21/09/2001
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Review of the Week: 14th-20th September 2001

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Seabird passage was appearing to slow down after the Wilson/Fea's Petrel season came to a close, but good numbers of Sooty Shearwaters and Long-tailed Skuas spiced up the long sea-watching days. A massive 565 Sooties passed Whitburn and 800 passed the Farne Islands. A daily tally of 17 Long-tailed Skuas also graced Whitburn, while other east-coast sites managed to log lower numbers. A small number of Sabine's Gulls and phalaropes also appeared some distance inland.

Towards the end of the week, winds pushed good numbers of Gannets inland with records over York city centre, Nottinghamshire and Cambridgeshire. Large numbers were seen moving up the Humber, which funnels birds so far inland that they often do not re-orientate back into the North Sea. Instead they continue inland, often turning south along the River Trent, or following the River Ouse until changing tack and heading south down the M1 corridor into the Midlands - one Gannet was seen to be 'shearing' down the A1.

By far the best seabirds were the two Red-billed Tropicbirds reported. Following a bird seen off Scilly this summer, a single report came from Mundesley, Norfolk, followed just a few hours later by another off La Jaonneuse, Guernsey, where seven lucky birders watched it for five minutes. Although common in tropical waters around the world and claimed in Britain before, this species is a possible addition to the British List, although Guernsey falls outside the area governed by BOURC decisions.

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Shorebird numbers remained high with some new arrivals. Yanks included 2 White-rumped Sandpipers, 3 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 3 Buff-breasted Sandpipers, 6 Baird’s Sandpipers, a Stilt Sandpiper, 13 Pectoral Sandpipers, a possible American Golden Plover and 3 Lesser Yellowlegs, the star being a Semipalmated Plover (3rd British record if accepted) on South Uist. It was strange that no Dowitchers occurred and unfortunate that a Hudsonian Godwit was not among them. As winds changed to the east a Sand Plover sp. reached Scandinavia and a moulting adult Red-necked Stint was found in Cambridgeshire.

Winds from the north-west and north-east prevented Mediterranean birds from reaching us, with no more egrets and herons being found. The couple of Hoopoes found were probably remnants of the previous week's weather systems or originated from further east. The Stithians Black Duck still remained on site for an 'en-route-to-Scilly' visit and few other wildfowl of note arrived. But after one of the poorest spring/summers ever for rare birds, events changed dramatically. The Shetland Pallid Harrier remained into this week and was at the tail end of a large influx into Scandinavia. It is from this direction that we often look for signs of things to come. Up to the 20th, more than 9000 Mealy Redpolls and 52 Arctic Redpolls were ringed in the Bodø area in Norway. Birds also began to appear on the East Coast, with an Arctic Redpoll on North Ronaldsay and Mealies at various other sites.

Bird movements mirrored reports from the Nordic countries, which also enjoyed a large influx of Barred Warblers. Those in Britain were supported by many Red-backed Shrikes, Wrynecks, Bluethroats, Siberian Stonechats and Red-breasted Flycatchers that were found along the coast from Shetland to Essex. Numbers of Icterine Warblers, normally associated with these arrivals, were low in comparison.

The pick of the crop was Citrine Wagtail and 2 Black-headed Buntings, and possibly 3 Isabelline Wheatears, the most accessible being trapped at Landguard. Yellow-browed Warblers began to arrive and among them Norway had recorded an Eyebrowed Thrush and Blyth's Pipit, both eastern megas, but Britain's hour of glory was to be a disappointing time for many. A Siberian Rubythroat landed on a boat off Shetland, one hundred miles short of its desired destination. A Thick-billed Warbler (2nd British record) just made it into a mist net on Shetland, but rapidly went to ground, much to the disappointment of those with the money and understanding wives that allow them to go in search of such Holy Grails. It is surprising that Lanceolated or Pallas's Grasshopper Warblers wrapped up in these weather systems had not reached the Northern Isles, but 2 mainland Lanceolated Warblers rapidly disappeared before observers could reach them. Frustrating times indeed, but thankfully the dull days of spring and summer seem to be over. Winter thrushes and buntings are turning up early so perhaps we should make the most of it while we can.

Written by: Phil Palmer, BirdGuides