21/10/2004
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Review of the Week: 14th-20th October 2004

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Chestnut-eared Bunting: Fair Isle, Shetland. (Photo: Deryk Shaw) Chestnut-eared Bunting: Fair Isle, Shetland. (Photo: Deryk Shaw)

Chestnut-eared Bunting: Fair Isle, Shetland. (Photo: Nic Hallam) Chestnut-eared Bunting: Fair Isle, Shetland. (Photo: Deryk Shaw)

The most heavily debated bird of the week was the 1st-winter male Chestnut-eared Bunting on Fair Isle (Shetland) trapped on Saturday 16th, but present prior to this date. Although not predicted by many as a potential addition to the British list, this bird would, if accepted, be a first for Britain and the Western Palearctic. On the basis of the location and the age of the bird, many keen listers dug deep into their pockets and headed for this famous island. Chestnut-eared Buntings have a fragmented distribution; nominate race birds occur patchily in northeast China and Japan whilst other races occur in the western Himalayas and patchily eastwards to southeast China. Over much of the range it is mainly an altitudinal migrant, but nominate-race birds are migrants, though in comparison to many other species from the eastern Palearctic they are relatively short-distance migrants.

Many consider this individual to be a genuine vagrant based on the fact that the eastern nominate-race birds (the race of this individual will need to be assessed in depth) move from breeding areas to winter from southern Korea, southern Japan, Taiwan and throughout southern China, which, when added to the relative glut of some extremely rare 'sibes' this autumn, tempted many to speculate that this supported the case for natural vagrancy in their view. However, against this is the fact that the populations of nominate-race birds are found in the extreme east of Palearctic, whilst the associated rare 'sibes' mentioned as supporting species extend a long way west with populations not too far from northwest Europe, which could be argued add little for the case of natural vagrancy. The key to taking the argument further might be further research to attempt to assign the bird to a particular race. If the bird can be assigned to a race and it is anything other than a nominate-race bird, the escape probability will be exceptionally high. Although probably unknown in captivity in the UK, birds imported illegally into Europe will presumably be discarded as 'little brown jobs'; the Fair Isle bird would appear to show no signs of captivity.

It seems likely that this bird will be placed in a holding category D of the BOURC list (much better contenders for natural vagrancy than Chestnut-eared Bunting have been placed on Category D of the British list in the past), which would seem sensible as a temporary measure to see whether further records occur in the future. Of course, if you do not follow the BOURC British list then the decision to 'count it' or 'not count it' will be down to the individual to decide for themselves. Finally, could the appearance of a Grey-necked Bunting in The Netherlands around the same time provide any clues as to the origin of this bird? Both these species can be found in winter in similar areas at the western end of the Chestnut-eared Bunting's range, where birds are mainly altitudinal migrants. Whatever the final outcome for this particular sighting, the answer will not come rapidly as there will be much research and investigation to be undertaken before a declaration on status is made by the relevant committees.

Chestnut-eared Bunting: Fair Isle, Shetland. (Photo: Deryk Shaw)

A notable arrival of Pallid Swifts occurred during the week. On Friday 15th birds were at Sizewell (Suffolk) and Bockhill Farm (Kent), with perhaps the same at Walmer (Kent) on Sunday 17th. On Wednesday 20th one passed over Loftus (Cleveland), another was at Spurn (E. Yorks) being seen to go to roost, and in Norfolk one was at Cley, two at Blakeney Point and four over Morston. An Alpine Swift was reported over the London Wetland Centre (London) on Sunday 17th.

Pied Wheatear: Newbiggin, Northumberland. (Photo: Alan Gilbertson) Pied Wheatear: Newbiggin, Northumberland. (Photo: Alan Gilbertson)

The time of year ensured that there was plenty to see, with a notable east-coast fall on Wednesday 20th. A Common Yellowthroat at Maywick (Shetland) on Thursday 14th was considered different to the Foula bird from last week, but it did not linger for long. A probable Black-faced Bunting was at Flamborough Head (E. Yorks) on Friday 15th, but did not give itself up. A Pied Wheatear was at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea (Northumberland) on Wednesday 20th, an Isabelline Shrike at Vidlin (Shetland) on Sunday 17th and a Paddyfield Warbler at Sennen (Cornwall) on Thursday 14th. A male Black-throated Thrush at Westport Lake (Staffs) was just reward for a dedicated patch-watcher and a male Sardinian Warbler was at Winterton Dunes (Norfolk) from Friday 15th onwards. Hume's Leaf Warblers were at Cove Bay (Aberdeenshire) from Sunday 17th onwards and another on Holy Island (Northumberland) on Wednesday 20th. On Foula the Pechora Pipit was still present on 15th and a Penduline Tit was at Radipole (Dorset) on Saturday 16th. An impressive list of 'probables' included a Pine Bunting on St. Mary's, Nutcracker in Hertfordshire and a Booted Warbler on Anglesey.

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Radde's Warbler: Flamborough Head, E. Yorks. (Photo: Dave Mansell) Sardinian Warbler: Winterton, Norfolk. (Photo: Pete Merchant)

Sardinian Warbler: Winterton, Norfolk. (Photo: Andrew Easton) Sardinian Warbler: Winterton, Norfolk. (Photo: Mike Lawrence)

Blyth's Reed Warbler: Unst, Shetland. (Photo: Micky Maher) Blyth's Reed Warbler: Pleinmont, Guernsey. (Photo: Mark Lawlor)

It was a reasonable week for sibes, albeit in smaller numbers than we've been used to during classic Octobers of recent years. Three Blyth's Reed Warblers included birds trapped at Pleinmont (Guernsey) on 14th, another likewise at Skaw, Unst (Shetland) on 15th and one in Prior's Park, Tynemouth (Northumberland) from 20th onwards. Radde's Warblers were trapped at Flamborough Head (E. Yorks) on 16th and Weybourne (Norfolk) on 17th, whilst on Scilly birds remained to 14th on St. Martin's and St. Mary's, with another reported on the latter island on 16th. Four Dusky Warblers included one on Fair Isle from 18th-19th, then three on 20th with singles at Landguard (Suffolk), Walsey Hills (Norfolk) and Blakeney Point (Norfolk). Three Olive-backed Pipits included singles at Flamborough Head (E. Yorks) on 16th, Cruden Bay (Aberdeenshire) on 17th and Fair Isle on 20th. Red-throated Pipits included fly-overs at Old Head of Kinsale (Co. Cork) on 16th and London Wetland Centre (London) on 19th, with others showing on Cape Clear (Co. Cork) from 16th-17th and at Weybourne (Norfolk) from 17th-18th. An Arctic Warbler was on Tresco (Scilly) on 17th. There were three Siberian Stonechats, with singles on 17th at Collieston (Aberdeenshire) and Noss Head (Shetland) and a bird was at South Gare (Cleveland) on Wednesday 20th. On Shetland the White's Thrush remains at Swining.

Pallas's Warbler: Flamborough Head, E. Yorks. (Photo: Dave Mansell) Pallas's Warbler: Flamborough Head, E. Yorks. (Photo: Jane Hanson)

Arctic Redpoll: Foula, Shetland. Nominate-race bird. (Photo: Mark Wilkinson) Common Redpoll: Bryher, Scilly. 'Greenland' Redpoll, rostrata-race bird. (Photo: Nick Smith)

Arctic Redpoll: Unst, Shetland. exilipes-race bird. (Photo: Micky Maher) Richard's Pipit: Fetlar, Shetland. (Photo: Micky Maher)

Bluethroat: Burniston, N. Yorks. (Photo: Dave Mansell) Little Bunting: Cape Clear, Co. Cork. (Photo: Mike O'Keefe)

An arrival of Pallas's Warblers totalled over 40 birds, with fractionally more Yellow-browed Warblers during the same period. Richard's Pipits, Barred Warblers and Red-breasted Flycatchers all reached double figures, there were seven Common Rosefinches, four Arctic Redpolls (of both races), three Little Buntings, and two Serins. Five Rose-coloured Starlings remained, as did the Short-toed Lark on St. Mary's, and the popular Golden Oriole at Abergavenny (Gwent) was last seen on 16th. An Icterine Warbler was on St. Mary's on 20th and the Ortolan Bunting was on Bryher (Scilly) during the early part of the week. Around a dozen Great Grey Shrikes were reported and of the two Red-backed Shrikes a male at Bawdsey (Suffolk) proved popular. Half a dozen Bluethroats were mostly confined to Shetland and a similar number of Wrynecks were all in the southwest of England. A Northern Long-tailed Tit was reported at Meikle Loch (Aberdeenshire) on Sunday 17th, and a notable influx of Northern Bullfinches occurred, the majority on the Northern Isles (for example, over 100 were on Unst), with birds being reported along the east coast by the end of the week. Common Redpolls continued to be reported in reasonable numbers, with several birds of the race rostrata noted (this race of Common Redpoll is often referred to as Greenland Redpoll). Waxwings also put in a good appearance at many locations, with birds seen along the east coast by the end of the week.

Red-backed Shrike: Bawdsey, Suffolk. (Photo: Sean Nixon) Red-backed Shrike: Bawdsey, Suffolk. (Photo: Kelvin)

Barred Warbler: Donna Nook, Lincs. (Photo: Graham Catley) Red-breasted Flycatcher: Buckton, E. Yorks. (Photo: Mark Thomas)

Golden Oriole: Abergavenny, Gwent. (Photo: Dave Brassey) Golden Oriole: Abergavenny, Gwent. (Photo: Bob Hazel)

Great Grey Shrike: Holme, Norfolk. (Photo: Mike Lawrence) Waxwing: Holme, Norfolk. (Photo: Pete Merchant)
'Northern' Bullfinch: Unst, Shetland. (Photo: Micky Maher)

All the excitement was not confined to the bushes, but wader interest was dwindling. A Long-billed Dowitcher was at Kilnsea (E. Yorks) from Thursday 14th-16th, a Baird's Sandpiper was at Loch Paible on North Uist (Outer Hebrides) from Friday 15th-18th, a White-rumped Sandpiper was reported from Oare Marshes (Kent) on Saturday 16th and the bird at Minsmere (Suffolk) remained to at least the 20th. An American Golden Plover was at Staxigoe (Highland) from 15th-16th and birds remained on Fetlar (Shetland) and Seabank (Co. Louth) into the early part of the week, as did the Lesser Yellowlegs at Stiffkey (Norfolk), with another at Shaws Lake (Co. Armagh) and Spotted Sandpiper at Portrush (Co. Antim) until 16th. Just half a dozen Grey Phalaropes were noted, the Buff-breasted Sandpiper remained at Grove Ferry (Kent) and a Dotterel was at Cliffe (Kent) on 16th. A Sociable Lapwing was reported passing Weybourne (Norfolk) on Wednesday 20th and will no doubt prove popular if relocated. The Cream-coloured Courser remained a popular distraction for visitors to St. Mary's, but the Western Sandpiper was last reported from Brownsea Island (Dorset) on 15th.

Cream-coloured Courser: St. Mary's, Scilly. (Photo: John Lepley) Long-billed Dowitcher: Kilnsea, E. Yorks. (Photo: Nigel Genn)

Grey Phalarope: Filey, N. Yorks. (Photo: Jane Hanson) Grey Phalarope: Filey, N. Yorks. (Photo: Jane Hanson)

A possible Whiskered Tern was at Earls Barton GPs (Northants) from Thursday 14th-15th, with perhaps the same bird reported from Westport Lake (Staffs) on Wednesday 20th. A Bonaparte's Gull was at Old Head of Kinsale (Co. Cork) on Friday 15th, the Forster's Tern remained at Carlinford Lough (Co. Down) and a single Sabine's Gull was reported from Northumberland. A white Gyr Falcon of unknown origin flew through Sefton Meadows (Lancs) on Saturday 16th, dark-breasted Barn Owls were on Bressay (Shetland) on Sunday 16th and at Weybourne (Norfolk) on Monday 18th. A Purple Heron was noted over Pegwell Bay (Kent) on Friday 15th, Great White Egrets were in Lancashire and Glamorgan, the Squacco Heron remained at East Chevington (Northumberland) as did the Glossy Ibis in Norfolk. The Spotted Crake was still on Tresco and several Rough-legged Buzzards were reported.

Common Rosefinch: St. Mary's, Scilly. (Photo: Martin Goodey)

Firecrest: Landguard, Suffolk. (Photo: Bill Baston) Shore Lark: Gronant, Clwyd. (Photo: Steve Round)

Ring-necked Duck: Attenborough NR, Notts. (Photo: Ray Purser) Lesser Yellowlegs: Stiffkey, Norfolk. (Photo: Mike Lawrence)
Many of the images that appear in our weekly reviews can be purchased from the photographers, some of whom have their own websites:

Bill Aspin: http://www.eastlancashirebirding.net
Ian Barnard: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/sussex.birder
Bill Baston: http://billbaston.com
Steve Blain: http://www.steveblain.co.uk
Nigel Blake: http://www.nigelblake.co.uk
Will Bowell: http://www.geocities.com/wbowell/
Paul Bowerman: http://mysite.freeserve.com/severnsidebirds
Paul Bowyer: http://www.ukbirds.net
Andy Brett: http://www.freewebs.com/andybrett/
Martin Cade: http://www.portlandbirdobs.btinternet.co.uk
Mark Caunt: http://angusbirding.homestead.com/
Kit Day: http://www.kitday-uk.com/
Lee Dingain: http://www.leedingain.co.uk
Jon Dunn: http://www.surfbirds.com/blogs/Stercorarius/
Sean Gray: http://www.grayimages.co.uk
Peter Hadfield: http://www.manxbirdphotography.co.uk
Josh Jones: http://www.geocities.com/blgp_birder
John Judge: http://www.draycotebirding.co.uk
Paul and Andrea Kelly: http://www.irishbirdimages.com/
Jack Levene: http://www.birdingimages.com
John Malloy: http://mysite.freeserve.com/JohnMalloyBirdPhotos
Jerry O'Brien: http://www.BirdsofBerkshire.co.uk
James Packer: http://www.somersetbirder.co.uk
Mike Pennington: http://www.nature.shetland.co.uk
Tristan Reid: http://www.solwaybirder.org.uk
Steve Round: http://stevenround-birdphotography.com
Tom Shevlin: http://wildlifesnaps.com/
Matt Slaymaker: http://www.freewebs.com/slaymaker
Glen Tepke: http://www.pbase.com/gtepke
Phillip Tomkinson: http://www.philliptomkinson.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk
Stephen Tomlinson: http://www.digitalbirds.co.uk
Sue Tranter: http://www.suesbirdphotos.co.uk/
Steve Williams: http://www.hilbrebirdobs.co.uk
Chris Wormwell: http://www.iombirding.co.uk
Dylan Wrathall: http://www.planetthanet.org
Written by: Russell Slack