Review of the Week: 17th–23rd July 2003


What a cracking week for rarities, with several quality birds turning up. It was only a matter of time before a decent wader occurred, and during the week two arrived!

Lesser Sand Plover: Keyhaven Marshes, Hants. (Photo: Steve Nuttall) Lesser Sand Plover: Keyhaven Marshes, Hants. (Photo: Steve Nuttall)

Lesser Sand Plover: Keyhaven Marshes, Hants. (Photo: Andy Farr) Lesser Sand Plover: Keyhaven Marshes, Hants. (Photo: Alan Clewes)

A summer-plumaged sand plover was found at Keyhaven Marshes (Hants) early morning on 22nd. This is never an easy pair to identify; the identification leaned towards Greater Sand Plover for most of the day. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology photographs of the bird began appearing by late afternoon. After studying the photographs carefully, we were confident that the bird was in actual fact a Lesser Sand Plover and felt happy to put out news just after 18:00 to that effect via our SMS service and our news page - and the rest is history. The bird belongs to the form mongolus from eastern Siberia, and at present is the 'first' record of mongolus in Britain. Previous Lesser Sand Plover records in Britain have been at Pagham Harbour (W. Sussex) from 14th-16th August 1997, a bird belonging to the atrifrons group, and Rimac (Lincs) from 11th-15th May 2002. An earlier bird on the Don Estuary (Aberdeenshire) from 18th-19th August 1991 is widely considered to have also been a Lesser Sand Plover belonging to the mongolus group, but at a national level remains accepted as a Greater Sand Plover. There are 13 accepted records of Greater Sand Plover. The last one to linger was in 1992 when one was seen in Norfolk, Essex and Kent between 5th and 14th August. With just two brief records since (in W. Sussex and Lothian), Lesser would now appear to be the 'commoner' of the pair in recent times!

A Solitary Sandpiper was a great find on St. Mary's on 23rd, favouring Porth Hellick Pool and Lower Moors. There have been three previous British records in July, and by coincidence the second for the Isles of Scilly was found on Rosevear on 23rd and then St. Mary's on 24th July 1974! There have been 10 previous records on the Isles of Scilly, the last of which remained for nearly a month in autumn 2000. With the 2000 bird and last year's weekend bird at Rye Meads NR (Herts) there have now been a number of opportunities to catch up with this rare species in recent years.

Great Spotted Cuckoo: Spurn, E. Yorks. Easily aged as a juvenile by the striking (especially in flight) rusty-brown patch in the primaries. (Photo: Pete Wragg) Great Spotted Cuckoo: Spurn, E. Yorks. The blackish hood and dark upperparts with warm buffy chin, throat and upper breast are further pointers to the age. (Photo: Pete Wragg)

A juvenile Great Spotted Cuckoo was found at The Point at Spurn (E. Yorks) early on 19th. With a deserved reputation as one of the more spectacular-looking rarities to occur on our shores, and with juveniles easily outshining adults for most birders, this weekend individual was sure to draw a crowd, especially as the last obliging British record was at Pennington Marsh (Hampshire) from 8th-17th April 2000. The dense vegetation at The Point ensured that the bird went missing for long periods, but during the day it showed exceptionally well for prolonged spells as birders were treated to the spectacle of it make short work of Garden Tiger moths and caterpillars in the area. Still present at the time of writing, this was only the 2nd for Yorkshire (the previous being a long-staying juvenile in the Sammy's Point area from 16th October to 6th November 1982, and seen briefly at Spurn on 17th). There have now been over 40 records of this species in Britain and Ireland, with records annually since 1989. Most have been in March and April, but a smaller second peak in July and August comprises mostly juveniles. The species breeds no nearer than southern France and Iberia and presumably moved north, rather than south, through the settled high pressure over western Europe at the end of last week.

Great Spotted Cuckoo: Spurn, E. Yorks. (Photo: Alan Clewes) Great Spotted Cuckoo: Spurn, E. Yorks. (Photo: Mike Richardson)

A Bridled Tern was seen off Arbroath (Angus/Dundee) early evening on the 19th. Unfortunately it did not linger, and was last watched flying off strongly south. Where is it now and where will it turn up next? Bets would favour one of the seawatch points along the east coast, such as Flamborough Head, but a lingering bird would be most welcome and extremely popular. There have been just four previous Scottish records, the last of which was an individual with the breeding terns on Tiree (Argyll) from 30th June to 9th July 1994 – this was also the last British record following the relative abundance of records in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

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Sooty Shearwater: Small numbers were seen during the week, max. 12 past the Bridges of Ross (Co.Clare). (Photo: Russell Wynn) Fea's Petrel: For many birders fantasy has turned into reality over the past few years as Fea's is now seen annually in our inshore waters. (Photo: Ashley Fisher)

So, a cracking week for rarities but what else was seen? A Gull-billed Tern was a good find on South Uist (Outer Hebrides) from 17th to at least 21st. There are two previous records for the islands, in 1987 and 2000, the last of which was also in mid-July. A small burst of seawatching activity took place on 17th with small numbers of Cory's Shearwaters in the southwest, the maximum 19 past Porthgwarra (Cornwall) and 10 past St. Mary's (Scilly) the same day. A Fea's Petrel went west past Galley Head (Co. Cork) on 19th and single Wilson's Petrels were noted past Cape Clear (Co. Cork) and from pelagics off Co. Cork and Scilly. In addition to the long-staying Suffolk Sabine's Gull, one was seen in Co. Cork on 22nd. Manx Shearwaters were unusual inland finds at Grafham Water (Cambs) from 17th to at least 23rd and Covenham Reservoir (Lincs) from 18th to at least 23rd.

Great White Egret: Denaby Ings, S. Yorks. (Photo: Sue and Andy Tranter) Great White Egret: Denaby Ings, S. Yorks. (Photo: Darren Lakin)

Two Great White Egrets at Fiddler's Ferry (Cheshire) on 17th were presumably the same two birds at Denaby Ings (S. Yorks) on 17th, which remained to the 22nd. One of these birds was again colour-ringed, but it was different to the Kent (and Cambridgeshire) bird, which remained to at least the 18th. Another bird was reported briefly in Notts.

Scarce waders comprised a White-rumped Sandpiper at Hickling Broad (Norfolk) from 22nd onwards, a Red-necked Phalarope at Titchwell RSPB (Norfolk) on 18th, and Temminck's Stints at Grove Ferry (Kent) on 20th and Old Hall Marshes RSPB (Essex) on 23rd. Perhaps as many as 8 Pectoral Sandpipers were reported during the week, with two on Orkney, two in Northumberland, and singles in Norfolk, Aberdeenshire, Co. Cork and Co. Down. Exotic excitement was provided by several fly-over Bee-eaters with singles in East Yorkshire, Kent and East Sussex, and a Hoopoe was reported on Ross of Mull (Argyll) on 21st. Finally, an Icterine Warbler was trapped on Fair Isle on 18th.

Black-headed Bunting: Sidlesham, W. Sussex. (Photo: Richard Ford) Caspian Tern: Stanwick GPs, Northants. (Photo: Andy Brett)

Long-staying rarities include the Glossy Ibis in Devon and the White-winged Black Tern in Northumberland, with Black Ducks on Tresco (Scilly) and Stithians Reservoir (Cornwall). The Laughing Gull in Cleveland was last reported flying towards the Tees Estuary late on the 17th and has not, as yet, resurfaced elsewhere. The sub-adult Caspian Tern in Northants was last reported early on 20th and in W. Sussex the popular male Black-headed Bunting was last reported near Sidlesham on 20th.

Ring-necked Duck: Reclamation Pond, Cleveland. 4 eclipse drakes were present during the week. (Photo: Brian Clasper) Black Duck: Tresco, Scilly. First found on 27th Dec 2002, this drake looks set to be another long, long, stayer. (Photo: Bob Flood)
Written by: Russell Slack