Review of the Week: 15-21 January 2024


Cold northerlies at the start of the review period gave way to Storm Isha over the weekend, which brought heavy rain and strong winds at speeds up to 160 kmh. The chiller conditions might have led birders to hope for an influx of white-winged gulls, or perhaps even a Ross's or Ivory. This didn't pay off, alas, but Shetlanders were treated to a different ivory-coloured beast from the High Arctic, when Hillswick became the welcome host of a Beluga Whale from 17-20th.

More commonly found north of the Arctic Circle, it is the fifth Shetland record of Beluga, following individuals off Unst in 1976, 1997 and 2021, Hoswick, Mainland, in 1996 and Fair Isle in 2023. Famously, an individual nicknamed 'Benny' resided in the Thames Estuary in late 2018.

Beluga Whale, Hillswick, Mainland, Shetland (Richard Shucksmith/Shetland Times).

On the bird front, the stable presence of the Northern Waterthrush at Heybridge, Essex, proved the week's main event. After many had gone away less-than-satisfied early in the bird's stay, the preposterous, close-range views of recent days inspired many into a return visit. The bird's finder, Simon Wood, is aiming to raise funds for the local Ironworks Meadow Nature Reserve. Anyone wishing to donate to the cause can do so via this link.

Northern Waterthrush, Heybridge, Maldon, Essex (Lee Fuller).

The Firth of Forth brought two of the week's best finds: an immature drake King Eider off Cockenzie and Port Seton, Lothian, and a Pacific Diver at Burntisland, Fife. The same stretch of Fife coastline hosted Scotland's second Pacific Diver – a juvenile – just a year ago, lingering until mid-May. The eider, meanwhile, is a welcome record during a dire winter for the species.

Inishmore's eclectic mix of Nearctic wildfowl remained for much of the week to the delight of Irish twitchers, though the Bufflehead departed after 16th. The White-winged Scoter, Pied-billed Grebe and American Wigeon lingered until Friday at least.

White-winged Scoter, Inishmore, Galway (Gemma Kelleher).

Pied-billed Grebe, Inishmore, Galway (Gemma Kelleher).

Titchfield, Hampshire, hosted a new drake Ferruginous Duck from 18th, with a brief foray along The Solent to Oxey on 19th. An unusually tame drake moved around the London suburbs of Wanstead and Snaresbrook and others hung on in Norfolk and Gloucestershire.

Ferruginous Duck, Snaresbrook, London (David Lee).

The young drake Baikal Teal at Bishop Middleham, Durham, entertained visitors until 19th at least. Smew numbers reached in excess of 60 and Lesser Scaup lingered in five counties. Six American Wigeon included a new drake in East Yorkshire; other totals comprised four Surf Scoter, 16 Green-winged Teal and 29 Ring-necked Ducks.

Smew, Belvide Reservoir (permit only), Staffordshire (Steve Nuttall).

Green-winged Teal, Holkham Freshmarsh, Norfolk (Carl Baggott).

Essex's Red-breasted Geese increased to two this week, with the addition of an adult with Dark-bellied Brent Geese at Montsale on 18th. Up to four continued elsewhere, with Snow Geese comprising one in Highland and two in Co Wexford. A Lesser White-fronted Goose attracted some attention in South Yorkshire at Broomhill Flash, although its infatuation with the local feral Greylag and Canada Geese is unlikely to see it looked on favourably by the rarities committees.

Red-breasted Goose (front bird) with Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Cley Marshes NWT, Norfolk (Tony Knight).

Lesser White-fronted Goose, Broomhill Flash (Dearne Valley), South Yorkshire (Martin Roper).

Cackling Geese were in Lancashire, Islay, Argyll, and Co Donegal, with a Todd's Canada Goose at Cardurnock, Cumbria. Two Grey-bellied Brant performed on Gaelic Football pitches at Raheny, Co Dublin, and two Black Brant were again on the Thames Estuary Marshes.

Grey-bellied Brant (centre) with Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Raheny, Dublin (Jack Tynan).

The surviving Cornish first-winter Bonaparte's Gull wandered north-east to Maer Lake on 21st, while the regular Little Gull flock at Brora, Highland, attracted an adult from 20th, with another adult still at Ballygalley, Co Antrim. Numbers of both Glaucous and Iceland Gulls remained low, with Kumlien's Gulls totalling three. Four of six Ring-billed Gulls were in Ireland, as was the long-staying Double-crested Cormorant.

Kumlien's Gull, Easter Loch, Unst, Shetland (David Cooper).

Ring-billed Gull, Ring, Cork (Richard Mills).

Twitchable flocks of Waxwings continued to attract oodles of eager visitors the length and breadth of Britain. Additional birds were in seven Irish counties.

Waxwing, Hassop, Derbyshire (George Ewart).

The adult male Black-throated Thrush provided yet more excellent views at Tophill Low, East Yorkshire, throughout. Four Great Grey Shrikes were noted, and a brief European Serin was at Stocker's Lake, Hertfordshire, on 16th.

Black-throated Thrush, Tophill Low NR, East Yorkshire (Lee Johnson).

A strong shout for Coues's Arctic Redpoll was photographed at Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk, on 19th. There would be no sign of the popular Golden Oriole at Gulval, Cornwall, after Monday, though the county would host both a Little Bunting and Yellow-browed Warbler.

Golden Oriole, Gulval, Cornwall (Lee Gregory).

Lingering Richard's Pipits were in Gloucestershire and Cornwall; 40 Shore Lark across six sites included a bumper flock of 12 at Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire. A small cluster of 15 Lapland Buntings was along the coast between Filey, North Yorkshire, and Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire.

Richard's Pipit, Caerthillian Cove, Cornwall (Adrian Lea).

Shore Lark, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Northumberland (Frank Golding).

Interestingly, a wintering Lesser Whitethroat in a Bristol, Avon, garden was trapped and ringed last week and appears a likely candidate for a Central Asian Lesser Whitethroat. A probable Siberian Lesser Whitethroat was in a Pendeen, Cornwall, garden.

Lingering Pallid Harriers battered the bracing winds along the coastlines of Norfolk, Glamorgan/Carmarthen and Pembrokeshire, with the young Northern Harrier again at Tacumshin, Co Wexford. In Meirionnydd, the wild immature White-tailed Eagle again roamed the countryside west of Bala.

Three sites recorded Long-billed Dowitchers, the Kentish Plover remained in Somerset and three Lesser Yellowlegs lingered. An unseasonal Purple Heron ploughed on in Cornwall and Glossy Ibis were at 20 sites.

Purple Heron, Mawgan Porth, Cornwall (Adrian Langdon).


Western Palearctic

Nowhere enjoyed quite as prolific a purple patch as Croatia this week, with a first-winter Franklin's Gull – Croatia's second – at Rijka from 16th followed in quick succession by the country's first Red-flanked Bluetail near Kupina on 18th. Another Franklin's soaked up the sun at Marbella, Spain and a White-throated Sparrow was still in Barcelona. A Double-crested Cormorant lingered on Faial, Azores.

Blue Rock Thrush, Durbuy, Luxembourg (Christian Vandeputte).

A notable German find saw two brief Steller's Eider at Putgarten before flying towards the Danish coastline on 16th. Denmark retained its Pacific Diver and the semi-resident White-winged Scoter was back at Reykjavík, Iceland. Slovenia bagged its first Ring-necked Duck at Maribor, the Siberian Buff-bellied Pipit and Oriental Turtle Dove remained in the Netherlands, and a Blue Rock Thrush was still in Belgium. In the Channel Islands, a Pied Crow was again at Bray Bay, Alderney.


Written by: Sam Viles