24/12/2008
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Review of the Week: 18th-23rd December 2008

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The week at a glance

The penultimate week of 2008 passed by without any real shocks in a rather mild-weather week (compared to many of late), but that's not to say there wasn't a little festive surprise for some (even if it was a gift that may well have been enjoyed already this autumn).

Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl, Zennor, Cornwall (Photo: Steve Rogers)

Rarest bird of the week was still the American Buff-bellied Pipit seen again at Mullagh, Lough Beg (Co. Antrim) on the morning of 19th. It was seen emerging from its roost before disappearing at around 9am, but this seems to be the last sighting. However, with the holiday period almost within reach, it may well be seen again. Talking of reappearances, in a blatant copycat manoeuvre, the Scilly Snowy Owl undertook an easterly flight to the western tip of England to become the Cornish Snowy Owl when it made landfall near Zennor on 21st, where it remained until 23rd. This represents the fifth record for the county, but the first since one at an undisclosed moorland site in November 1948. It was also the first English mainland record since birds in Suffolk and Cumbria in 2001 (and it's now nearly 20 years ago since the ultra-popular bird in Lincolnshire). The Snowy Owl was following in the wingbeats of the Gyrfalcon that completed the Scilly-to-Cornwall crossing some time between December 10th and 15th, and the latter bird was still hanging around in west Cornwall to at least 18th, when it was seen around Marazion on four occasions during the day. As Cornwall snuck in with Scilly's cast-offs, birders on the islands must have been rather keen to know if there was any mileage in the possible adult Pacific Diver seen off St. Mary's on the morning of 22nd.

Pelagic fare was pretty much non-existent this week, the only highlights being a Little Auk in Bluemill Sound on Shetland on 18th (with two there on 22nd) and a Pomarine Skua reported off Holme (Norfolk) on 22nd.

Cattle Egret
Cattle Egret, Trefasser, Pembrokeshire (Photo: Richard Crossen)

Night Heron
Night Heron, Hythe, Kent (Photo: Steve Ashton)

Two Cattle Egrets were noted at Inchydoney Island (Co. Cork) on 20th–21st. In Wales, the bird (or birds) at West Angle Bay and Sandy Haven (Pembrokeshire) were still present to 23rd and, still in the same Welsh county, five birds were seen at Trefasser, also on 23rd (these birds reported as having been present for a week or so). The Celtic dominance continued with a bird at Stithians Reservoir (Cornwall) on 19th–20th. As is now the winter norm, the Great White Egret was still around Blashford Lakes (Hampshire) this week, while another wintering bird was remained on Shapwick Heath (Somerset) on 19th–20th. Just three sites reported Spoonbills over the past few days: single birds were at Cliffe Pools (Kent) on 19th and on Samson (Scilly) on 23rd, while nine birds were noted at Arne (Dorset), also on 23rd. In Kent, the adult Night Heron was still present on the Royal Military Canal at Hythe from 18th–23rd, while pairs of Common Cranes remained at Eldernell (Cambridgeshire) to 21st and Lakenheath (Suffolk) on 22nd.

Red-breasted Goose
Red-breasted Goose, Normandy Marsh, Hampshire (Photo: Marcus Ward)

The wintering Red-breasted Goose was still around Normandy Marsh (Hampshire) until 21st at least, while a Richardson's Canada Goose was at Loch Bruist, North Uist (Outer Hebrides) on 20th. The adult Snow Goose remained in County Wexford, at the North Slob, until 21st at least, along with an adult Black Brant on the same day. Further Irish Brants noted were on the Mullet (Co. Mayo) on 18th and at Dungarvan (Co. Waterford) throughout the week. On the English side of the Irish Sea, Brants were seen in Essex at Westcliff-on-Sea on 20th and Old Hall Marshes on 21st, when further singles were seen at Pagham Harbour (West Sussex) and Titchwell (Norfolk). Further birds were at Farlington Marshes (Hampshire) and Pegwell Bay (Kent) on 22nd. The 23rd was a great day for Snow Geese in Scotland: single white birds were noted at Martnaham Loch (Ayrshire), (with Greylag Geese) and near Nairn (Moray) (in the company of Pink-footed Geese) while, also in Moray, a blue Snow Goose appeared near Kinloss. In Norfolk, the Ross's Goose was still sticking to the far east of the county, present on 23rd at Bradwell before roosting at Berney Marshes.

Lesser Scaup
Lesser Scaup, Hogganfield Loch, Clyde (Photo: Jim Woods)

The wintering drake Lesser Scaup remained at Holme Pierrepoint (Nottinghamshire) and Hogganfield Loch (Clyde) this week, with a returning wintering drake making it back to Stourhead (Wiltshire) on 21st (having left the site on March 1st this year). On 22nd, a drake was seen at Torr Reservoir (Somerset). Nine Ring-necked Ducks were reported this week, including three drakes together on Lough Acogga, near Oughterard (Co. Galway) on 20th; on the same date, a female remained on The Gearagh (Co. Cork), and a drake was seen at Carrowmore Lake in County Mayo on 16th. Elsewhere, the first-winter drake was at Bordon (Hampshire) on 18th–19th, females remained at Martnaham Loch and Swineham Gravel Pits (Dorset) until 20th and 21st respectively, and the adult drake was at Foxcote Reservoir (Buckinghamshire) to 23rd. In Norfolk, a female was at a site with no public access along the River Bure on 20th, with a drake Ferruginous Duck at the same location on the same day, the latter bird still present on 21st. In Lancashire, a female Ferruginous Duck (or hybrid) was at Marton Mere from 19th–23rd. The drake American Wigeon was at Lower Farm Gravel Pit (Berkshire) from 19th–22nd, while a possible drake was seen at Mersehead (Dumfries & Galloway) on 22nd, and a probable female was at Blashford Lakes (Hampshire) on 19th. A drake Green-winged Teal was at Blacktoft Sands (East Yorkshire) on 18th–20th, with further singles on the latter date remaining at Marshside (Lancashire) and Bell Harbour (Co. Clare). On 21st, a Green-winged Teal was at Inner Marsh Farm (Cheshire) and the 22nd saw one again at Caerlaverock (Dumfries & Galloway). A hybrid Green-winged Teal x Teal hybrid was at Backworth Pond (Northumberland) on 20th–21st. A female Surf Scoter was back in the waters off Galway City (Co. Galway) from 20th (two birds were seen here to April this year), while the wintering female remained off Dawlish Warren (Devon) to 23rd. The drake Hooded Merganser remained at Radipole Lake (Dorset) to 21st at least.

Rough-legged Buzzard
Rough-legged Buzzard, Millington, East Yorkshire (Photo: anon)

Wintering Rough-legged Buzzards were still being seen around Millington (East Yorkshire), Farforth (Lincolnshire), Coveney (Cambridgeshire) and Capel Fleet, Isle of Sheppey (Kent) throughout the week.

Grey Phalarope
Grey Phalarope, Covenham Reservoir, Lincolnshire (Photo: Russell Hayes)

The first-winter Spotted Sandpiper at Tittesworth Reservoir (Staffordshire) was present to 18th at least, but searches on 20th revealed no sign of a bird that seemed a shoo-in for a wintering session. The Lesser Yellowlegs popped up at Southwold (Suffolk) on 19th and 22nd, and the Long-billed Dowitcher at North Bay, South Uist (Outer Hebrides) was still present to 17th, but there's been no word on the bird this week. The lingering Grey Phalarope at Covenham Reservoir (Lincolnshire) was still present until 23rd, and a single bird was seen off Liscannor (Co. Clare) on 21st. On Shetland, a presumed American Golden Plover was at Baltasound, Unst on 18th.

Iceland Gull
Iceland Gull, Greencastle, Donegal (Photo: Derek Charles)

Kumlien's Gull
Kumlien's Gull, Clifden, Galway (Photo: Dermot Breen)

Glaucous Gull
Glaucous Gull, Donna Nook, Lincolnshire (Photo: Russell Hayes)

The adult American Herring Gull, which is somewhat erratic in its appearances, was seen again at Nimmo's Pier (Co. Galway) on 22nd. While on the subject of Larus smithsonianus, there was news this week of the adult gull at Chew Valley Lake in Somerset earlier this year that was thought to have been this species. DNA analysis has concluded that, sadly, this contender was only that, as the gene sequences suggested a bird of European origin (race unknown). Around 30 Caspian Gulls were seen over the past six days, maintaining the species' hit-rate of recent weeks. Three birds (two first-winters and a third-winter) were at Calvert Lakes (Buckinghamshire) on 20th, with a further trio (two first-winters and a second-winter) recorded at Rainham Marshes (London) on 23rd. On 20th at least two birds were at Hole Haven Creek, Canvey Island (Essex) with further twos at Croome Park (Worcestershire) and Cottenham (Cambridgeshire). On 22nd, it was two birds apiece for Beddington Sewage Farm (London) and Albert village (Leicestershire). Numbers of Iceland Gulls remained pretty consistent this week, climbing a little in fact, with at least 43 birds seen in Britain and at least 18 in Ireland. Birds were spread far and wide across the UK, but it was the Shetland Catch factory, near Lerwick, that fared best again, with eight birds present on 21st–23rd. Seven birds were at Castletown Bearhaven (Co. Cork) on 20th and three remained at Rossaveal (Co. Galway), also to 20th. In Cheshire, three Iceland Gulls were seen at Moore NR on 23rd. Three Kumlien's Gulls appeared this week, all of them in Ireland: third-winters were seen at Clifden (Co. Galway) on 18th (and stayed to 22nd) and at Corbally Road Reservoir (Co. Antrim) on 21st, with a second-winter bird at Nimmo's Pier on 20th. Glaucous Gull numbers were also fairly consistent again this week, with at least 31 birds noted. Three birds were at Marwick (Orkney) on 22nd (there may have been up to seven birds around the islands this week), and two birds were seen at the Shetland Catch factory on 20th, when two adults were seen at Saltholme Pools (Cleveland). The juvenile Glaucous Gull colour-ringed on Svalbard moved north along the Suffolk coast to Lowestoft this week, roosting in the docks on 21st–22nd, before heading north again. At least 18 Ring-billed Gulls were recorded over the past week and included three birds at Cuskinny Marsh (Co. Cork) on 23rd, two adults at Nimmo's Pier on 20th, two (a first-winter and second-winter) at Clonakilty (Co. Cork) on 21st and two more (the first-winter joined by an adult) at Six Mile Water (Co. Antrim) on 22nd. The second-winter bird at Lamby Lake (Glamorgan) was present to 21st while the same county saw a new first-winter appear at Swansea on 22nd. The first-winter remained at Helston (Cornwall) to 23rd. "New" adults were at Tramore (Co. Waterford) and Chew Valley Lake (Somerset) on 20th, while half a dozen of the usual suspects remained on parade at the Isle of Dogs (London), Westcliff-on-Sea (Essex), Oban (Argyll), Dundee (Angus), Cobh and Ring (Co. Cork).

Shore Larks have been painfully thin on the ground this winter (only eight birds seen since the beginning of November), but few would journey to Shetland to see this week's bird at Lamba Ness, Unst, although the two reported halfway along Blakeney Point (Norfolk) on 22nd may be a little more popular. On Orkney, a Desert Wheatear was reported on Stronsay on 18th. The Richard's Pipit at Parkgate Old Baths, Neston (Cheshire) was seen again on 20th–21st, but searches on 22nd failed to find it. In Hampshire, five different sites around the county, and the New Forest in particular, hosted a Great Grey Shrike at some point this week: Bishop's Dyke was the spot on 19th, followed by Ashley Hole on 20th, Burley and Pig Bush on 21st and Vales Moor on 23rd — just how many birds are present though? Two birds were in North Yorkshire on 22nd, at Langdale Forest and Wykeham Forest, while singles remained at Lakenheath (Suffolk) and Fenn's Moss (Clwyd), and new reports came from Castle Rising and Dersingham in Norfolk (on 19th and 22nd), Whixall Moss (Shropshire) on 21st and Ash Range (Surrey) on 23rd.

Waxwing
Waxwing, Rendlesham, Suffolk (Photo: Matt Hale)

Waxwings remained dotted around the country throughout the week, stretching from northern Scotland down in to Dorset. The largest flocks noted this week were 250 in Leeds (West Yorkshire) on 19th–20th, 250+ at Renfrew (Clyde) on 22nd, 150 in Huddersfield (West Yorkshire) on 22nd, 130 at Coleraine (Co. Derry) on 18th, 120 at Longniddry (Lothian) and 115+ in Glasgow (Clyde) on 19th.

Yellow-browed Warbler
Yellow-browed Warbler, Fareham, Hampshire (Photo: Steve Copsey)

The (sometimes singing) male Yellow-browed Warbler at Fareham (Hampshire) was present to 21st and another bird was found at the sewage farm at Helston (Cornwall) on 19th–20th. Siberian Chiffchaffs included two at Sandhurst sewage farm (Berkshire) on 22nd, when another was seen on St. Mary's (Scilly). On 23rd a tristis was seen at Conwy RSPB. One was also seen at Bawdsey (Suffolk) this week, present on 19th. A Lesser Whitethroat was at the Lee Valley Country Park (Essex) on 21st.

In London, two Penduline Tits were seen again at Rainham Marshes (London) on 19th (after being reported there on 14th) and remained to 20th. The same site was still playing host to a Serin this week, one still present on 22nd. Another Serin was reported at Glandford (Norfolk) on 18th.

The Review of the Week will be back in early January and a look back at the major rarity events of 2008 will appear early in 2009. Until then, Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

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Photo of the Week

Green Woodpecker
Green Woodpecker, Wyre Forest, Worcestershire (Photo: John Robinson)

This week's winning image is John Robinson's unusual shot of a Green Woodpecker in an apple tree, its bill buried in a rotten apple. At first glance, this image looks totally natural, with a balanced composition depicting the bird blending perfectly with the colours of the setting. After a quick double-take, you realise that this species is normally seen eating insects on the ground or on tree trunks or boughs, not clinging to fine twigs. Only then do you notice the awkward posture of the woodpecker, feet high and stiff tail braced around a twig, serving as a reminder that so many species must do whatever it takes to get through the depths of the winter. John's image also captures the nature of the season, the remnants of this year's fruits giving way to the buds of another year.

Other notable photos

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl, undisclosed site, Lancashire (Photo: David Cookson)

Goosander
Goosander, undisclosed site, Lincolnshire (Photo: Dean Eades)

Waxwing
Waxwing, Rendlesham, Suffolk (Photo: Jon Evans)

Common Crossbill
Common Crossbill, undisclosed site, Fife (Photo: John Anderson)

Common Redshank
Common Redshank, New Brighton, Cheshire (Photo: Richard Steel)

Sparrowhawk
Sparrowhawk, Portskewett, Gwent (Photo: Mike Warburton)

Black Redstart
Black Redstart, Hereford, Herefordshire (Photo: Kev Joynes)

Pheasant
Pheasant, undisclosed site, Norfolk (Photo: Douglas Mcfarlane)

Sparrowhawk
Sparrowhawk, Llandrindod Wells, Powys (Photo: Kev Joynes)

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon, Strathclyde Loch, Clyde (Photo: Mike Thrower)

Purple Sandpiper
Purple Sandpiper, Bawdsey, Suffolk (Photo: Amanda Hayes)

Blackcap
Blackcap, Hereford, Herefordshire (Photo: Chris Grady)

Great Spotted Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker, Silent Valley, Gwent (Photo: Mike Warburton)

Pochard
Pochard, Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire (Photo: Matt Latham)

Pied Wagtail
Pied Wagtail, Manchester, Manchester, Greater (Photo: A.Dancy)

Written by: Mark Golley