Review of the Week: 18th-24th January 2002


Mild and windy the week may well have been, with temperatures well into double figures for many of us, but the birding scene has been extremely hot! Several quality rarities, plus a late report of a stunning rarity in a back garden and the final verdict on the rarity of the last century...read on for more.

For once we will leave the birds of the week until last. This morning the British Ornithologists' Union made the formal announcement that many birders have been waiting for. As had been expected, the BOU announced that the 1st-summer Slender-billed Curlew present at Druridge Bay, Northumberland, from 4th-7th May 1998 has been accepted as a new species for the British list. At the time many birders did not travel to see this bird because it was considered that this ultra-rare species was such an unlikely vagrant to these shores that it could not possibly have been one and that a mistake had surely been made. With this announcement will come mixed emotions for those who saw the bird and those who did not, for this event was surely a once in a lifetime occurrence. At present it is not possible to see this species anywhere in the world; the handful of birds that used to winter in Morocco have not done so since 1995 and most recent records have occurred randomly and infrequently between south and east Europe east to Kazakhstan. Further details on this amazing record can be found at www.birdguides.com/birdnews/article.asp?a=35. Furthermore, video footage of this once-in-a-lifetime bird can be found on our recently published CD-ROM Guide to Rarer British Birds (and, for those in the north and northeast of England, may feature in local BBC news programmes this evening).

Yesterday astounding news was released that an Ovenbird had been present in a private garden in the Midlands between the 20th December and 16th January, but unfortunately not since. This extremely rare species has only occurred in Britain and Ireland on four occasions and only two birds have been seen alive, neither of which were seen by many observers. The modern birding fraternity would have given anything to have been able to see this fantastic species. Further details of this bird, with background on Ovenbird records to date plus astonishing photographs of this bird in the observer's back garden, can be found atwww.birdguides.com/birdnews/article.asp?a=28

In between all this excitement there have also been some fantastic rarities found during the week. Pride of place goes to a Hume's Leaf Warbler in Northumberland from the 20th onwards, the third of the winter so far. An Arctic Redpoll has been seen in Worcestershire during the week, as have the two birds at Titchwell RSPB, though none have been seen on a daily basis. A Lesser Scaup was found in Armagh on the 19th and in Norfolk a 1st-winter drake King Eider was found the same day. King Eiders are extremely rare in the southern part of the North Sea, so this bird has deservedly proved popular. Continuing the duck theme, the Black Duck was seen in Devon again on the 19th and the drake Black Scoter has been seen again off Conway from the 22nd. A Night Heron was seen briefly in Kent on the 21st and a crake species, possibly a Little Crake, was reported in Nottinghamshire on the 18th. In Cornwall the 1st-winter American Golden Plover was again seen at Bude.

Long-staying ducks comprise the Redhead in Glamorgan and the Lesser Scaup in Dorset. The White Stork of unknown origin remains in Derbyshire as does the Great White Egret in Cheshire. In Cornwall the Bonaparte's Gull continues to show extremely well and in Norfolk the Rose-coloured Starling remains in Great Yarmouth. The week has been notable for several unseasonable records of Sooty Shearwaters and Balearic Shearwaters, with one of the latter off Portland Bill only the second ever winter sighting and 4 past Cornwall on the 24th.

Finally, do not forget that the Big Garden Birdwatch takes place this weekend. Further details of how to take part have been posted on Bird News Extra and an article detailing the findings of last year's survey can be found at www.birdguides.com/birdnews/article.asp?a=16 - who knows what lurks in the most convenient of local patches, there might be an Ovenbird in your garden!

Written by: Russell Slack, BirdGuides