Review of the Week: 17-23 April 2023


An exciting period of April birding produced two major rarities, as well as perhaps the most productive spell of 2023 so far for inland patchers, especially in northern England.

The main news was of course that from Wales: a long overdue British first in the form of a Black-winged Kite just outside of Newtown, Powys, on 18th (see more here). This distinctive raptor is fairly widespread globally and has been increasing its range throughout Europe for some time – even breeding around Calais – making this a long-anticipated addition to the British list. However, the location was less predictable, in fact the recording area of Montgomeryshire ranks last in both the number of BBRC description species recorded and the total number of species recorded. The bird was present for all of five minutes and is still yet to be refound.

Late April into May is often productive for the odd American sparrow, and 22 April was no exception, when reports of a White-crowned Sparrow at Seaford Head, East Sussex, came to light. The bird proved elusive throughout, with only a handful of brief glimpses the following day too. Interestingly, the pale lores and orange-toned bill make this north-western subspecies gambelii – the largest of the five subspecies. This is just the third record of this subspecies in Britain, following the first at Woolston Eyes NR, Cheshire, in 2016  and a first-winter bird on Unst, Shetland, in autumn 2021. Curiously, both spring records have occurred in late April (22nd and 30th), while previous spring records of other subspecies have typically occurred later in May. Needless to say, this stripy sparrow was the first record for Sussex and a brilliant find.

White-crowned Sparrow, Seaford Head, East Sussex (Mark Dawson).

It wasn't just these two rarities making waves this week, with a huge overland movement of Little Gullson 19th and 21st in particular, causing excitement. 19th saw a more northerly bias, and an unprecedented movement took place in North-West England, with many site records being broken. Woolston Eyes NR, Cheshire, logged 67 through by early afternoon, beating the previous maximum day count of nine in 1985, (with 107 through in total during the two days) while Elton Reservoir, Greater Manchester, recorded 35, beating their record of 14 in 1972. Several sites also recorded their first-ever records. The next large movement occurred on 21st, with records more widespread. Nottinghamshire in particular fared well, with an inland 'super flock' of 86 through Holme Pierrepont that evening, some of which moved to Netherfield Lagoons to join a flock already present, totalling 65 in all. A flock of up to 50 was also noted at Willington Wetlands, Derbyshire, and a minimum of 60 at Pennington Flash CP, Greater Manchester, though with an apparent turnover as many as 90 are thought to have passed through.

Little Gull, Netherfield Lagoons, Nottinghamshire (Miles Cluff).

Little Gull, Elton Reservoir, Greater Manchester (Martin Loftus).

Wader passage turned up a notch, too, with a good number of Bar-tailed Godwits noted overland the past week. Tern species began to move in smaller numbers towards the week's close, namely Arctic Terns, with a small number of Black and Little Terns too.

Keeping on terns, but moving back to rarities, a first-winter Forster's Tern paid a brief visit to Lytchett Bay, Dorset, on 23rd before being relocated in the tern roost at Brownsea Island NT the same evening – via the online Avocet Hide webcam no less! It's almost certainly the bird from Sutton Bingham Reservoir, Somerset, found a few weeks prior, and hopefully sticks around to give more a chance to catch up with this Nearctic tern. 

What is presumably the drake Hooded Merganser reported at Kendal, Cumbria, on 10th was refound at Whinfell Tarn on 17th. The bird, an adult drake, is unringed and fully winged and is seemingly using the tarn to roost with the Tufted Duck flock present. It was noted arriving from the south-west on 23rd with a group of Goosander, so is presumably still using a waterbody near to where the bird was originally found. 

Hooded Merganser, Whinfell Tarn, Cumbria (Sam Northwood).

A possible female Blue-winged Teal was an equally elusive bird at Abbotsbury Swannery, Dorset, on the evening of 21st. The bird showed briefly before swimming out of view and wasn't seen again thereafter. The female Ferruginous Duck reappeared at Aqualate Mere, Staffordshire and up to three remained at the Trinity Broads, Norfolk. Four Lesser Scaup lingered in Britain and a new drake was discovered at Lough Gara, Co Sligo, on 23rd. Ring-necked Duck were split between 13 sites and Green-winged Teal were at six.

Green-winged Teal, Idle Valley NR, Nottinghamshire (Gary Hobson).

A drake King Eider past Isle of May on 21st represents the first island record in 139 years, and was later relocated off Earlsferry, Fife, on 23rd. Surf Scoter were noted off five localities this week.

The recording week saw a flurry of Gull-billed Terns. The first came on 19th, at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB, Cheshire, and is amazingly the fourth record for the reserve. In typical fashion, the bird remained mobile and was last seen on 20th, when another was noted on the Isles of Scilly. Belated news of another adult came from Idle Washlands, Notts, on 22nd, after footage of a reported Arctic Tern was posted. Sadly the bird flew off before news emerged and there was no further sign. The next day another paid an equally brief visit to Camel Estuary, off Dinham, Cornwall.

Gull-billed Tern, Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB, Cheshire (John Gilbody).

The adult Ross's Gull stayed faithful to Kinnaird Head/Cairnbulg, Aberdeenshire, until 19th. Three Bonaparte's Gulls included a first-winter at Marazion, Cornwall, from 21st and a new adult at Ballycorboys, Co Wexford, alongside the lingering adult at Ballydehob, Co Cork. Belated news of an adult Kumlien's Gull came from Fishguard, Pembs, from 13th and a juvenile was at Fanad Head, Co Donegal, on 19th. Both Iceland and Glaucous Gulls continued to fizzle out across the country, retreating for colder climes.

An unseasonal Leach's Storm Petrel flew south past Spurn, East Yorkshire, on 23rd. The Double-crested Cormorant lingered at Doon Lough, Co Leitrim. The spring run of White-billed Divers continued off Scotland, with an adult logged past Pendeen, Cornwall, on 22nd. More typically, small flocks were off Aberdeenshire and Moray & Nairn, including up to nine off Cullen. One flew past North Ronaldsay, Orkney, on 19th and several groups were noted off Shetland. 

White-billed Diver, Portsoy, Aberdeenshire (Tim Marshall).

The Black-crowned Night Heron influx continued to impress, with another apparent arrival during the week. Ireland continues to dominate with eight new sites reporting 10 new birds. Arguably the most impressive report so far came from St Kilda, where four birds were found on 20th, and another new bird was located at Callernish, North Uist, on 18th. Another adult was along the River Clyde between Carbarns Pool and Baron's Haugh RSPB.

Black-crowned Night Heron, Boscathnoe Reservoir, Cornwall (Adrian Lea).

A male Little Bittern was new-in at Exminster Marshes RSPB, Devon, on 18th and remained until the afternoon. Another was reported at Alverstone Mead LNR, Isle of Wight, on 20th. Cornwall hosted three Purple Herons, including two new birds. Another possible flew high over Otterhampton, Somerset, on 18th. The White Stork ‘situation' continues to be muddied with ringed releases in the south and a small unringed population in Cumbria. Several of unknown provenance remained in the country, including clusters of reports in Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Somerset, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and the Peterborough area. An unringed adult remained in Dumfries & Galloway until 18th.

Black Kite is a species clouded with questionable provenance and ID error, so the location of a seemingly wild bird in North Yorkshire is unfortunate for convincing all. The bird was first noted attending a raptor display at the National Bird of Prey Centre at Duncombe Park, North Yorkshire, on 17th. The bird remained throughout the week, allowing many county listers to connect with Yorkshire's first twitchable example of this species. The park staff have confirmed the bird is not from their collection, there appears to be no obvious evidence of captivity, and despite the questionable location the bird is behaving much the same as the local Red Kites, trying to take scraps from the centre. Another flew over Worth Marsh, Kent, on 19th.

Black Kite, Duncombe Park, North Yorkshire (Ian Bollen).

An adult male Red-footed Falcon was at Scousburgh, Shetland, on 18th. Five Rough-legged Buzzards made the news page, including a juvenile over Glenshee Ski Centre, Aberdeenshire, on 19th, lingering birds on Orkney and Shetland and a possible videoed over Charborough Estate, Dorset, on 23rd. The immature female Montagu's Harrier remained between Lizard village and Kynance Cove throughout the week, and a possible flew through Maer Lake NR, Cornwall, on 23rd. A ringtail harrier species flew over Trevince Woods, Cornwall, on 20th.

It was another reasonable week for Black-winged Stilts. Five sites in Ireland hosted birds, including a new individual at Cooley Point, Co Louth, on 22nd. In total, at least 14 birds were in the country. Eight sites in Britain joined the club, making 11 in total. No flocks were reported, although a handful of pairs were noted. 

Black-winged Stilt, Seaton Marshes, Devon (Tim White).

A female Kentish Plover was found scuttling along the entrance track at Elmley NNR, Kent, on 19th, but not long before flying off. Holkham Gap, Norfolk, also hosted a female on 20th but in a similar fashion flew off shortly after. The trio of moulting Long-billed Dowitchers were present and correct in Norfolk, Cheshire and Orkney. Eurasian Dotterel began to arrive through the week, with nine sites seeing birds, including two lingering birds at Bardsey Island, Gwynedd, on 17th three at Termoncarragh Lough, Co Mayo, on 21st and two at Dale Airfield, Pembrokeshire, on 22nd. A stray Eurasian Stone-curlew was at Sker Point, Glamorgan, on 22nd.

Long-billed Dowitcher, Cley Marshes NWT, Norfolk (Andrew Jordan).

The Alpine Swift influx has largely drawn to a close, though five sites recorded birds. An intriguing report of a small swift species came from Ham Wall RSPB, Somerset, on 21st. No plumage features were noted, though the bird was said to have a square-ended tail, so presumably thoughts of Little Swift raced through the observer's head.

A smart male Western Subalpine Warbler was a prize find at Ballynacarriga, Co Cork, on 19th while another was reported at Sammy's Point, East Yorkshire, on 18th, with no subsequent sign. An unassigned subalpine warbler species was reported in a garden at Penmaenmawr, Conwy, on 20th, though was thought to be an Eastern Subalpine Warbler. The singing Savi's Warbler was reported again at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB, Cheshire, on 18th but not since. The week also saw the first Hippolais of the year, with a Melodious Warbler at Brook Chine, Isle of Wight, on 22nd.

Western Subalpine Warbler, Ballynacarriga, Cork (Fionn Moore).

An intriguing male wagtail was present at Elton Reservoir, Greater Manchester, on 21-22nd. Initial views suggested an Iberian-type, though better pics showed extensive yellow dirtying the lower throat, plus ear coverts appeared concolorous with the rest of the head ‘demoting' it to an intergrade.

The long-staying Eastern Yellow Wagtail continued at Carlton Marshes SWT, Suffolk, throughout. The Scilly Tawny Pipit lingered on St Mary's until 20th, while Richard's Pipits were reported at Sandwich Bay, Kent, on 17th and Scarborough, North Yorkshire, on 22nd.

Tawny Pipit, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly (Ashley Fisher).

A possible Greater Short-toed Lark was noted on Tresco, Scilly, on 17th. The single Shore Lark remained at Beacon Ponds, East Yorkshire, and up to four were still at Holkham Gap, Norfolk. An Isabelline Wheatear was a great spring find at West Runton, Norfolk, on 21st and after the initial disappearance the bird remained until 23rd.

An adult male Golden Oriole was present at Carn Brea, Cornwall, from 19th, while others were on Tiree and on Coll on 17th. Away from the lingering cluster on the Isles of Scilly, two Woodchat Shrikes were also noted in Cornwall and another at Cogden Beach, Dorset, on 20th. A handful of Wryneck made landfall, with birds noted at Papa Westray, Orkney, and Skokholm, Pembrokeshire, on 19th and Skomer on 20th. There was a steady arrival of Hoopoe, with 23 sites reporting birds, as far north as Colonsay, Argyll. 

Golden Oriole, Carn Brea, Cornwall (Adrian Lea).

Woodchat Shrike, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly (Richard Stonier).

Two Eurasian Penduline Tits were new arrivals at Oare Marshes NR, Kent, on 22nd and proved to be the only birds noted this week. At least two European Serin were mobile around Portland, Dorset, and another possible was heard at Oxwich, Glamorgan, on 22nd. The Cornish Little Bunting was last noted at Cot Valley on 21st, when the bird was also reported to be singing.


Western Palearctic 

Iceland's regular drake White-winged Scoter remained in the Keflavík area. The Oriental Turtle Dove remained in Norway, while both the Siberian Rubythroat and Baltimore Oriole continued to entertain Swedish birders.

The Netherlands hosted its ninth Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, a male at Koehool. Elsewhere, a first-winter Ross's Gull was at Texel on 23rd and the unringed drake Falcated Duck continued to mingle with Gadwall at the Port of Rotterdam. The lingering first-winter American Herring Gull at Gueltas was the only French news of note.

The long-staying drake American Black Duck was reported again near Sada, Spain, and at least two Elegant Terns were in Valencia. A lingering Great Blue Heron was on Terceira, Azores, and an Allen's Gallinule was on Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, on 18th.

Turkey's third Egyptian Nightjar was found at Milleyha on 19th and the immature Yellow-billed Stork remained in Israel. 

Written by: Dan Owen

Dan Owen is a Cheshire-based birder with a keen interest in ringing and wildfowl. He works for the BirdGuides news team. Follow him on Twitter: @_danielowen