Review of the Week: 18-24 March 2024


Following the earliest spring equinox for 128 years, the first properly big push of common spring migrants took place this past week. Southerlies at the start of the week brought healthy numbers of Northern Wheatear and Swallow, with Willow Warblers also making their presence felt on the news pages from Friday on in particular (though Scotland is yet to record one in 2024). A sprinkling of Sedge Warblers began to arrive from 21st, with House Martin reports ramping up as well.

Willow Warbler, Whelford, Gloucestershire (James Robinson).

The year's first Common Redstart was in West Sussex, on 20th, while the 23rd brought a trio of 2024 'firsts': a Tree Pipit, Yellow Wagtail and Eurasian Dotterel. Ring Ouzel is a birders' favourite and an annual highlight of early spring. This week brought the first noticeable arrival, with the species reported 41 times on the BirdGuides sightings pages. Among arriving migrants were a handful of decent scarce overshoots, with a total of three Hoopoes were in Cornwall and a trio of European Serins were along the south coast. Avon enjoyed a two-day Alpine Swift over Clifton, with one or two mobile along the Dorset coast.

Eurasian Dotterel, Acton, Suffolk (Stuart Read).

Alpine Swift, Clifton, Avon (Rufus Dawson).

One of the highlights of winter 2023/24 was a wandering adult drake Bufflehead in Ireland. First noted on Inishmore, Co Galway, in mid-January, it wandered east to Co Westmeath in February-March and was last sighted at Mullagh Lough, Co Cavan, on 13 March. On 19th, what is almost certainly the same bird spent a brief few hours on the east side of the Irish Sea at Carbeth Loch, Clyde, before reaching the North Sea coast at Sand Loch, Aberdeenshire, on 24th (shown in red in the below graphic from OrniStats) – becoming the first record for both counties. Interestingly, it is the second drake in recent years to have relocated from Ireland to Britain and conducted a north-east movement in spring, following one in 2020-21 (shown in blue). That bird, found at Quoile Pondage, Co Down, in December, relocated to Lea Marston Lakes, Warwickshire, in January-Febuary before heading off north to Cresswell Pond, Northumberland, in late February. Another drake in April 2004 (shown in yellow) moved from Greater Manchester to West Yorkshire during April.

Map of Bufflehead movements (OrniStats).

Bufflehead, Collieston, Aberdeenshire (Ian Broadbent).

A short distance away the first-winter male Myrtle Warbler at Kilwinning, Ayrshire, progressed further with its pre-alternate moult, looking altogether scruffier though with elements of blues, blacks and yellows starting to appear. Fingers crossed it lingers around until the Bank Holiday weekend – when it should be looking rather more handsome.

Myrtle Warbler, Kilwinning, Ayrshire (Keith Simpson).

A shock to the system in north-east England saw the remarkable discovery of a male Cirl Bunting on the outskirts of Barnard Castle, Durham, 18th – leaving some locals to wonder if they needed their eyes tested. Unfortunately it would only be seen by the finder. The species is a mega-rarity in the north-east and this is just the second Durham record – following a returning male near Langley Park in 1980 and 1981.

Cirl Bunting, Barnard Castle, Durham (Cameron Sharp).

Lincolnshire hosted a Richard's Pipit at Skeldyke on 18th, one was still near Ulverston, Cumbria, and a Little Bunting remained reliable in the car park at Broadsands, Devon. Norfolk's Rustic Bunting-Coues's Arctic Redpoll double act persisted near West Raynham too, while a new Great Grey Shrike at Weetslade CP, Northumberland, was one of five in the country. Shore Lark remained at three sites, including one still at High Bradfield, South Yorkshire. A notable find in West Sussex saw a Northern Treecreeper photographed at Arundel on 22nd.

Little Bunting, Broadsands, Devon (Chris Lake).

The young Northern Harrier was at Clonpriest, Co Cork, on 21st, with Pallid Harriers still in Norfolk and Glamorgan/Carmarthen. A Black Kite was a welcome treat over Brighton, East Sussex, on 19th and a Rough-legged Buzzard was over Bressay, Shetland, the following day. Two Knepp White Storks at Eythrope, Buckinghamshire, were joined by an unringed bird on 22nd.

Five Ring-billed Gulls in Ireland – all adults – included two in close quarters at Blennerville, Co Kerry. The winter-plumaged adult Gull-billed Tern lingered at Kilkeran Lake, Co Cork, for another week, with a first-winter Bonaparte's Gull again in Cornwall and the Double-crested Cormorant still in Co Leitrim. Dwindling white-winged gull numbers saw just 27 Iceland Gulls (including four Kumlien's Gulls) and eight Glaucous Gulls reported.

Ring-billed Gull, Cuskinny Marsh, Cork (Gemma Kelleher).

The start of spring sees Aythya flocks begin to take on a restless edge as the migratory urge kicks in. With so many Lesser Scaup across north-west Europe this winter, it seems highly likely that several more sites will jam in on this Nearctic diving duck before the season is out. On 24th, what were presumably the five birds from Abberton Reservoir, Essex, moved north-east along the East Anglian coast to Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk, with the pair from Leighton Moss RSPB, Lancashire, crossing the county line and moving 30 km west to Hodbarrow RSPB, Cumbria. A further six lasted for another week – birds in Cheshire, Clyde, Pembrokeshire, Co Armagh, Co Monaghan and Co Waterford.

Lesser Scaup, Leighton Moss RSPB, Lancashire (Ron Jackson).

Elsewhere, action comprised the resident Irish American Black Duck, six American Wigeon, 11 Smew, 22 Green-winged Teal and 28 Ring-necked Ducks. Garganey began to arrive in number, with as many as 80 birds reported as far north as Lancashire. Just two were in Ireland – at Cahore Marsh, Co Wexford, on 21st. The adult drake White-winged Scoter remained off Inch, Co Kerry, in the company of three Surf Scoter, with a further seven Surf Scoter off the coasts of Britain and Ireland. A King Eider was still at Bluemull Sound, Shetland, and two White-billed Divers were off Scotland.

Ring-necked Duck, Oxford Island NNR, Armagh (Garry Armstrong).

Green-winged Teal, Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire (Gary Thoburn).

Lingering geese included two Richardson's Cackling Geese still in north-west Ireland, a first-winter Red-breasted Geese in North Norfolk, and three Black Brant in eastern England. Snow Geese were on North Uist, Outer Hebrides, and Bute, Clyde, and a Grey-bellied Brant was at Killough, Co Down.

A couple of Long-billed Dowitchers were still in Ireland (in Cos Wexford and Wicklow), with three continuing in Britain. A trio of Lesser Yellowlegs remained in their respective haunts, while new arrivals included three Little Stints and an early Curlew Sandpiper in Suffolk.

Lesser Yellowlegs, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire (Darren Chapman).


Western Palearctic

In Mauritania, Nouadhibou's purple patch continued with the discovery of a male Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu in the same gardens as the continuing Grasshopper Buzzard, Abyssinian Roller and five female Red-billed Firefinches. Widely distributed across the Sahel region of Sub-Saharan Africa, this would be the first Western Palearctic record if accepted as wild. The species is actually native to southern Mauritania, though is largely sedentary in nature and is frequently kept in captivity.

It was a week of 'firsts' on the European continent too. First up was Denmark, with the country's first American Black Duck – a drake – residing at Skjern from 18th. An overdue Swiss first produced a male Red-flanked Bluetail, while Luxembourg recorded its first Eurasian Pygmy Owl. Further east, Masked Wagtails were in Armenia and Turkey – both also representing national firsts.

A rare vagrant to the north side of the Strait, a male African Chaffinch was trapped and ringed in Gibraltar on 22nd. News from neighbouring Spain, meanwhile, comprised a lingering White-throated Sparrow, Pygmy Cormorant and two Lesser Flamingos, with four House Buntings again in Algeciras. Costa Teguise, Lanzarote, boasted a twitchable African Crake from 18th, while a Double-crested Cormorant, Wood Duck and two Great Blue Herons all remained in the Azores.

An adult Sociable Lapwing was at Neuchâtel, Switzerland, while the Dutch Falcated Duck relocated to Rozenburg and the two Ross's Geese were at Lemmer. Israel's second African Desert Warbler was at Haifa.


Written by: Sam Viles