21/03/2002
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Review of the Week: 15th-21st March 2002

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The southeasterlies prior to last weekend certainly did not disappoint and there has been a real feel of rarities, migration and expectation during the week. Unfortunately the drifting southeasterlies have now given way to a short run of westerlies, but a large corridor of high pressure stretching from the continent and down into the Mediterranean should facilitate further arrivals. More winds of a southerly and southeasterly origin are forecast over the weekend so perhaps more excitement is to come?

It is difficult to decide whether to start with birds of the week or event of the week! A couple of Common Cranes on the 14th were little hint of an exceptional movement of birds along the east coast. Over the weekend and early this week perhaps as many as 90 birds were reported, including a report of 24 birds in off the sea in Cleveland. Typically, many birds were fly-throughs, with few birds lingering long and an element of duplication as several flocks passed over different sites. A more detailed account of this superb influx can be found in the article by Russell Wynn at:

www.birdguides.com/birdnews/article.asp?a=13

Rarity of the week has a rather confused entry onto the national news service. A report of an Alpine Accentor at Minsmere on the 16th later turned into a report of Siberian Accentor and then ultimately relegated to a humble Dunnock, and the whole episode was thought to possibly be a hoax! End of rumour perhaps? Well no. Imagine everyone's surprise when a pristine Alpine Accentor was located near the old chapel late morning on the 17th. Fortunately the bird had the common courtesy to remain until the 19th to allow those who had not seen the two birds in 2000, or the Lincolnshire bird of 1994, an opportunity to see the species. This is only the 14th to have occurred since 1958, but was the 8th since 1990, prior to which the last was in 1978!

In an excellent weekend for rarities, a winter-plumaged Ross's Gull was seen flying south at Scarborough (North Yorkshire) late morning on the 16th. Thankfully, the same observer managed to relocate the bird later and the account by finder (and relocater) Dave Bywater at:

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www.birdguides.com/birdnews/article.asp?a=33

will provoke envy in those of us who enjoy finding our own rarities. Ross' s Gull must be on every rarity-finders 'most wanted' self-found list. The bird is still present at the time of writing, and despite the occurrence of several this winter, including a long-staying bird in Devon, it proved to very popular with birders from Yorkshire and beyond.

Other new rarities included a winter-plumaged adult Bonaparte's Gull at Pagham Harbour (West Sussex) throughout the week, and a Lesser Yellowlegs at Frodsham (Cheshire) from the 17th. The yellowlegs had possibly been present for nine days, could this have been the bird that wintered in Pembrokeshire moving north perhaps? A Great White Egret flew over Pagham Harbour and Church Norton on the 17th and promptly disappeared, whilst a touch of the exotic was provided by a Hoopoe in Cornwall on the 18th and White-spotted Bluethroats in Kent and Suffolk. Gyr Falcons were again reported from Killybegs, Anglesey and Islay during the week, though in typical fashion none of these have allowed themselves to become 'pinned-down' for appreciation by a wider audience. Another (or the same?) Cory's Shearwater was seen in the North Sea with a bird past Spurn (East Yorkshire) on the 15th, a Spotted Crake was reported in West Sussex, the White-billed Diver was seen once again in Highland and a Black-bellied Dipper was on Fair Isle to round off the large number of highlights for the week. The Scops Owl saga continues in Wiltshire, but no one has actually seen a bird making the sound, so the jury is still out on whether the origin of the 'call' is a Midwife Toad, whilst in Northumberland the Hooded Merganser has prompted many more observers to travel for 'insurance purposes' after the age of the bird was reported as 1st-winter.

It has been an exceptional spring for early migrants and many counties are reporting their earliest ever dates for some summer visitors. Exceptionally early Common Redstart, Whinchat and Yellow Wagtails have been seen, along with good numbers of the more expected migrants. At least 7 Ospreys have been seen, and 8 Garganey, whilst Black-necked Grebes have been seen at a number of locations. The strong southerlies early in the week caused a number of Little Gulls to be displaced and over 80 were seen passing Dungeness. At least 4 of our wintering Bitterns have been seen leaving their reedbeds at dusk, calling and circling the location before heading off in an easterly direction - bon voyage.

At BirdGuides we will continue to keep you informed of arrivals (and departures) as and when they occur. Several species, such as Chiffchaffs, Sand Martins, Wheatears and Blackcaps are now widely reported across many southern parts of the country and from now on, for such species, we will only be publishing 'first' records from northern parts of the country or significant counts of these migrants. As the spring moves on we will continue to adopt such a policy with our other summer migrants as and when it becomes clear that birds have arrived in good numbers. Unfortunately we cannot include all sightings of established summer visitors (e.g. singing Chiffchaffs) that are sent to us, so we hope that you understand if we do not publish some of the records that you send to us for these species, or winter thrushes and Siskins. However, please send these records to the BTO Migration Watch project so that arrival patterns can be fully documented: www.bto.org/migwatch/index.htm. An article by Dawn Balmer of the BTO on the arrival pattern of Chiffchaffs can be found at: www.birdguides.com/birdnews/article.asp?a=26. Anticipation is now high for the coming week, and rarities such as Great Spotted Cuckoo are possible, whilst the spread of migrants across the country should be evident to most observers as they bird their local patch.

Written by: Russell Slack, BirdGuides