corbally Road Reservoir, Co Antrim. Other totals comprised the long-staying Blue-winged Teal, five American Wigeon, nine Green-winged Teal and 13 Ring-necked Duck. Offshore were nine Surf Scoter (including three off Lothian) and the lingering King Eider off Lewis, Outer Hebrides.

Ferruginous Duck (left) with Tufted Duck, Langtoft, East Yorkshire (Josh Jones).

Green-winged Teal, Grafham Water, Cambridgeshire (Howard Butler).

A Todd's Canada Goose was still near Temple, Lothian, with three Black Brant in eastern England and Snow Geese at four sites. Red-breasted Geese were reported from Norfolk and Northumberland.

Looe, Cornwall, enjoyed one of the better finds of the week in the form of a Spotted Sandpiper on 14-15th. The first-winter White-rumped Sandpiper lingered throughout at Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire, with Long-billed Dowitchers still in Norfolk, East Sussex, Cornwall and Co Waterford. The Lesser Yellowlegs continued in eastern England and American Golden Plovers were at four sites. Three Eurasian Dotterel at Lake Vyrnwy RSPB, Powys, were a surprise for mid-November, while Somerset retained a Kentish Plover.

Long-billed Dowitcher (lower centre) with Black-tailed Godwits, Walmsley Sanctuary, Cornwall (Paul Davies).

An exceptionally late Cory's Shearwater blogged slowly east past Blakeney and Sheringham, Norfolk, on 15th, with at least one off Ballycotton, Co Cork. Several Great Shearwaters were again off Devon and Cornwall, with others passing St Margaret's at Cliffe, Kent, and Ballycotton. Two at the mouth of the River Parrett near Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, for several hours on 15th attracted unwanted attention from predatory gulls and corvids.

Grey Phalarope, Gwithian, Cornwall (Adrian Lea).

Cornwall was the latest county to add Brown Booby to the 2023 totaliser, with an adult off Penzance on 18th. Small numbers of Leach's Storm Petrel were logged along the Bristol Channel, up to 18 Grey Phalaropes were reported and five Sabine's Gulls were between Kent and West Sussex. No fewer than five White-billed Divers off Papa Westray, Orkney, were joined by one off Unst, Shetland.

A first-winter Ring-billed Gull was fresh in on St Mary's, Scilly, on 19th, with a returning adult back at Blackrock, Co Louth.

Sabine's Gull, Norman's Bay, East Sussex (John Lauper).


Western Palearctic

São Vicente, Cape Verde, appears to have been subject to a notable sub-Saharan arrival, peaking with three Red-billed Queleas at Mindelo on 19th – the WP's first records – which were sharing the same site with an unprecedented flock of 25 Sudan Golden Sparrows. A Grey-headed Gull was on Boa Vista, while in Morocco a drake American Wigeon was at Dayat Dar Bouazza.

A highlight in mainland Spain, meanwhile, saw a Black-capped Petrel fly past Cabo de Peñas, Asturias, on 15th. This is only the second record for mainland Europe after one off nearby Estaca de Bares in early August. The Waxwing count in Galicia increased to four, with lingering rarities comprising a Lesser Crested Tern, American Herring Gull, American Black Duck and two Lesser Flamingos. News from the Canaries consisted of a Tristram's Warbler and Sudan Golden Sparrow on Gran Canaria and a Lesser Scaup on Tenerife.

A showy adult drake White-winged Scoter close inshore off Heligoland on 14th became the first German record. Returning Stejneger's Scoter were off both Denmark and Sweden, with other news including the juvenile Pacific Diver still off Öland, Sweden, and lingering Northern Harrier in Denmark. Iceland's fourth Purple Heron paid a visit to Kópasker.

Two Ross's Geese continued in Belgium alongside two Pygmy Cormorants, with a Black Scoter at Ameland, Netherlands. A Forster's Tern was at Goulven, France, while two White-rumped Swifts at Langarica Canyon are the first record for both Albania and the Balkans.


Written by: Sam Viles