Review of the Week: 13th-19th May 2010


It was looking like this week was a case of 'much of the same', with a niggling low-pressure system and frosty nights at the start of the week ensuring that many birds lingered but few arrived. Thankfully this broke mid-week, and we were bathed in warmer, southerly air and a scattering of southerly birds, and by the end of the week all sorts of interesting birds were creeping out of the woodwork.

After the controversy and endless for-and-against discussions about the origins of the Cornish House Finch and White-throated Sparrow, the cavalry arrived in the form of an interesting supporting cast. First up was the belated report of a Dark-eyed Junco in a private garden in Folkestone (Kent) on 15th–17th and with no access to the site, news couldn't be released. Frustratingly for some, an equally untwitchable bird (or perhaps even the same bird on northward migration) was found on the afternoon of 19th on an ornithological survey vessel in the North Sea.

Adding to this arrival of Nearctic migrants was another White-throated Sparrow, this time on Fair Isle on 19th, the fourth record for the island. Check the recent webzine article on the Cornish White-throated Sparrow for news of hitch-hiking vagrants on the QM2 and genuine vagrants on Newfoundland.

Lingering megas from last week included the now well-photographed Oriental Pratincole at Frampton Marsh (Lincolnshire) all week, the Pacific Diver at Flaggy Shore (Co. Clare) on 15th — almost certainly the same bird as at Finvarra Point earlier in the month — and the singing Iberian Chiffchaffs in West Yorkshire, Kent and Gwent. Will any of these find an interested female?...

Oriental Pratincole
Oriental Pratincole, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire (Photo: Rob Sewell)

Iberian Chiffchaff
Iberian Chiffchaff, Walderslade, Kent (Photo: Peter Johnson)

In a week of 'possibles' and 'probables', the report of an Oriental Turtle Dove at Porthgwarra (Cornwall) on 19th has yet to come to anything. Seen briefly in dense fog in the afternoon, it was never confirmed.

In the Outer Hebrides, the pair of American Wigeon remained at Loch Stiapavat, Lewis (Outer Hebrides), until 15th, the female causing some confusion. Rather simpler to pick out were drake Ring-necked Ducks, at Carrowmore Lake (Co. Mayo) on 13th, Inch Island Lake (Co. Donegal) on 15th (associating with a female Pochard), Attenborough NR (Nottinghamshire) on 17th and Rossie Bog (Fife) on 19th. The only Ferruginous Duck was a drake at Chew Valley Lake (Somerset) on 16th–18th and a rather late, and fully winged, redhead Smew was at Longham Lakes (Dorset) on 19th.

Ring-necked Duck
Ring-necked Duck, Rossie Bog, Fife (Photo: Willie McBay)

Smew, Longham Lakes, Dorset (Photo: Chris Parnell)

The long-staying, but seldom reported, drake King Eider was still with Eiders on the Ythan estuary (Aberdeenshire) on 13th–18th and a first-summer male was off Leebotten (Shetland) on 14th–17th. Elsewhere at sea, the drake Surf Scoter remained off Port Seton (Lothian) on 13th–15th and may have been the same bird as at Musselburgh (Lothian) on 15th–18th. On Orkney, a White-billed Diver was off Mull Head on 13th, with a possible past Porthgwarra (Cornwall) on 15th and one briefly on 17th at Aird an Runair, North Uist (Outer Hebrides).

King Eider
King Eider, Ythan Estuary, Aberdeenshire (Photo: Steve Copsey)

Herons and egrets continued to provide interest. Great White Egrets seemed to be popping up everywhere, with birds at Ouse Washes (Cambridgeshire) on 13th and 18th, Radipole (Dorset) on 15th, Trimley Marshes (Suffolk), Cobh (Co. Cork) and Southwold (Suffolk) on 16th and Welney (Norfolk) and Oare Marshes (Kent) on 17th. Equally interesting were Purple Herons, with final confirmation of breeding at Dungeness (Kent), which if successful would be the first record for Britain. Others were seen at Welwick (East Yorkshire) on 15th–19th, Grove Ferry (Kent) on 16th, Tophill Low (East Yorkshire) on 15th–16th and Minsmere (Suffolk) on 16th. Other 'possibles' were recorded over Camden Town (London) on 15th and Beccles (Suffolk) on 18th.

Great White Egret
Great White Egret, Radipole Lake RSPB, Dorset (Photo: Steve Carey)

Purple Heron
Purple Heron, Welwick, East Yorkshire (Photo: Roy Harvey)

Of equal interest was a run of records of Black Stork. One was at Loch Shin (Highland) on 13th and another, or the same, was seen on North Uist and then briefly on Harris (Outer Hebrides) on 18th. Photos of the bird on North Uist showed a distinctive white ring, but the bird is still of unknown origin. An additional 'probable' drifted over Normanton le Heath (Leicestershire) on 13th. The only White Storks reported were over Vane Farm (Perth & Kinross) on 13th and Boroughbridge (North Yorkshire) on 19th. The long-staying Glossy Ibis was still at Tacumshin (Co. Wexford) until at least 16th, though was rarely reported. Small groups of Spoonbills continued to be widely reported with up to 28 around the country, with three on the Hayle estuary (Cornwall) on 13th.

Black Stork
Black Stork, Clachan, N.Uist, Outer Hebrides (Photo: John McInnes)

Spoonbill, Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk (Photo: Jon Evans)

With nice warm thermals come nice obvious raptors. One (or more than one?) Black Kite kept everyone on their toes around East Anglia on 13th–18th ranging from Holt in the north to Welney in the south, and other singles were at Hathersage Moor (Derbyshire) on 17th and Loch of Strathbeg (Aberdeenshire) on 19th. White-tailed Eagles were equally widespread with several records on Orkney and other birds at Tarbrax (Clyde) on 16th, Sands of Forvie (Aberdeenshire) on 18th and one heading out to sea from Unst (Shetland) on 19th. A Golden Eagle circled over Llandeilo (Carmarthenshire) on 19th and a probable male Red-footed Falcon flew over Charminster (Dorset) on 17th. Perhaps of most interest was a tantalising second record of the possible dark-morph Booted Eagle over Pipps Ford (Suffolk) on 13th, only 18 miles from the Essex record of the previous day.

Waders this week seemed to be turning up in twos. Inishkea North (Co. Mayo) played host to a first-summer American Golden Plover on 14th–15th with one also one reported at Minsmere (Suffolk) on 17th. Broad-billed Sandpipers were on Skye (Highland) on 13th–16th and Tyninghame Bay (Lothian) on 13th–14th and Buff-breasted Sandpipers were at Loch of Strathbeg (Aberdeenshire) on 17th and Rutland Water (Leicestershire) on 17th–18th, this latter bird a county first. Summer-plumaged Spotted Sandpipers were at North Berwick (Lothian) on 13th–14th and Stocks Reservoir (Lancashire) on 17th–18th and lastly Red-necked Phalaropes were at Elmley (Kent) on 13th and Kirriemuir (Angus & Dundee) on 15th.

Broad-billed Sandpiper
Broad-billed Sandpiper, Broadford Bay, Skye, Highland (Photo: Martin Benson)

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Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Rutland Water, Leicestershire and Rutland (Photo: David Gray)

Spotted Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper, Stocks Reservoir, Lancashire (Photo: Gavin Thomas)

The exceptions to this rule were a half-day Pectoral Sandpiper at Loch Gruinart (Argyll) on 16th and the Lesser Yellowlegs that remained on the Camel Estuary (Cornwall) until 14th.

Passage of skuas never really picked up, though reports were more regular, with three Pomarine Skuas past Saltcoats (Ayr) and six past Bowness-on-Solway (Cumbria) on 13th, three past Portland Bird Observatory (Dorset) on 14th, two past Dungeness Bird Observatory (Kent) the next day and a singleton past Heysham (Lancs) on 19th. Long-tailed numbers increased slightly, with 17 adults past Aird an Runair, North Uist on 15th the peak count. Others were reported from Birley Gap (Essex) on 13th, 10 past Bowness-on-Solway (Cumbria) on 16th and three past Seafield (Dumfries & Galloway) on 15th.

The first-summer Ring-billed Gull was again reported from Cuskinny Marsh (Co. Cork) on 16th, and several white-winged gulls remained. Five Iceland Gulls included one at Blyth (Northumberland) and there were four Glaucous Gulls in the northern and western isles. The regular adult Forster's Tern was again at Tacumshin (Co. Wexford) on 16th.

Iceland Gull
Iceland Gull, Stromness, Mainland, Orkney (Photo: John Nadin)

The only Alpine Swifts seen were on St Martin's (Scilly) on 16th and in Cardiff (Glamorgan) on 18th and the only Bee-eater was reported at Radipole village (Dorset) on 17th. There was a minor rush of Hoopoes in gardens this week, with birds reported at Itchen Abbas (Hampshire) on 12th and Cowlinge (Suffolk) on 15th. Other more accessible birds were seen at Garmony, Mull (Argyll) on 13th, Aviemore (Highland) on 15th, Finstown (Orkney) on 15th–17th and more typically further south at Woodford Bottom (Hampshire) on 16th–18th and Langford Green (Devon) on 16th–17th. The only Wryneck was a one-day bird on Out Skerries (Shetland) on 17th. Two newly arrived Short-toed Larks didn't stick around, with one-day birds at Fort Hommet (Guernsey) on 13th and Normandy Marsh (Hampshire) on 18th.

Hoopoe, Broomy Plain, Hampshire (Photo: Andy Johnson)

Short-toed Lark
Short-toed Lark, Fort Hommet, Guernsey (Photo: Paul Hillion)

The drop-off of Red-rumped Swallows continued, with the only records being the remaining bird at Rother Valley CP (South Yorkshire) to 14th and a new bird on Unst (Shetland) on 18th–19th.

Red-rumped Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow, Haroldswick, Unst, Shetland (Photo: Mike Pennington)

A Tawny Pipit at Wellington Gravel Pits (Herefordshire) late evening on 13th unfortunately couldn't be refound the following morning. This is only the second county record, following two birds at Bishopstone in September 1931. More obliging was a Grey-headed Wagtail at North Gare (Cleveland) on 15th, and possibly the same bird at Cowpen Marsh (Cleveland) on 16th–17th. Another was at Loch of Strathbeg (Aberdeenshire) on 19th.

The photogenic male white-spotted Bluethroat continued to attract the attentions of long lenses at Welney (Norfolk) all week, and male 'red-spots' were seen on Fair Isle on 13th and 18th. In Ireland, the first Black-eared Wheatear of 2010, a female, took her throne on Great Saltee (Co. Wexford) on 15th and 16th. The island has now produced three of the five Irish records, following birds in May 1987 and May 1997.

Black-eared Wheatear
Black-eared Wheatear, Saltee Islands, Wexford (Photo: Tom Shevlin)

Bluethroat, Welney WWT, Norfolk (Photo: Graham Raine)

Derbyshire's first Great Reed Warbler, at Straw's Bridge NR, was a bit more obliging this week, present until 19th, and the first Melodious Warbler of the year sang briefly on the Great Orme (Conwy) on 18th.

Great Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler, Straw's Bridge NR, Derbyshire (Photo: Dave Hutton)

Migrant Golden Orioles seem to have been rather thin on the ground this spring, and this week the only report was of a bird on St Martin's (Isle of Scilly) on 19th (along with an unseasonable Redwing). Two singing male Golden Orioles at Lakenheath Fen (Suffolk) remained elusive, though popular, though the sight of over 50 Hobbies kept visitors occupied.

Golden Oriole
Golden Oriole, Lakenheath (Hockwold) Fen, Suffolk (Photo: Kevin Du Rose)

On the shrike front, the only Red-backed was a male on Lundy (Devon) on 18th, with one record of Great Grey, at Menston (West Yorkshire) on the same day. In contrast, Woodchat Shrikes remained at Skewjack (Cornwall) to 17th, Winterton (Norfolk) to 15th and Pelistry Bay, St Mary's (Scilly) to 17th. New arrivals were a female at Flamborough Head (East Yorkshire) on 15th–19th, and singles on Lundy (Devon) on 17th and at Canvey Island (Essex) on 18th. The decline of Red-backed Shrike as a spring migrant is quite startling: the same week in 2001 saw three Red-backed Shrikes (and no Woodchats) and by 2005 the scores were three Red-backed and two Woodchats.

Woodchat Shrike
Woodchat Shrike, Canvey Island, Essex (Photo: Steve Arlow)

Other typical May fare were several Serins: a male at Portland Bird Observatory (Dorset) on 13th, one at St Margaret's (Kent) on 15th and possibly the same on 16th, singles over Dungeness Bird Observatory (Kent) on 18th and 19th and one over Weir Wood Reservoir (East Sussex) also on 18th. Surprisingly, a singing male Common Rosefinch at Gibraltar Point Bird Observatory (Lincolnshire) on 18th was the first of the year.

Photo of the Week

Long-tailed Tit
Long-tailed Tit, Fairburn Ings RSPB, West Yorkshire (Photo: Gary Shilton)

Harsh winters take their toll on populations of many small birds. For many of our smaller species, though, a rapid recovery in numbers is possible due to their large brood sizes. This week, Gary Shilton was lucky enough to see the results of this breeding strategy in the flesh, when he came across a tightly packed line-up of Long-tailed Tit fledglings. It's one thing to read in a field guide that a species can lay eleven eggs, but another to see eleven hungry young birds lined up along a single branch. It certainly makes you appreciate the mammoth task faced by their parents. Gary captured the scene with great timing as one of the parents returned to the expectant brood. As well as recording an extremely cute and rarely seen sight, Gary's image is an evocative symbol of Nature's power to regenerate.

Other notable photos

Spoonbill, Claire Mare NR, Guernsey (Photo: Paul Hillion)

Grey Heron
Grey Heron, Claire Mare NR, Guernsey (Photo: Paul Hillion)

Magpie, Far Ings NR, Lincolnshire (Photo: Don Davis)

Great Crested Grebe
Great Crested Grebe, Mere Sands Wood LWT, Lancashire (Photo: David Cookson)

Hawfinch, undisclosed site, Cumbria (Photo: Pauline Greenhalgh)

Common Redstart
Common Redstart, undisclosed site, Clwyd (Photo: Richard Steel)

Common Whitethroat
Common Whitethroat, undisclosed site, Norfolk (Photo: David Whistlecraft)

Puffin, Bullers of Buchan, Aberdeenshire (Photo: Alan Sinclair)

Common Tern
Common Tern, Washington WWT, Durham (Photo: Keith Cochrane)

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon, undisclosed site, Devon (Photo: Peter Walkden)

Dartford Warbler
Dartford Warbler, Dunwich Heath NT, Suffolk (Photo: Steve)

Yellowhammer, Goodwick, Pembrokeshire (Photo: Paul_Leafe)

Pied Flycatcher
Pied Flycatcher, private site, Powys (Photo: Mick Colquhoun)

Black Grouse
Black Grouse, undisclosed site, Durham (Photo: Brian Rafferty)

Red-breasted Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser, Kenmore, Perth & Kinross (Photo: Adam Jarvis)

Oriental Pratincole
Oriental Pratincole, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire (Photo: Kevin Du Rose)

Grey Plover
Grey Plover, Titchwell RSPB, Norfolk (Photo: RichardP)

Hobby, Dix Pit, Oxfordshire (Photo: Roger Wyatt)

Cuckoo, Aghawoney, Donegal (Photo: Craig Nash)

Written by: Mark Grantham