A continuation of northerlies for much of the week brought a return to freezing temperatures, with this latest cold snap gripping much of Britain in snow or ice. Plenty hoped this would shake up avian action across the board – and the sounding of two breaking mega alerts provided just the impetus many were hoping for.
Highlighting in the Outer Hebrides was a female-type Harlequin Duck near Traigh Mhor, Barra, on 22nd. The island's first, it perhaps relates to the bird photographed off Coll, Argyll, on 22 December. The Outer Hebrides share a special affinity with the taxon, with this latest addition making it six on record for the archipelago. Most recently, an immature drake was on St Kilda on 23-24 August 2022.
A Baikal Teal with Eurasian Wigeon along the Nottinghamshire-South Yorkshire border at Finningley GPs from 20th is the first female ever recorded in Britain. Nottinghamshire's first, the species has seen a remarkable upturn in records in recent years, with an impressive six individuals recorded since the start of 2021. Unfortunately, the drake at Llangorse Lake, Powys, again proved distant and elusive and wasn't reported at all after 18th.
Greater London boasted an enviable inland duck discovery, with news of a drake Lesser Scaup at Staines Reservoir. As it transpired, the bird had been present since 20 December, but distant views at this vast site meant its true identity wouldn't come to light until much later. Other Lesser Scaup continued at both Ham Wall RSPB, Somerset, and West Loch Ollay, South Uist.
The Hooded Merganser persisted at Rosduane, Co Mayo, and three Ferruginous Duck again favoured Filby Broad, Norfolk. The same site hosted up to four redhead Smew, with others at 35 sites across Britain and Ireland – including birds at Usk, Gwent, and Lough Neagh, Co Armagh. Ring-necked Duck were at 22 localities.
American Wigeon continued at regular sites in Somerset, Northumberland and Orkney, while nine Green-winged Teal were divided three apiece in England and Scotland, with two in Ireland and a single in the Isle of Man. Unseasonal Garganey comprised two at Ham Wall RSPB, Somerset, and a drake at Aqualate Mere, Staffordshire. The Co Mayo White-winged Scoter remained off Achill Island throughout, although the Lothian drake was only noted off Musselburgh on 18th. The immature drake King Eider at Redcar, Cleveland, proved more reliable, with a strong shout for a borealis Common Eider in the same flock. Surf Scoter were off five coastal locations.
Northumberland, meanwhile, was treated to a Lesser White-fronted Goose at Big Waters on 21-22nd. It is a species that often treads a difficult path with the rarity committees, with several wandering escapes and a recent well-twitched example placed into Category E of the British list, reserved for presumed escapes from captivity. This latest example is perhaps best treated as 'of unknown origin' too, with the local feral Greylag Geese far from the most convincing carrier species for a genuine wild bird.
In the Hebrides, the Red-breasted Goose was again with Barnacle Geese near Bridgend, Islay, and two Richardson's Cackling Geese were back at Balranald RSPB, North Uist, on 20th, with a Todd's Canada Goose still at Banks Marsh, Lancashire. Five Black Brant were spread across southern and eastern England. A white-morph Snow Goose lingered with Greylag Geese at Drymen, Clyde, and four Taiga Bean Geese were again at Ludham Bridge, Norfolk, at the start of the week.
On 19-20th, surprise news saw the immature Black-browed Albatross back off St Ives, Cornwall, with the bird twitchable for a time on the latter date. Has it remained in the area unseen during the preceding two-week period? It was noted again on 21st, heading east past Pendeen. Notably, a comparison of photographs and video footage makes it possible to confirm it as the same bird sighted off Quiberon, France, on 28 December. Cornwall is enjoying a veritable bounty of riches currently – a short distance away, both the first-winter American Herring Gull and near-adult Azores Gull were noted sporadically at Mousehole.
The gorgeous adult Sabine's Gull at Langstone Harbour, Hampshire, continued to draw a crowd, with a brief first-winter at Carnsew Basin, Cornwall, on 17th. Seven Ring-billed Gulls included two new birds in Ireland – an adult at Ballysaggart Lough, Co Tyrone and a first-winter at Blennerville, Co Kerry. The Laughing Gull last reported at Slapton Sands, Devon, on 19th and, in Ireland, the adult Double-crested Cormorant lingered at Doon Lough, Co Leitrim.
Another below-average week for both Glaucous and Iceland Gulls, birds were nevertheless scattered across Britain and Ireland, meaning birds were accessible in most regions for those inclined. Four Kumlien's Gulls were in Cambridgeshire, Shetland, Co Donegal and Co Kerry.
The first Hume's Leaf Warbler for Somerset was an excellent find on the filter beds at Compton Dando sewage works from 16th. Others persisted at Brancaster, Norfolk, and Dover, Kent, with a Pallas's Warbler still at Swalecliffe, Kent. Surprisingly, seven of the week's nine Yellow-browed Warblers were new birds, including a notable Leicestershire record at Wigston sewage works. Genetic analysis of a tricky Lesser Whitethroat present at Holme NOA since 3 January confirmed it as a Central Asian Lesser Whitethroat, Norfolk's first record of this subspecies. A presumed Siberian Lesser Whitethroat, meanwhile, remained in a garden at Dunston, Durham.
A new Shore Lark visited Hurst Beach, Hampshire, on 21st, with others still in Norfolk and East Yorkshire. Both Elmley NNR, Kent, and The Gearagh, Co Cork, hosted three Eurasian Penduline Tits apiece, with a new bird at Stockmoor, Somerset. Two Little Buntings were again at Cot Valley, Cornwall, with a likely Eastern Yellow Wagtail sighting at Carlton Marshes, Suffolk, on 21st.
Wexford birders enjoyed a Ring Ouzel at Murrintown from 20th, with another in a garden at York, North Yorkshire. Great Grey Shrikes were again at Harwood Forest, Northumberland, Pig Bush, Hampshire, and Llyn Brenig, Clwyd, with Waxwings at 19 sites comprising particularly popular flocks in Suffolk, Greater Manchester and Lothian. Of unknown origin, the Lady Amherst's Pheasant remained at Flitwick, Bedfordshire.
Just the one Rough-legged Buzzard was noted during the week – a juvenile on Whalsay, Shetland – and the young female Pallid Harrier again roamed the saltmarshes of the North Norfolk coast. A white-morph Gyr Falcon of unknown origin was at Lynford Arboretum, Norfolk, on 22nd, although a known escapee has been noted in Essex, Kent and Suffolk in recent days.
An unringed White Stork at Worth Marsh, Kent, from 20th is thought to be last winter's bird returning – as well as likely the bird logged over Abberton Reservoir, Essex, earlier that day. Interestingly, a comparison of photographs suggests that it looks to be the bird which regularly commutes between Stanway Green, Essex, and Smithy Fen, Cambridgeshire, owing to a consistent black tail feather. Elsewhere, two Common Cranes overflew Wareham, Dorset, on 16th.
And one more of the Worth Marshes White Stork… pic.twitter.com/0sgY5zBkp5— Neil Burt 💙🇺🇦 (@NeilBurt5) January 22, 2023
The Norfolk Long-billed Dowitcher became somewhat more mobile, putting in appearances at Cley Marshes, Holkham and Stiffkey during the week. Co Waterford's Greater Yellowlegs became even more mobile still – and wasn't reported at Tallow after 17th. Otherwise, the Kentish Plover remained at Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, and Grey Phalaropes were logged off Cornwall and Dorset.
Remarkable news from northern Spain concerned an apparent Short-tailed Shearwater photographed in the Bay of Biscay off Lekeitio on 3rd, Spain's first and the seventh for the region. The species has enjoyed an exceptional rise since the Western Palearctic's first in 2020, found washed up on the beach at Tramore Bay, Co Waterford, in June 2020. As it turned out, it was later predated by photographed records in 2014 and 2015 and has now been recorded on four subsequent occasions – and twice before in the Biscay. It seems likely that the Pacific Ocean species is a regular – if incredibly rare – visitor to the region.
Elsewhere in Spain, an Eastern Yellow Wagtail graced Ebro Delta NP and the American Black Duck was again at Sada, with both a Lesser Crested Tern and Brown Booby off Málaga, and another Lesser Crested Tern at Torrevieja. New-in in the Azores was a Killdeer at Ponta Delgada, Flores, on 16th. Terceira, meanwhile, continued to host a Common Yellowthroat, Great Blue Heron, Pied-billed Grebe and Least Sandpiper. A Sociable Lapwing was at São Marcos da Ataboeira in mainland Portugal.
Honour of the week's best find goes to Belgium, with the nation's second Moustached Warbler at Harelbeke. The first twitchable (the other was trapped and ringed), it follows a run of records in the Near Continent in recent years and renews fresh hope of a potential future British occurrence. Another overdue British first is Pygmy Cormorant – one was at Mol on 15th. An Alpine Accentor was discovered at Château de Bouillon on 22nd.
In south-western France, an adult Ross's Gull in the centre of Capbreton was a surprise treat on 16th. At least four Lesser Scaup resided in the north of the country, as did two American Herring Gulls at Gueltas and a White-headed Duck at Pont-l'Évêque. Otherwise, a Pygmy Cormorant at Carbonne and the Long-legged Buzzard at Thibie both lingered.
Sweden's popular Baltimore Oriole lingered at Förslöv for another week, as did the Black-throated Thrush and Pine Bunting at Örnsköldsvik and the Lund Blue-winged Teal. A second-winter American Herring Gull was again at Ålesund, Norway, with an orientalis Oriental Turtle Dove remaining at Stavanger and an Eastern Black Redstart still at Vestbygd. Nærbø hosted a notable female Steller's Eider from 18th – the site is just a short hop across the North Sea east from Caithness.
The first Baikal Teal for Greece – a drake – was near Skarfia on 16th, with a drake Stejneger's Scoter again at Krynica Morska, Poland. Further east, the Pied Bush Chat in Israel and Long-tailed Duck in Kuwait both continued.