Review of the Week: 15-21 April 2024


It proved to be a rather chilly April week, although the weekend brought the first widespread arrival of Common Swifts of the spring, particularly on Sunday. Birds arrived en masse across southern England, with strays as far north as Highland. Chilly temperatures meant they must have regretted their decision somewhat, as the prevailing weather conditions continued to be cool and unpredictable. We are heading towards what should be the crescendo of spring migration, yet poor conditions of late mean that some summer migrants remain thin on the ground, despite the run of arrivals in and around Stork Kathleen. There's still plenty of time, though ...

Overland tern and wader passage is an annual highlight for inland patchers. A scattering of Arctic Terns in inland areas throughout the week peaked at the weekend, with several flocks numbering in double figures passing through landlocked regions. There were signs that overland Bar-tailed Godwit passage may soon kick off in style too, with a record count for Severn Beach, Avon, totalling 2,176 on Sunday.

Arctic Terns, Staines Reservoirs, London (Ian Curran).

Bar-tailed Godwits, Severn Beach, Avon (Aravind Ramesh).

News broke on 19th of an adult Marsh Sandpiper at Normandy Marsh, with photos later emerging showing it was present from 16th at least. Recent years have seen a decline in records of this attractive visitor from the Asian Steppe from a peak in the 1990s, making for a popular draw to the English south coast.

Marsh Sandpiper, Normandy, Hampshire (Ian Wells).

Marsh Sandpiper records by year (OrniStats).

There is a strong argument for a summer-plumaged Wilson's Phalarope being the most beautiful of the world's three phalarope species. It is also the plumage most rarely seen in Europe, making the appearance of an adult female at Falcarragh, Co Donegal, from 17-19th a highlight reel event. It is just the second county record after one at Inch Island Lake in December 2009.

Wilson's Phalarope, Falcarragh, Donegal (Derek Brennan).

Two Lesser Yellowlegs were rumoured to be present in Co Louth, with birds seen simultaneously at Lurgan Green and Dundalk on 20th. Another continued alongside a Black-winged Stilt at Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire. Long-billed Dowitchers lingered in three counties and a first-summer American Golden Plover was at Tacumshin, Co Wexford. The Isle of Wight scooped up the first Temminck's Stint of 2024 with one at Brading Marshes RSPB on 17th. Two more were in Essex the following day. Eurasian Dotterel were in Somerset and Outer Hebrides, with Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers at three sites apiece.

Long-billed Dowitcher, Cley Marshes NWT, Norfolk (Ian Curran).

Black-winged Stilt, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire (Tom Hines).

One of the winter's most popular visitors finally bid adieu this week, with the departure of the Ayrshire Myrtle Warbler after 17th. Its 58-day stay leaves it just one day shy of the Herefordshire Ovenbird of 2001/02, making it the fifth longest-staying Nearctic warbler of all time. Thankfully, its prolonged stay allowed the young to largely complete its prealternate moult into its summer finery, with only a handful of juvenile feathers remaining on departure. The JustGiving collection for North Ayrshire Cancer Care has raised over £3,550 to date.

Myrtle Warbler, Kilwinning, Ayrshire (Stevie Clarke).

Longest-staying American warblers (OrniStats).

Portland, Dorset, was treated to a memorable two subalpine day on 18th, with the lingering male Western Subalpine Warbler complimented by a brief individual not identified to species level. The male Western was also reported at Hook Head, Co Wexford, on 20th. It was another standout week for Golden Oriole sightings, with an incredible record seeing a singing male reach Fearnoch, Argyll, on 16th. The bulk were again in South-West England, with 15 between Dorset and Scilly. Another was at Sandwich Bay, Kent.

Western Subalpine Warbler, Portland, Dorset (Shaun Ferguson).

Golden Oriole, Whiteford NNR, Gower, Glamorgan (Alannah Ruthen).

A singing male Savi's Warbler at North Cave Wetlands was a rare record for East Yorkshire, while a surprisingly early female Red-backed Shrike was at Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk, on 19th. Other drift migrants included Wrynecks at Land's End, Cornwall, and Holme Dunes, Norfolk, nine Woodchat Shrikes (eight of those in South-West England), and six Hoopoes. Six European Serin included one over Gibraltar Point, Lincolnshire. Unfortunately, a European Bee-eater was found dead in a Swanage, Dorset, garden on 14th.

Red-backed Shrike, Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk (Les Cater).

Wryneck, Holme Dunes NWT, Norfolk (Mark Ferris).

Reminders of winter were provided by a Coues's Arctic Redpoll at Baltasound, Unst, Shetland on 17th and two Shore Larks still at Holkham Gap, Norfolk. A Richard's Pipit was fresh in on Bryher, Scilly, over the weekend.

Coues's Arctic Redpoll, Baltasound, Unst, Shetland (David Cooper).

An Alpine Swift provided some incredible close-range views at Kenfig NNR, Glamorgan, on 19th, with 20th bringing one over Westleton Heath, Suffolk. A Pallid Swift was again over St Mary's, Scilly, on 15th, with a Red-rumped Swallow still in Co Cork the same day. St Mary's, Scilly, hosted a male Red-footed Falcon on 21st and a Black Kite was photographed over Drumcannon, Co Waterford, on 16th.

Alpine Swift, Kenfig NNR, Glamorgan (Paul Roberts).

Cheshire's first Little Bittern since 1969 was an excellent find at Woolston Eyes on 19th. The site is enjoying an exceptional run so far this spring, following records of Ferruginous Duck, Lesser Scaup and Ruddy Duck. A fourth for the county, the first two records concern birds shot in the 1800s! Amazingly, two more recorded this week were both found in back gardens – one at Coverack, Cornwall, and another at Waterville, Co Kerry. A first-summer Squacco Heron lasted on Skokholm, Pembrokeshire, until 15th, with Purple Herons at nine sites. A notable example reached Muck, Highland. Four confirmed Black-crowned Night Herons included three in Devon, with a probable logged over Elba Park, Durham, on 20th.

Little Bittern, Woolston Eyes NR (permit only), Cheshire (Kieran Foster).

Suffolk birders were treated to a first-winter drake Surf Scoter at close range with Common Scoter off Walberswick from 16th, with another drake off Musselburgh, Lothian. Seven White-billed Divers provided enviable views from a boat trip off the Aberdeenshire coast on 20th, with numbers in the Outer Moray Firth just reaching into double figures. A further five were off Scottish islands.

Surf Scoter (right) with Common Scoter, Walberswick, Suffolk (Craig Shaw).

White-billed Divers, Portsoy, Aberdeenshire (Tim Marshall).

Dwindling flocks of wintering ducks saw a drop in rare and scarce visitors, with no American Wigeon recorded for the first time in 2024. A total of 10 Lesser Scaup hung on, including new birds at Walton Hall Marshes, Essex, and Tacumshin, Co Wexford, with at least three Ferruginous Ducks reported (in Kent, Cambridgeshire and Leicestershire). Lingering Green-winged Teal and Ring-necked Ducks both numbered 16. Two Garganey whizzing around Eoligarry on 19th was just the second record for Barra, Outer Hebrides.

Green-winged Teal, Tain, Highland (Patrick Safford).

Red-breasted Geese were again in Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Lancashire. A Tundra Bean Goose was on Bressay, Shetland, and a probable Todd's Canada Goose was in Lancashire. Two presumed Grey-bellied Brant were in Co Down, with Black Brant in East Yorkshire and Co Louth.

Red-breasted Goose, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire (Tom Hines).

The Forster's Tern again patrolled Poole Harbour, Dorset, for another week. New Bonaparte's Gulls – a first-winter at Wareham, Dorset, and an adult at Ballyconneely, Co Galway – brought the month's total to four. A brief second-winter Ring-billed Gull was at Scorton, North Yorkshire, on 21st. White-winged gull tallies comprised 16 Iceland Gulls (including three Kumlien's Gulls) and four Glaucous Gulls.

Bonaparte's Gull, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire (GLYN SELLORS).

Kumlien's Gull (bottom left) with European Herring Gulls, Helmsdale, Highland (Patrick Safford).


Western Palearctic

African vagrants have been a major feature of the southern European birding scene so far this spring, with this week seeing a fresh run of arrivals. The most surprising record of all saw a Yellow-billed Egret found in the Spanish interior at Embalse de Alcollarín, Extremadura, from 20th. Greece recorded its first African Desert Warbler at Cape Matapan on 16th and a Cream-coloured Courser resided on the runway at Athens International Airport. Pantelleria, Italy, hosted an Atlas Wheatear and a new Lesser Flamingo was on Sicily. Trumpeter Finches were on Corsica, France, and Lampedusa, Italy.

Impressively, the two Ross's Geese chose Estonia for their next stop-off. A Black-winged Kite at Karuste was a national first, with neighbouring Lithuania also recording its first Sociable Lapwing. Two Pygmy Cormorants were in Belgium. An unusual Swiss find concerned two adult Slender-billed Gulls at Martigny; a Western Bonelli's Warbler at Cape Greco was a Cypriot first.

The Abyssinian Roller and at least four Red-billed Firefinches were still at Nouadhibou, Mauritania, while an immature Red-footed Booby was at sea off the Canary Islands. A Green Heron and American Great Egret were in the Azores.

A major piece of belated news concerned a first-winter male Indigo Bunting trapped on Malta on 19 November 2023, where it remains in captivity.


Written by: Sam Viles