The week at a glance
- Harlequin Duck in the Outer Hebrides
- Pied-billed Grebe in Somerset
- Pacific Diver again in Cornwall
- American Coot still in Galway
- Pine Grosbeak still in Shetland
Valentine's week saw the first tentative signs of spring: a sudden pulse of warmer weather from Thursday 14th meant many areas experienced daytime temperatures in double figures for the first time since the very beginning of the year. The brighter weather may have tempted crocuses to bloom and persuaded our resident Robins and Great Tits into full song, but the birding highlight of the week was no early Mediterranean overshoot.
A stunning male Harlequin Duck was found off the coast at Balranald (North Uist) on the afternoon of Monday 18th. The bird showed reasonably well and fairly close in for a seaduck, as the emerging photographs attest, and it was still present to 20th at least. The last representative of this species to reach our shores was an adult male off St Kilda, seen by a highly select few on a trip in June 2007, but the last twitchable individual was a female that took up residence off Lewis from January to May 2004. And you have to go right back to 1987 for the last twitchable male (a first-winter on Sullom Voe in the Shetlands), so news of this bird's arrival will have caused a few histrionics. There have been 14 previous records overall, involving around 18 individuals.
Mainland birders unable to afford the long trip will have been consoled somewhat by a Pied-billed Grebe at Ham Wall RSPB in Somerset. It was tentatively reported in the late afternoon of Friday 15th and the identification was quickly confirmed the following morning. After a flurry of records in the 1990s followed by a gap in the mid- to late 2000s, occurrences of this endearing North American grebe seem to be returning to historic norms.
Aside from these new arrivals, the Pacific Diver put in another appearance in Mount's Bay (Cornwall) on 15th, the American Coot was still at Murlach (Galway) to 20th and the Pine Grosbeak was still at Collafirth (Shetland) to 20th.
Richardson's Canada Geese were on Islay and North Uist, and in Counties Sligo and Mayo. A possible Grey-bellied Brant was at Donaghmede on the outskirts of Dublin from 15th, with a second bird claimed there on 19th. A new blue-morph Snow Goose was on floods at Eagland Hill (Lancs) from 18th–20th at least, while the two white morphs remained at Loch Paible (N. Uist) and the blue morph was still on Bute (Clyde Islands). The only Red-breasted Goose reported this week was the long-staying bird on Langstone Harbour (Hants).
The two drake Black Ducks were still off the beach at Crookhaven (Cork) on 16th, but we have not heard anything since then. A female American Wigeon was new from the Holden Tower at Slimbridge (Glos) on 15th, and the following day a new drake appeared on the Exe Estuary (Devon). Other birds were at Fiskerton Fen (Lincs), Udale Bay (Highland), Loch Bee (S. Uist) and Cahore (Wexford). New Ring-necked Ducks were at Heaton Park (Gtr Manchester), Lough Ennell (Westmeath) and Wimbleball Lake (Somerset); others were in Cornwall, Devon, East Yorkshire, the Outer Hebrides, Pembrokeshire, and Scilly. Lesser Scaup remained in Clare, Cornwall and Glamorgan, as did Ferruginous Ducks at Priory CP (Bedfordshire) and Cockshoot Broad (Norfolk). Surf Scoters stuck to traditional sites, with up to three off the north coast of Wales at Llanddulas (Conwy) and single drakes at The Wig (Dumf & Gall), Ruddon's Point (Fife) and Ballinskelligs (Kerry). There were two new Green-winged Teal in County Mayo, at Carrowmore Lake and Cross Lough, and lingering birds in Cleveland, Cork, Cornwall, Down, Dumfries and Galloway, Hampshire and the Outer Hebrides. A White-billed Diver was new off Port Nis (Lewis) on 18th, while the bird on South Ronaldsay (Orkney) reappeared on 14th but has not been reported since.
Around 20 Great White Egrets ranged from Dungeness and Sandwich Bay (Kent) in the southeast to Marshside RSPB and Hesketh Out Marsh (Lancs) in the northwest; there was the usual cluster of records from the species' Somerset Levels stronghold. Five Cattle Egrets near Bruff (Limerick) were notable, and others were among pigs at St Johnston (Donegal) and pears at Conyer (Kent). The only remaining Glossy Ibis was the second-winter at Marloes Mere (Pembrokeshire), which has now been present for well over a year.
The raptor highlight of the week was a White-tailed Eagle from 18th to 20th at least around Anmer in Norfolk (and also over Hunstanton on the late afternoon of that first day). The juvenile female Northern Harrier was still at Tacumshin (Wexford) to 17th at least, but the probable reported last week on Orkney did not show up this week. Rough-legged Buzzards were at Haddiscoe Marshes, Burnham Overy/Holkham and North Wootton (Norfolk), Wharncliffe Side (S Yorks) and Wykeham Forest (N Yorks). A cluster of Common Crane reports from the East and North Yorkshire coasts on 18th and 19th presumably refer to the same wandering individual; elsewhere a a group of five that flew over North Slob (Wexford) and Kilcoole (Wicklow) on 14th were notable, as was a bird over Carrington Moss (Gtr Manchester) on 17th. Others were at Tyninghame Bay (Lothian), Skelton and Guisborough (Cleveland), Spurn (E Yorks), Prior's Fen (Cambs) and the Isle of Sheppey (Kent). The immature male Snowy Owl was again on the Pettigo Plateau (Fermanagh) on 15th.
There were no new waders of interest; the Lesser Yellowlegs at Ernesettle (Devon) and the Long-billed Dowitchers on Lady's Island Lake (Wexford) and the Gann Estuary (Pembrokeshire) remained settled into another week.
Rare gulls were similarly static: the Bonaparte's Gulls remained at Eastbourne (E Sussex) and on the Ogmore Estuary (Glamorgan). An adult Kumlien's Gull was new on Loch an Tiumpan (Lewis) on 19th, with others in Cork, Donegal, Shetland and West Yorkshire. New Ring-billed Gulls arrived at Cromane (Kerry) on 14th and on Crosby Beach (Lancs) and at Newnham (Glos) on 17th, and around a dozen longer-staying birds ranged from Gosport (Hants) to Dingwall (Highland). The adult Forster's Tern continued to plough its lonely furrow in Doorus Bay (Galway).
A Richard's Pipit was found at Hesketh Out Marsh (Lancs) on 14th but was not seen on subsequent days; the only other was the bird on Templetown Beach (Louth), now into its second week. At least eight Great Grey Shrikes were at traditional sites from the New Forest (Hants) to Old Kinord (Aberdeenshire), though a bird at Erewash Meadows NR (Derbyshire) on 17th was more notable. The Black-bellied Dipper continued to find the caddisflies of the River Thet to its taste at Thetford (Norfolk), and the Desert Wheatear must similarly be finding something to her liking at Rattray Head (Aberdeenshire). The wintering Pallas's Warbler continued to perform well on occasion at Eversley GPs (Hants) and single Penduline Tits remained faithful to their Kentish haunts at Stodmarsh and Dungeness. Similarly loyal was the first-winter Rose-coloured Starling in Exminster (Devon).
Photo of the Week
For the third week in a row, we have a bird photographer winning his first Photo of the Week with a portrait of a small passerine. This week, it's the turn of South Wales-based Mic Clark, who caught up with a stunning adult male Black Redstart in Cardiff Bay. Despite this being a long-staying bird in a well-populated area, Mic was the only person to send us a photo of it. Dark-plumaged birds can be difficult to photograph well, their subtleties easily being lost in the wrong lighting and setting. Perhaps surprisingly, dark birds tend to look better when photographed against dark backgrounds. They also look better when sunlight illuminates their feathers, as in Mic's shot, which also benefits from the modelling effect of side-lighting. As finishing touches, a natural perch and a classic pose (body facing one way and head facing the other) complete a winning composition.
Other notable images
Helmeted Guineafowl, Tanzania (Photo: Darran Rickards)