Review of the Week: 16–22 December


The week at a glance

Those who have left it late to do their Christmas shopping may have been relieved that it was a typically quiet week as far as rarities were concerned — there were thin pickings for anyone with time to get out birding.

The only new 'mega' of the week was a Hudsonian Whimbrel seen by one observer to fly down the valley of the River Lee in Tralee, near the Tralee Bay Wetlands reserve, on Wednesday 16th. It was not seen subsequently, though the site's speciality, Ring-billed Gull, was in evidence during the week, as was an Iceland Gull.

The Oriental Turtle Dove continued to visit its favoured garden in Scalloway, Shetland, until Thursday 17th. It has not been reported since, though observer coverage may account for that — we'd be glad of an update. Another long-staying if intermittent rarity seen this week was the Pacific Diver off Penzance, Cornwall, which was last reported on Sunday 20th but is likely to be lurking out there somewhere distantly with other commoner diver species.

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Oriental Turtle Dove
Oriental Turtle Dove, Scalloway, Mainland, Shetland (Photo: John Nadin)

Pacific Diver
Pacific Diver, Mount's Bay, Cornwall (Photo: David Aitken)

The Pallid Harrier that has been a regular fixture at Snettisham RPSB Reserve in Norfolk went missing on 16th, but was relocated a couple of miles inland near the village of Flitcham, where it remained until 20th. The Long-billed Dowitcher at Cresswell Pond extended its stay for another week and was still present to 22nd at least.

Pallid Harrier
Pallid Harrier, Snettisham RSPB, Norfolk (Photo: Les Bunyan)

Long-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher, Cresswell Pond NWT, Northumberland (Photo: Brian Martin)

Three Snow Geese put in an appearance this week: the familiar white-morph adult was still on the Solway Firth at Bowness, Cumbria, another was with Barnacle Geese at Beauly, Highland, on 17th, and a third was reported over Hill Head near Titchfield Haven, Hants, on 23rd. Black Brants were reported along the coast from the Exe Estuary in the west to the Humber in the east, with clusters in north Norfolk, Essex and around Chichester Harbour.

Snow Goose
Snow Goose, Anthorn, Cumbria (Photo: Jaz)

Four American Wigeon were available, all drakes: two in Scotland (at Tain, Highland, and Vane Farm, Perth & Kinross), one in Ireland (in Castle Shanaghan Bay on Lough Swilly in Donegal) and one in England (the continuing first-winter drake on the Exminster Marshes, Devon). Green-winged Teal were well scattered, with at least 12 birds ranging from Portworthy Dam, Devon, in the south-west to Bardister, Shetland, in the far north. The most photographed were birds at Vane Farm RSPB in Perth & Kinross and Caerlaverock WWT in Dumfries & Galloway. Ferruginous Ducks of varying credibility were at Dinton Pastures in Berkshire, Blashford Lakes in Hampshire and Washington WWT in Durham, and a new bird, possibly a hybrid, was reported as having been present for "several days" at Haddenham in Buckinghamshire. New Ring-necked Ducks were reported from Lough Caragh, Kerry, and Milton Loch, Dumfries & Galloway. Longer-staying birds were still at Lough Skean, Sligo; Caerlaverock, Dumfries & Galloway; Bray GPs, Berkshire; and the two females were still at Rooksbury Mill LNR, Hampshire to 20th. A Lesser Scaup at Dozmary Pool in Cornwall on 21st is likely to be the returning drake that overwintered there (with excursions to the nearby Colliford Lake and Siblyback Reservoir) last winter. Others were on Lough Gill, Kerry, and Chew Valley Lake, Somerset.

American Wigeon
American Wigeon, Bowling Green Marsh RSPB, Devon (Photo: Charlie Fleming)

Green-winged Teal
Green-winged Teal, Vane Farm RSPB, Perth & Kinross (Photo: Tony Davis)

The drake King Eider was seen in the Moray Firth west of Nairn on 16th, the first report we've received of this bird since September. Four Surf Scoters were seen off north-eastern coasts between Filey, North Yorkshire, and Largo Bay, Fife; the outlier was the group off Old Colwyn on the Conwy coast — following the count of five last week, on 17th three were noted among the 10,000-strong flock of Common Scoters.

New Glossy Ibises were at White's Marsh, Cork, and Burrafirth, Unst, during the week; long-stayers were still at Tramore in Waterford, Shapwick Heath in Somerset and Pett Level in East Sussex. A Cattle Egret was reported at Fauvic on Jersey on 19th and a second new arrival was seen briefly in sheep fields near Spencers Wood, Berks, on 21st; last week's birds at Sea Palling, Norfolk and on the Parrett Estuary in Somerset were still around to 22nd and 20th respectively.

Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis, White's Marsh, Cork (Photo: Richard Mills)

Cattle Egret
Cattle Egret, Sea Palling, Norfolk (Photo: Chris Mayne)

Rough-legged Buzzards showed a typically eastern distribution; a new bird (a "probable") was seen at the roadside between Haddenham and Earith Bridge in Cambridgeshire, the popular juvenile was still at Holland Haven, Essex, to 20th and up to two were still being seen around Choseley Drying Barns above Titchwell in Norfolk during the week. A grey-morph Gyr Falcon was photographed at Fenit in Co Kerry on 17th, and a white-morph was at Hougharry and Balranald on North Uist in the Outer Hebrides on 21st and 22nd.

Rough-legged Buzzard
Rough-legged Buzzard, Choseley Drying Barns, Norfolk (Photo: James Lowen)

Turning to waders, the only American Golden Plover of the week was a probable found on 19th at Pymoor, Cambridgeshire, and still present on 21st. The juvenile Spotted Sandpiper extended its stay to almost a full month at Pilmore, Cork, with a report on 21st. The only Grey Phalarope reported was one on Cley Marshes on 16th and 17th.

Spotted Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper, Pilmore, Cork (Photo: Ronan McLaughlin)

Grey Phalarope
Grey Phalarope, Cley Marshes NWT, Norfolk (Photo: James Lowen)

The adult Bonaparte's Gull was seen intermittently on the Peerie Sea at Kirkwall, Orkney. There was a flurry of new Ring-billed Gull reports from at least eight different sites in Ireland, but the only birds on the British mainland were on the Hayle Estuary, Cornwall, at Blashford Lakes in Hampshire and at Dingwall in Highland. A Kumlien's Gull was along the River Ugie and around the harbour in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, on 19th, and a "possible" was reported in the roost at Angler's Country Park in West Yorkshire the following evening. The American Herring Gull was again in Penzance on 20th after a break in reports of a week or so. Last but not least in the rare gull round-up, an adult Azores Gull was reported on the Cashen Estuary in Co Kerry on 22nd. A possible first-winter Forster's Tern reported on the morning of 20th off Newlyn, Cornwall, will attract considerable interest if relocated.

A late Common Swift over Earith, Cambridgeshire, must have surprised the observer on 16th. The popular Hoopoe extended its stay in its favoured quarry between Hinksford and Kingswinford in Staffordshire to 22nd at least. Ten Great Grey Shrike reports were restricted to seven sites in the central southern counties of England, including a new bird at Appleton in Oxfordshire, and others at the traditional sites of Thursley Common in Surrey and Ashdown Forest in East Sussex.

Hoopoe, Hinksford, Staffordshire (Photo: Derek Lees)

The Penduline Tits near the IBM Lake in Hampshire were not reported after 16th but there was a late flurry of Red-rumped Swallow records in Norfolk, from Cley, Blakeney, Titchwell and Wells-next-the-Sea from 17th–20th, which presumably referred to the same bird. We received 25 reports of Siberian Chiffchaff this week, most from the south-west of England. The Dusky Warbler was still to be heard calling from the reedbeds of Ham Wall RSPB in Somerset to 23rd. Yellow-browed Warblers reports, like those of Siberian Chiffchaff, showed a south-westerly bias but the bird in Dudley, West Midlands, was still present to 19th and another was at Daynes Dyke on Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire, on 20th. One of the south-westerly sites represented was Ryan's Field near Hayle, where a possible Hume's Leaf Warbler was also claimed on 17th.

Red-rumped Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow, Blakeney Freshmarsh, Norfolk (Photo: Mark Leitch)

Yellow-browed Warbler
Yellow-browed Warbler, Broadsands, Devon (Photo: Mike Trew)

Also in the South-West, a possible Black-bellied Dipper was reported on the Little Petherick Creek south of Padstow, Cornwall, on 22nd. If confirmed, this will be the first of the winter, though another probable was claimed in Norfolk last week. Richard's Pipits were reported from Kent, Norfolk and Shetland during the week, and we received belated news and photographs of adult and first-winter male Two-barred Crossbills at a private site in Caithness on 10th. Finally, a Little Bunting was in the famed Nanjizal Valley, Cornwall, on 17th.

Two-barred Crossbill
Two-barred Crossbill, undisclosed site, Highland (Photo: Jonathan Clarke)

Western Palearctic news

The biggest surprise of the week by some margin was the first Pacific Diver for Switzerland, at almost 6,000 ft elevation on Silvaplana Lake, Grisons, from 19th. While British birders have become accustomed to news of this species, it's worth remembering that the first regional record came as recently as 2007 and, prior to 2014, there had been only three confirmed records away from Britain and Ireland.

In The Netherlands a lingering female Pine Bunting at Wilhelminadorp from 15th attracted considerable interest and some long-distance twitches, while an Oriental Turtle Dove appeared at a feeder in Bergen, Norway, on 22nd. An Allen's Gallinule was in the Canary Islands at Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, on 17th, the Cape Verde Islands continued to demonstrate its regional track record for Black Heron and Intermediate Egret, both being present on Santiago in the past week, and Malta laid claim to its third-ever Blue Tit.

Pine Bunting
Pine Bunting, Netherlands (Photo: David Monticelli)

Otherwise, news from the region in the run-in to Christmas generally involved well-known long-stayers such as the Azure Tit in Helsinki, Finland, Long-legged Buzzard on the Maasvlakte, Netherlands, and American White-winged Scoter at Blåvand, Denmark.

Written by: Dave Dunford