Review of the Week: 17th-23rd May 2002


An extremely wet week for many areas, with blustery conditions towards the end of the period. A light southeasterly drift and rain produced some interest for inland areas, but coastal birders were left staring at empty bushes with southeasterlies originating too far west to have much of an impact.

Bird of the week was easily Britain and Ireland's third Elegant Tern at Dawlish Warren, Devon on the 18th. Once again the identification of an orange-billed tern proved problematic, with the bird initially identified as a Lesser Crested Tern. As the day progressed we received reports that the bird showed features that did not eliminate Elegant Tern, and cautionary notes querying the bird's identity were posted on the news page at 17:20. Unfortunately it was late in the day before the identification was finally solved, far too late for many birders to reach the site and the bird was not seen the following day. This highlights the fact that an open-mind and a critical eye are often useful when travelling to see a rarity and you should not always assume that the identification has been solved! Hopefully, for those that missed out this time the bird will be found in an accessible Sandwich Tern colony somewhere soon...

The Isles of Scilly continued to produce megas, this time in the form of a Little Swift over St. Mary's on the 17th. More obliging rarities came in the form of a Whiskered Tern in Greater Manchester, found by a patch-watcher and just reward for many hours and early mornings. Lesser Yellowlegs were seen in Durham, Ceridigion and Carmarthen, a White-rumped Sandpiper was in Lancashire and a Pacific Golden Plover was seen briefly in Norfolk, with possibly the same bird seen the following day in Lincolnshire. Gull-billed Terns in Cheshire and Aberdeenshire were less helpful, and a Little Bittern in West Sussex, plus Black Storks in Hampshire and Highland, were similarly elusive. Alpine Swifts were seen in Dublin, Kent and Dorset, the latter remaining for much of the day, whilst a Great Reed Warbler found in Surrey proved a popular attraction throughout the week. Lesser rarities include a scattering of Red-footed Falcons, two Subalpine Warblers in Norfolk and one on Scilly with a Red-rumped Swallow in Kent and a Night Heron in Norfolk.

Elsewhere, Purple Herons were in Lincolnshire and Norfolk, female Red-necked Phalaropes were in Norfolk and Buckinghamshire and a Bee-eater was seen in East Sussex. A Short-toed Lark was a good find in Conwy, and the only Woodchat Shrike away from Scilly was one in Glamorgan. Scarce migrants were thin on the ground, with a Melodious Warbler in Borders the pick of a meagre bunch. Just a handful of Red-backed Shrikes were seen, and a couple of Icterine Warblers. Bluethroats just scraped into double figures and a couple of Common Rosefinches were reported. At least a dozen Golden Orioles were seen away from Scilly, including an uncharacteristically showy bird at Portland (Dorset), and a male in Berkshire was an excellent find. The highlight for many though will have been a modest incursion of Black Terns, with nearly 90 reported on the 17th and 60 on the 18th, though as is often the case birds re-orientated themselves quickly in clearer weather and just two were seen on the 19th and the visit was over as quickly as it began. Most were seen in the Midlands, with up to 13 at Rutland Water, though birds reached the northwest and Yorkshire. Associated with these weather conditions were a good scattering of inland waders, including Grey Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwit and Sanderling, and up to 30 Temminck’s Stints were reported, most along the east coast and the Midlands.

Long-stayers include the Snowy Egret in Argyll, whilst the Citrine Wagtail was seen in Cornwall through the early part of the week. In Devon the 4 Black-winged Stilts are obviously finding conditions to their liking and have been present all week, whilst the 1st-summer male Lesser Kestrel remains on St. Mary’s.

Finally, good news involves the first successful breeding of Choughs in Cornwall for 50 years, where 4 chicks hatched in early May. Let’s hope that this is the first step towards this charismatic crow again becoming a permanent feature of the Cornish landscape in years to come.

Written by: Russell Slack