The week at a glance
- Belated news of a probable Pale-legged Leaf Warbler at Portland
- Chestnut-eared Bunting on mainland Shetland and Siberian Rubythroat on Fair Isle
- Blackpoll Warbler and Buff-bellied Pipit on Bryher
- Impressive influx of Olive-backed Pipits continues
- Eastern Olivaceous Warbler still in Fife
- Huge fall of thrushes and Bramblings along the east coast
A juicy easterly airflow combined with suffocating patches of persistent fog this week to create vintage conditions for an east-coast fall. And, sure enough, the birds came in their thousands (millions?). Casting rare birds aside, it was simply a period to enjoy the sheer number of typical late-autumn migrants arriving on our shores. Thrushes, finches and Robins seemed to form the bulk of the fall.
Of course, the week was far from lacking in rare bird activity. Utterly momentous news broke from Portland (Dorset) late on 24th of a bird seen in a private Southwell garden during the afternoon of Monday 22nd only: that bird was a British and Western Palearctic first in the form of a probable Pale-legged Leaf Warbler (photos on the Portland website). With no sign of the bird since, it seems this is this really is one that got away, although it opens up new possibilities as to what species to expect from the east in future autumns.
Remarkably relegated to runner-up was Britain's second (and the Western Palearctic's third) Chestnut-eared Bunting, found near the Pool of Virkie on the Shetland late during the afternoon of 23rd. Initially identified as a Little Bunting, a photo posted on the internet prompted several sharp-eyed cyber-birders to raise the alarm and, by the evening, the news was out — it sure looked the real deal! Fortunately, Shetland birders were on hand to relocate the bird the following morning and to firm up the identification once and for all. Although elusive and mobile at times, the bird did show throughout the day.
Shetland also boasted a fine back-up to the bunting in the form of a Siberian Rubythroat on Fair Isle on 23rd, though, despite searching, the bird was not seen again. Fair Isle's tail-less Lanceolated Warbler was last seen on 22nd and a Hume's Leaf Warbler was seen there on 18th.
Meanwhile, on Scilly, the Blackpoll Warbler was still on Bryher on 18th in a productive week for the archipelago. A Buff-bellied Pipit was found on Bryher on 19th and relocated again from 22nd, with the island also claiming an Olive-backed Pipit. A Penduline Tit at Tresco Great Pool on 22nd had apparently been present two days earlier. Also in the islands, a Booted Warbler on St. Agnes on 20th, 3 Radde's Warblers (Bryher, St. Agnes and Gugh), 2 Little Buntings (St. Mary's, Bryher), several Red-breasted Flycatchers, a Marsh Warbler on St. Agnes, last week's Hume's Leaf Warbler on St. Mary's and a host of other scarcities all added spice.
But the big story of the week was the phenomenal arrival of thrushes on the east coast. Conservative estimates from Spurn (E Yorks) on 22nd included 21,000 Redwings, 10,000 Fieldfares, 2,700 Bramblings and 700 Robins in addition to impressive counts of scarcer species such as 57 Ring Ouzels and 20 Black Redstarts. Although counts were not quite as high elsewhere, the fall was nevertheless both widespread and impressive. Ring Ouzels were particularly prominent among the more unusual species, with sample counts of 50 at Holkham Pines (Norfolk) on 23rd and 31 at Flamborough Head (E Yorks) on 22nd suggesting that thousands must have arrived.
Among the masses came the more unusual species. Red-flanked Bluetails, so far comparatively 'rare' this autumn (doesn't it seem strange saying that?), popped up at Blyth (Northumberland) and Stiffkey (Norfolk) on 22nd, with the latter bird kindly playing ball and showing well until 24th. A Siberian Stonechat at Birling Gap on 20th–23rd was a fine Sussex record, while a male Pied Wheatear was at Quendale (Shetland) on 23rd, a Thrush Nightingale was mysteriously reported in Bangor (Gwynedd) on 24th and several Bluethroats included a lingering bird at Easington (E Yorks) on 23rd–24th. A handful of Waxwings also arrived in the Northern Isles, including up to nine in Stromness (Orkney).
However, one species continued to take the autumn by storm: Olive-backed Pipits were again plentiful this week with as many as 25 birds recorded. Shetland claimed a significant chunk of the records with eleven, including up to four still on Fair Isle. One was trapped and ringed on North Ronaldsay (Orkney) on 22nd and, in England, two were together on the Farne Islands (Northumberland) on 22nd. Popular birds were at Corton (Suffolk) and Gunners Park (Essex) on 22nd–24th, while other individuals were in East Yorkshire, Norfolk (2), Kent and Cornwall. Inishmore (Galway) continued its fantastic run with a bird in the wood at Kilmurvey — the recent Kingbird site — from 22nd, and a Dusky Warbler and Woodchat Shrike were also seen on the island in the week! Needless to say, the pipit was a county first.
Comparatively scarce this year are Red-throated Pipits, so birds on St. Mary's (Scilly) and over Ballycotton (Cork) on 21st, and over St. Lawrence (IoW) on 24th, were notable. Three Red-rumped Swallows were reported over Addiewell (Lothian) on 20th with another near Dounby (Orkney) on 22nd, and an Alpine Swift was seen on Jersey.
As is expected for the time of year, the conditions brought a modest arrival of Dusky and Radde's Warblers. Seven Duskies were noted; in addition to the bird on Inishmore, singles were seen at Swinister and Sumburgh (Shetland) on 19th and 20th respectively, Reculver (Kent) and Hartlepool Headland (Cleveland) on 22nd and St. Mary's Island (Northumberland) on 23rd, in addition to one trapped and ringed at Whitburn (Durham) the same day. Radde's Warblers were on the Farnes (Northumberland) on 22nd–24th, at Lunan Bay (Angus & Dundee) on 18th–21st and at Kilminning (Fife) on the same dates. The Eastern Olivaceous Warbler continued to perform well at the last-named site throughout the week.
An Arctic Warbler was a late find at Brancaster Staithe (Norfolk) on 24th. A Blyth's Reed Warbler was trapped and ringed at a private site near Inverness (Highland) on 20th and a Hume's Leaf Warbler was on Unst on 24th. Last week's Subalpine Warbler was again at Portland (Dorset) on 20th–21st, with a Barred Warbler there one of around 20 recorded during the week.
Also at Portland was a fine adult Daurian Shrike, which showed well around the fields at Culverwell from 23rd. Red-backed Shrikes included the lingering birds still at Housel Bay (Cornwall) to 20th and Everleigh (Wiltshire) to 21st, while an Irish bird was on Mizen Head (Cork) on 23rd. A scattering of coastal Great Grey Shrikes were also noted, and Rose-coloured Starlings were seen on Scilly and in Cornwall and Pembrokeshire.
Two Hornemann's Arctic Redpolls were on North Ronaldsay (Orkney) on 22nd, and singletons were on Whalsay (Shetland) on 18th–22nd and at the Butt of Lewis (Outer Hebrides) on 20th; an Arctic Redpoll on Fair Isle on 18th was not assigned to subspecies. Half a dozen Serins included two over Pegwell Bay (Kent) on 20th in addition to records from Cornwall and Scilly. In Durham, a Rustic Bunting was at Marsden Quarry on 23rd–24th and Little Bunting reports involved birds at South Gare (Cleveland), Bardsey Island (Gwynedd) and on the Farne Islands.
Moving away from passerines, an excellent five Richardson's Canada Geese were reported at Loch Indaal, Islay (Argyll) on 23rd and up to three were with the Sligo Barnacles throughout the week. Two Black Brants were back on The Fleet at Chickerell (Dorset) on 18th, one was at Castlegregory (Kerry) on 22nd and sightings came from two sites in Essex. In Kent, the smart adult Red-breasted Goose was still at South Swale to 23rd before relocating to Sturt Pond (Hants) the following day. The two white-morph Snow Geese were still touring North Uist.
In Somerset, the Lesser Scaup at Chew Valley Lake was again joined by the second bird on 23rd following a brief sojourn back across the Severn Estuary to Glamorgan. A female Ferruginous Duck was also at Chew on 18th while a drake was reported at Blashford Lakes (Hants) on 22nd. On Scilly, the three Ring-necked Ducks remained on St. Mary's throughout; new females were found at Slapton Ley (Devon) from 22nd and on Tiree (Argyll) on 20th. Two drakes were at Lough Gara (Sligo) on 24th and the drake also returned to Lough Shivnagh (Donegal). On Achill Island (Mayo), both the Ring-necked Duck and Black Duck remained. American Wigeon reports looked remarkably similar to the previous winter's, with remaining drakes at Kirk Loch (Dumf & Gall), Angler's Country Park (W Yorks) and Tacumshin (Wexford). Up to four Surf Scoters were off Llanddulas (Conwy) during the week, with drakes also in Largo Bay (Fife) and off Orkney.
Both of last week's Purple Herons remained, being last seen at Radipole Lake (Dorset) on 21st and at College Reservoir (Cornwall) on 22nd. At least three Glossy Ibises remained in the west Cornwall area (being seen most regularly around Sennen), while another flew over Aveton Gifford (Devon) on 19th and the long-stayer remained at Marloes Mere (Pembrokeshire).
A female Red-footed Falcon was an unseasonable find along the cliffs at St. Lawrence (IoW) during the afternoon of 24th. Tacumshin (Wexford) continued to hold on to the juvenile Northern Harrier during the week, and a small arrival of Rough-legged Buzzards included at least three in Norfolk.
New American Golden Plovers were at Inch Island Lake (Donegal) on 20th and The Gearagh (Cork) on 21st, while others remained at Pilmore (Cork), Cashen Estuary (Kerry), Loop Head (Clare) and North Ronaldsay (Orkney). The only Long-billed Dowitcher seen this week was the long-stayer at Slimbridge (Glos), although new Lesser Yellowlegs turned up at Ernesettle (Devon) from 20th and Aldcliffe Marshes (Lancs) from 21st, the latter accompanied by a Wood Sandpiper. Other "Lesserlegs" remained at Ballinskelligs (Kerry) and Bull Island (Dublin). Irish Spotted Sandpipers involved a new bird at Lough Leane (Kerry) on 23rd in addition to one still in Poulnasherry Bay (Clare) to 21st.
A juvenile White-rumped Sandpiper at Northton, Harris (Outer Hebrides) on 18th may or may not have related to the Baird's Sandpiper reported nearby the following day, while the Norfolk White-rump remained at Cley to 20th. Just one Pectoral Sandpiper was reported, at Maer Lake (Cornwall) on 18th.
An adult Bonaparte's Gull was fresh in at Dawlish Warren (Devon) from 21st, where it could often be found on the groynes there (although it could disappear for long periods). Furthermore, the adult was again noted off Strumble Head (Pembrokeshire) on 19th and 20th. Ring-billed Gulls included the Hampshire bird back yet again at Walpole Park, Gosport from 21st and a second-winter reported at South Swale (Kent) on 20th. In Ireland, a bird at Bundoran (Donegal) on 19th joined more familiar fixtures at Groomsport (Down) and Portrush (Antrim).
Photo of the Week
Almost three years ago, we had a popular Photo of the Week featuring an aggresive interaction between a Jay and a Great Spotted Woodpecker as they came together on the same post. At the time, we commented that, despite these two species sharing the same habitat, it was unusual to see them in the same shot. It's taken many thousands of uploads before we've seen a similar image but, this week, Roy Rimmer submitted an image that is remarkably similar. Although Roy's version has an autumnal rather than wintry feel and captures the Jay rather than the Woodpecker with its wings open, it's interesting to note what the two images have in common. Both capture the peak of the action, with dynamic poses and powerful eye contact and both show a domineering Jay towering over a tenacious Woodpecker. Roy commented that he'd been trying to get this shot for two years, so deserves congratulations for his perseverence.
Black Redstart, Malta (Photo: Natalino Fenech)