Review of the Week: 14-20 August 2023


A classic mid-August week produced in style with a major twitch, an exciting spell of east coast migration action and Black Terns aplenty.

Drawing the masses to Scilly was a Red-footed Booby, with last week's pale-morph first-summer relocated on Bishop Rock from 14th. The Scilly Pelagics team kept half an eye on the lighthouse in the belief that it would make an obvious roosting spot between feeding trips if it was to extend its Scillonian stay. It undoubtedly made for quite a shock, however, when it loomed into view from the MV Sapphire on Monday evening. Plans were soon put into motion for a large-scale twitch, with the St Mary's Boatmen's Association arranging for shuttles to take birders out to the lighthouse – Britain's most south-westerly point – on a regular basis throughout the week. Amid excellent visibility on 17th, one experienced birder even managed to distantly scope the booby flying around Bishop Rock from Peninnis Head, St Mary's – a massive 10.5 km away! It is just the second Red-footed Booby for Britain, the first concerning one taken into care at St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, in September 2016.

Red-footed Booby, Western Rocks, Isles of Scilly (Richard Bonser).

Red-footed Booby, Western Rocks, Isles of Scilly (Simon King).

Playing second fiddle to the booby were another three Scopoli's Shearwaters, with recent totals off northern Spain suggesting even more might be on the way. A Barolo-type shearwater was close inshore off Penninis Head, St Mary's, on 16th and Cory's Shearwaters continued to be the commonest shearwater species around the islands – an amazing statistic. An unexpected treat for Red-footed Booby twitchers on 15th was a Fea's/Desertas Petrel trailing the Scillonian III on the inbound crossing! It was an excellent week for Fea's-type petrel sightings, most notably birds past Start Point, Devon, on 19th and Cromer, Norfolk, on 20th. Another flew past Porthgwarra, Cornwall, on 18th – the site's fifth of the summer – and one tracked along the Co Cork coast on 19th.

Scopoli's Shearwater, Scilly pelagic, Isles of Scilly (Nathaniel Dargue).

Fea's/Desertas Petrel, Scillonian crossing, Cornwall (Sam Viles).

Booby fever would reach the Scottish coast too, with the outstanding discovery of an immature Brown Booby in the Firth of Forth at Cramond Island, Lothian, on 17th. It later flew past Fife Ness, Fife, that afternoon and a possible flew past Garron Point, Aberdeenshire, before it was photographed again in the Moray Firth at Tarbat Ness, Highland, on 18th. It was an amazing few days of seabird action in the Firth of Forth as a whole, with a Barolo-type shearwater heading north past Elie Ness, Fife, on 17th. Cory's Shearwater likely reached into double figures throughout the week, with a peak day count of six past Fife Ness on the same day as the booby. The Moray Firth cashed in too with six past Helmsdale, Highland, on 18th. Another Brown Booby – an adult this time – flew east past Cley Marshes and Sheringham, Norfolk, on 19th. There are just six previous British records of Brown Booby: four in 2019, one in 2020 and two in 2022. 

Brown Booby, Fife Ness, Fife (Keith Simpson).

A Wilson's Storm Petrel during a quiet seawatch off Hook Head, Co Wexford, on 18th was an overdue county first. Single-figure totals continued to be logged elsewhere in the South-West Approaches, including a mainland record off Lizard Point, Cornwall, on 14th. Away from the south-west, Great Shearwaters were off Orkney and the Outer Hebrides, with Long-tailed Skuas widespread along the North Sea coast. A Grey Phalarope was off Aberystwyth, Ceredigion; less expected on a seawatch was a Gull-billed Tern off Hook Head, Co Wexford, on 19th.

Wilson's Storm Petrel, Scilly pelagic, Isles of Scilly (Nathaniel Dargue).

Cory's Shearwater had yet another standout week, with a particular highlight concerning one present on the River Humber at Kilnsea, East Yorkshire, for around an hour on 19th before crossing inland over the village and heading back into the North Sea! The same easterly blasts responsible for the wayward Cory's blew a few Sabine's Gulls inland too, with adults at Pugney's CP, West Yorkshire, and Belvide Reservoir, Staffordshire. Some 13 sites in total enjoyed this delightful pelagic Larid, including a delightful flock of six off the Scillonian III on 20th. Swathes of Black Terns were evident across Britain in the best autumn influx for a few years. The number of reports this week exceeded 300, with some impressive totals including more than 250 past Strumble Head, Pembrokeshire, on 19th. Lots made it inland, with birds evident at gravel pits in a wide band across the Midlands and southern England, and then later filtering further north and west as far as Northern Ireland.

Cory's Shearwater, Spurn YWT, East Yorkshire (Charlotte Foote).

Sabine's Gull, Castlerock, Londonderry (Jonathan Rosborough).

Moult patterns of adult White-winged Terns at Shapwick Heath NNR, Somerset, and Benbecula, Outer Hebrides, suggest they could be one and the same. Juveniles were at Rutland Water, Leicestershire and Rutland, and Lough Beg, Co Londonderry. The Forster's Tern lingered in Dorset for another week. A new Bonaparte's Gull was in the Outer Hebrides at Balranald RSPB, North Uist, with another still in Kent. In Ireland, an adult moved between Skerries, Co Dublin, and Kinnegar Shore, Co Down.

Black Tern, Magilligan Point, Londonderry (Ian Dickey).

Easterlies combined with rain along the east coast is a sure-fire producer of scarce migrant passerines, even this early in the season. They reached a fair distance south and east across the European mainland too, making Booted Warbler a likely option – especially as 10 on record have arrived in late August. As it transpired, three Booted Warblers reached the east coast: Landguard, Suffolk, and Blakeney Point, Norfolk, on 18th, and North Ronaldsay, Orkney, on 19th.

Booted Warbler, Blakeney Point, Norfolk (DAVID Griffiths).

It was an impressive week of arrivals, with Friday onwards proving especially fruitful. A couple of Arctic Warblers in Shetland were early arrivals, while six Greenish Warblers were split between the Isle of Wight, Caithness, Orkney and Shetland (three). Totalisers from Fair Isle comprised no fewer than eight Icterine Warblers on 20th, plus Blyth's Reed Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Wryneck, Common Rosefinch and Red-backed Shrike.

Greenish Warbler, Fair Isle, Shetland (Matthew Broadbent).

Icterine Warbler, Fair Isle, Shetland (Alex Penn).

Further south, an elusive Bonelli's warbler species was at East Soar, Devon, on 17th. Eight Melodious Warblers included three in Cornwall, with Barred Warblers at five mainland sites, Icterine Warblers at 10 and Marsh Warblers at three, the latter including a notable Irish record at East Coast NR, Co Wicklow. Two Ortolan Buntings at Thorpeness on 19th highlighted in Suffolk, with another sound-recorded over Ventnor Downs, Isle of Wight, on 15th. Otherwise, approximate totals consisted of 22 Wrynecks and 20 Red-backed Shrikes, with a Common Rosefinch at Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire, and a Greater Short-toed Lark still in Pembrokeshire. European Bee-eaters were over Kent and Suffolk, while Alpine Swifts blogged over Bempton Cliffs RSPB, East Yorkshire, and Rathlin Island, Co Antrim. It was hard to miss Pied Flycatchers in coastal areas, with the species widespread in large numbers along southern and eastern coasts between Cornwall and Shetland.

Red-backed Shrike, Kilminning, Fife (Keith Simpson).

Norfolk's raptor hot streak continued with a pale-morph adult Eleonora's Falcon over Breydon Water RSPB on 16th. Two European Honey Buzzards continued to prove reliable at Strumpshaw Fen RSPB, Norfolk, too, with flyovers over seven additional sites.

Last year, an adult Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was a one-day visitor to Langness, Isle of Man, on 29 August, with what is almost certainly the same bird paying an equally brief visit this week on 14th. The Shetland Hudsonian Godwit headlined the lingering rarity contingent, alongside Long-billed Dowitchers still in Norfolk and Orkney. A Pacific Golden Plover was unearthed amid a large European Golden Plover flock on Holy Island, Northumberland, and a small influx of American Golden Plovers produced adults in Norfolk, Lancashire and Co Down, plus one lingering in Co Londonderry. Three White-rumped Sandpipers included one at Boulmer, Northumberland.

White-rumped Sandpiper, Boulmer, Northumberland (Frank Golding).

In Lincolnshire, a Kentish Plover became the 49th species of wader to be recorded at Frampton Marsh RSPB. Up to seven Black-winged Stilts remained on site, while the Yorkshire birds began to wander, appearing at four sites in the Dearne Valley, South Yorkshire, as well as St Aidan's RSPB, West Yorkshire. An accommodating juvenile Red-necked Phalarope at King's Mill Reservoir, Nottinghamshire, was one of three in the country; other news included seven Pectoral Sandpipers and three Eurasian Dotterels.

Red-necked Phalarope, King's Mill Reservoir, Nottinghamshire (Robin Brace).

Pectoral Sandpiper, Martin Mere WWT, Lancashire (Ron Jackson).

Birders in both Kent and Lincolnshire enjoyed Black Storks – a first-summer on Sheppey, Kent, and a juvenile at Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire. Another overflew Woodbridge, Suffolk, on 20th. A surprise Corncrake was flushed from the valley at Crugmeer, Cornwall, on 15th. A Squacco Heron was at Livermere Lake, Suffolk, on 15th, young Purple Heron graced Leighton Moss RSPB, Lancashire, at the week's end and Black-crowned Night Herons were in three counties.

Black Stork, Capel Fleet, Sheppey, Kent (Terry Laws).

A scoter-fest off Musselburgh, Lothian, comprised the adult drake Stejneger's Scoter, a first-summer drake Surf Scoter and even a possible female White-winged Scoter, with the drake King Eider also lingering. Another Surf Scoter was off Co Kerry, while a moulting drake American Wigeon was on Westray, Orkney. Cambridgeshire boasted a female Ferruginous Duck at Needingworth Quarry Lakes on 19th and Ring-necked Ducks continued in Suffolk and Glamorgan.

Stejneger's Scoter (left of centre), Musselburgh Lagoons, Lothian (Ian Andrews).


Western Palearctic

France was treated to a remarkable influx of Pygmy Cormorants along the German border, with nine at Erstein the largest single flock. Over 20 birds were involved in total, with 14 more at the head of Lake Geneva, Switzerland. Additional records came from Remerschen, Luxembourg – a national first – and a returning bird at Mol, Belgium. A British record much surely be on the cards in the near future. Elsewhere in France, sightings included a lingering Sooty Tern, two Elegant Terns and the Minerve White-rumped Swift, while an Aquatic Warbler was trapped and ringed in the Channel Islands at St Ouen's Pond, Jersey.

Elsewhere in France, sightings included a lingering Sooty Tern, two Elegant Terns and the Minerve White-rumped Swift, while an Aquatic Warbler was trapped and ringed in the Channel Islands at St Ouen's Pond, Jersey.

An adult Ross's Goose was in the Norwegian High Arctic near the Russian border at Kirkenes on 14-15th. A Pacific Diver at Skeie was another excellent find, while the seventh Zitting Cisticola for Denmark sang at Skagen. A juvenile Audouin's Gull was at Einig, Germany, with a female White-headed Duck still in The Netherlands.

Amazing tallies of Bulwer's Petrels were logged past Estaca de Bares, Spain, including four on 19th. Record-breaking totals this summer might make it a species to look out for off British and Irish headlands as the seawatching season progresses … Otherwise, both Elegant Terns and Lesser Flamingos were split one apiece in Andalucia and Valencia, the Western Reef Heron persisted in Catalonia, and an adult Laughing Gull was again at Ons Island, Galicia.

The White-faced Whistling Duck continued on Sal, Cape Verde.


Written by: Sam Viles