21/08/2002
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Review of the Week: 15th-21st August 2002

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A very hot weekend for many areas, as those of you who were at the Bird Fair will have noticed! Coupled with the hot weather were drifting southeasterlies along coastal areas, producing a nice scattering of rare and scarce migrants, though the lion's share of the action was on the Northern Isles and at Portland.

An Olivaceous Warbler was trapped and ringed at Hoswick (Shetland) on the 18th and present to the 21st at least. If accepted this will be only the 15th British and Irish record (two of which are pending following a recent review). This record was attributed to the eastern form elaeica, the form to which all British and Irish records appear to belong. It has been suggested recently that the species should be split, to recognise the eastern and western forms as separate species. If the proposed split takes place, and you've seen one of the older records that was not trapped, will the Tippex be necessary, or will you rely on probabilities?

Elsewhere, a Booted Warbler at Portland (Dorset) from the 15th-19th was the earliest ever autumn record of this increasingly regular vagrant. There have now been approaching 100 records of this former mega rarity. Prior to 1977 there had only been nine records. A dramatic upsurge has been evident since the mid 1980s, in keeping with the westerly spread of the breeding range into eastern Scandinavia and the northern Baltic. As the range spreads westwards, earlier records will presumably become more regular. Other scarce passerines during the week included a Greenish Warbler on a research vessel off Shetland, which stayed with the boat until 5 km from the Out Skerries. Aquatic Warblers were seen at Portland and Kenfig (Glamorgan), and a Marsh Warbler was on Unst. An arrival of just over a dozen Barred Warblers was mostly restricted to the Northern Isles, with one in Lothian being the furthest south. Around half a dozen Icterine Warblers were split between the east and south coast, but a dozen Melodious Warblers were, more predictably, scattered along the south coast, with the exception of one on Bardsey and a notable individual on Shetland. An arrival of south coast Wrynecks was restricted to the stretch between Hampshire and Cornwall, but one was inland in Surrey and two were on Fair Isle. Always scarce nowadays, Ortolan Buntings were on Fair Isle and Portland. A Citrine Wagtail was found on Out Skerries, though no doubt this will not be the first quality rarity that these islands have to offer this autumn. Just two Common Rosefinches were seen, with birds on North Ronaldsay and Unst. Late August is a good time for Woodchat Shrikes and juveniles were seen on Bryher and at Portland on the 21st.

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Two-barred Crossbills continue to arrive, and 11 have been seen so far in this autumn's invasion, including 4 together on Fair Isle between 16th and 19th. The last invasions of this scale took place in 1987 and 1990. In 1987 over 20 birds were seen, with birds in August, and all records were on Shetland and Orkney. In 1990 again, over 20 birds were seen, with birds on the Northern Isles in July and August and a number of birds seen in England between October and the end of the year. Let's hope for a repeat of the 1990 influx, rather than that of 1987! Associated with this present influx are good numbers of Common Crossbills, and a female Parrot Crossbill on Orkney was the second of the autumn so far and both have been exceptionally early.

Seawatching has been productive recently and yet another Wilson's Petrel was seen from land, this time in Co. Mayo, with another from the Scillonian crossing. Small numbers of the larger shearwaters have been noted off the usual Irish and southwest headlands. A Cory's Shearwater in Aberdeenshire was one of the very few North Sea records this year, whilst a Great Shearwater in Somerset was an excellent local record. Seawatchers also notched up Grey Phalaropes in East Yorkshire and Cornwall, and a distant phalarope at Hornsea Mere turned out to be a Red-necked Phalarope. Gull of the week easily goes to a Franklin's Gull at Farmoor Reservoir in Oxfordshire, present from the 17th to at least the 21st. There have been relatively few rare waders during the week, but 2 juvenile Marsh Sandpipers at Elmley RSPB were a nice added bonus for Pallid Harrier watchers. Just two White-rumped Sandpipers have been seen with one on Teesside and another briefly in North Yorkshire, whilst three Pectoral Sandpipers were seen in Lincolnshire, Cleveland and on St. Mary's. Completing the scarce waders, 4 Dotterels were in Kent with singles in Cornwall and Essex.

In Durham the young Bee-eaters are due to fledge in the next few days so, if you have not been yet, this weekend would be the time to go and perhaps see a little bit of modern birding history in the process!

Written by: Russell Slack