Review of the Week: 19 December 2022-2 January 2023


Firstly, a Happy New Year to all our readers! 

It was certainly a case of quality over quantity as 2022 tailed away. Ireland that came out on top, adding two new species to its national list over the festive period. On the whole, however, the BirdGuides news output was feeling a little slow compared to some years.

'Bird of the fortnight' is arguably Ireland's first White-winged Scoter on Achill Island, Co Mayo … overdue if nothing else! Originally found on 29th, the bird was briefly considered to be a Velvet Scoter, but footage emerged soon after and showed features more in line with White-winged Scoter. However, the diagnostic bill base remained to be seen. Fortunately, over the following days the bird swam close inshore and pictures allowed for confirmation. As the saying goes, the rest is history. It did the decent thing of lasting into the new year too, and is still present at the time of writing. 

White-winged Scoter, Tonatonvalley, Achill Island, Mayo (Micheál O'Briain).

Why is it a White-winged Scoter? There are structural differences, but the deal breaker is the shape of the demarcation of feathering at the bill base.

  • The feathering at the bill base extends well towards the nostril (as shown by 'a'), further along the culmen than it would in Stejneger's Scoter, and ends abruptly at a squared-off 'point'.
  • The head and bill profile give the bird a 'broken-nosed' and 'tiered' quality (as seen in 'b'), albeit subtle at some angles. In a Velvet Scoter, the bird would be smoother and concave.

The pale belly and limited white shown on the greater coverts in open wing shots allow ageing as a juvenile. Sexing the bird is a bit more a guessing game with female being the obvious choice (which it probably is) however some footage appears to show raspberry ripple-esque pink just starting to streak through the bill sides and tip. It may be something to watch for, but may be nothing. The (relatively large) white spots at the tip of the greater coverts also perhaps hint at the bird being a drake. One can only dream of a showy adult male in years to come!

White-winged Scoter, Tonatanvally, Achill Island, Mayo (Micheál O'Briain).

The adult drake White-winged Scoter was reported again off Musselburgh, Lothian, on 1st after a two-month hiatus from the site. The following day it was picked up close inshore off Ferny Ness, the first time it has been recorded this far east and presumably where it's been disappearing to. To complete the scoter set, the drake Stejneger's Scoter just managed to sneak into the recording period and was last noted at Aberlady Bay, Lothian, on 20th. It is surely feasible this bird will resurface again before the winter is out … hopefully anyway. 'Six scoter day', anyone?

A female-type Harlequin Duck was photographed at Feall Bay, Coll, on 22 December, although news wasn't picked up until 27th. Of course, the bird could easily overwinter in the area.

Sussex has started the year off strong, with a new county bird in the form of a Little Swift at Eastbourne on 2nd. News broke late morning but unfortunately, in typical fashion, the bird moved through 'swiftly'. The bird had been seen around the Martello Tower at Sovereign Harbour. Not to twist the knife, but it's not totally implausible the bird roosted there the previous night. Hopefully it returns anyhow.

Little Swift, Eastbourne, East Sussex (Adam Huttly).

The Double-crested Cormorant remained consistent at Doon Lough, Co Leitrim, and made it into the new year. Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said about the Greater Yellowlegs at Tallow, Co Waterford, which was last reported on 29th, although maybe just down to interest?

Greater Yellowlegs, Tallow, Waterford (Tom Murphy).

As if just to reaffirm Ireland's good start to the year, the country added another species to its list when photographs emerged of two Eurasian Penduline Tits at The Gearagh, Co Cork, on New Year's Day. Only, the next day when twitchers arrived there were actually three birds present. A fantastic record, not least because the site is well inland and a fair way west. Two were also found at Steart WWT, Somerset, on 2nd, and with a nice flurry of records in late autumn it's one to keep an eye (and ear) out for locally. 

Cheshire's White-throated Sparrow was still being reported in the private garden in Kingsmead, Northwich, and was last noted on 28th although almost certainly still around. It's surely still a matter of time before it gives itself up in the nearby woodland again, this time for longer.

White-throated Sparrow, Northwich, Cheshire (Mark B).

An apparent Coues's Arctic Redpoll was photographed in a Lesser Redpoll flock at North Hykeham Pits, Lincolnshire, on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately further searching didn't produce any sightings but four Mealy Redpoll were present. Otherwise, it's been a relatively poor year for redpolls countrywide, but nonetheless an Arctic Redpoll has made it to Dunsilly, Co Antrim, representing a first for Northern Ireland. 

Devon also joined the impressive festive roll-call on 20th, when photographs of a late 'wheatear' at Colyford Common LNR proved to show an Isabelline Wheatear. This species is on an upward trend, but any record remains very welcome and it represents first for mainland Devon, so was appreciated by county listers in particular.  Flooding at the site appeared to move the bird on, only for it to reappear on 2 January. An apparent first-winter Eastern Yellow Wagtail also turned up at the same site on Christmas Day, before also disappearing until 2nd – impressive! Hopefully sound recordings can be obtained before long. Another Eastern Yellow Wagtail was reported at Carlton Marshes SWT, Suffolk, and later Burgh St Peter, Norfolk, on 20th. It's worth noting the former site hosted a probable in early November.

Isabelline Wheatear, Colyford Common LNR, Devon (Tim White).

An apparent first-winter American Herring Gull was a brief visitor to Drift Reservoir, Cornwall, on 29th. The bird reappeared the next day before flying to Newlyn – the site of last years showy bird. At this stage the photographs are just shy of confirming the ID, although it certainly looks the part and is one to watch.

Late news of a drake American Black Duck came from a private site at Llanrihidian Marsh, Glamorgan, on 20-21 December. The drake Hooded Merganser continues to linger at Carramore, Co Mayo, and was still present on New Year's Day. Another was reported at Doddington Pool, Cheshire, on 30 December – an opportunity to make up for last years suppressed bird? Not quite, as pictures proved it to be a hybrid Hooded Merganser × Common Goldeneye. Fife's Lesser Scaup moved between Kinghorn Loch and Beveridge Park, Kirkcaldy, and was last reported on 28th. Other drakes were reported at Lough Arrow, Co Sligo, on 22nd and Oxford Island NNR, Co Armagh, from 28-29th.

American Black Duck, Llanrhidian Marsh, Gower, Glamorgan (anon).

Six American Wigeon were on offer over the festive period, only one was new however, a drake at Loch Gorm, Islay. The Hampshire drake was last reported on 21 December, whereas the Somerset bird reappeared at Shapwick Heath NNR on 29th. Otherwise, drakes remained at White Sands Quarry, Lothian, until 20th and at Big Waters NR, Northumberland, until 31st, while the Dumfries and Galloway bird made it into the new year at Crook of Baldoon RSPB. Other Nearctic wildfowl included Green-winged Teal at 16 sites and Ring-necked Duck at 28. At least two Ferruginous Duck persisted on the Norfolk Broads, as did the female at Aqualate Mere, Staffordshire, until New Years Day at least. Another was reported in the county at Lodgerail Pool, Penkridge, on 26th.

Lesser Scaup, Kirkcaldy, Fife (Simon Knight).

What was probably the regular drake Black Scoter was again off Ross Back Sands, Northumberland, on 29th although ID wasn't confirmed. Just three Surf Scoter were reported, a female off Ben Head, Co Meath, between 26-28th, one of the regular drakes again off Gullane Point, Lothian, on 31st and a new female at Loch Indaal, Islay, the same day. The popular King Eider at Redcar, Cleveland, was still a regular feature of the BirdGuides news page, and was still present on 2nd. Another drake was reported again at Bluemull Sound, Shetland, on 28th.

Smew were logged at 36 sites during the fortnight. The redhead at Derrybrick Lough, Co Cavan, is perhaps the most notable, although one at Audenshaw Reservoirs, Greater Manchester, is a good county record. Bewick's Swans continued to arrive, albeit numbers are still nowhere close to the 'good old days'. Up to 150 have been reported in the area surrounding Welney WWT, Norfolk, while the peak count at Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire, so far is 115, and 53 at Walland Marsh, Kent, is worth a mention. 

Smew, Tophill Low NR, East Yorkshire (Glyn Sellors).

Lingering Richardson's Cackling Geese were reported from Campbeltown, Argyll; Bridgend, Islay; and Balranald RSPB, North Uist. One was with Barnacle Geese at Loch Skerrols, Islay, and could feasibly be a new bird. Most notable however was one mingling with Pink-footed Geese at Fenham-le-Moor, Northumberland, on Christmas Day. The flock took flight shortly after the find and the bird hasn't been relocated thus far. Another unassigned Cackling Goose was picked up in a Barnacle Goose flock at Elwick, by the same observer on the same day, a nice self-gifted Christmas present. The only 'cackler' reported in Ireland this period was one with a feral Canada Goose flock at Derrybrick Lough, Co Cavan, on 22nd. The Todd's Canada Goose continues to accompany the Argyll Richardson's, and others were reported from Banks Marsh, Lancashire, and Rockcliffe Marsh, Anthorn and Salt Coates, all Cumbria. The apparent parvipes was last noted at Aldcliffe Marshes, Lancashire, on 20th.

The wintering Barnacle Geese at Salt Coates, Cumbria, also turned up at Red-breasted Goose from 27th although seemingly left before the new year. One was located with Barnacle Geese at Loch Gruinart RSPB, Islay, on 1st.  At least three Grey-bellied Brant remained in Dublin and two more were at Rosslare Backstrand, Co Wexford, on 29th. Black Brant were spread across eight sites between Dorset and East Yorkshire. Three Irish sites hosted Snow Geese, including a blue morph with Greenland White-fronted Geese at Deerpark, Co Offaly. Otherwise sightings were restricted to Scotland, with the most popular being the white morph at Drymen, Clyde. 

Red-breasted Goose, Salt Coates, Cumbria (Sam Northwood).

Snow Goose, Drymen, Clyde (Andrew Kinghorn).

Up to 156 Taiga Bean Geese were still in the Slamannan area on 31st although proved hard to get for any new-year listers thereafter. A young bird was picked up in a Pink-footed Goose flock at Croston, Lancashire, on 26th. Twenty sites recorded Tundra Bean Goose, with Russian White-fronted Geese at 49. There's still a little time for a decent arrival but both species appear a little thin on the ground again this winter.

Russian White-fronted Goose, Seamer Carr, North Yorkshire (Phil Bennett).

The wandering adult Forster's Tern made its annual appearance at Nimmo's Pier, Co Galway, at the turn of the year. The adult Bonaparte's Gull remained at Ballygalley, Co Antrim, throughout and new birds were found at Bantry, Co Cork, and Doonfoot, Argyll, both on 2nd. Ring-billed Gulls continue to be reported in paltry numbers, England, Scotland and Wales all had one apiece, regular adults at Strathclyde Loch, Clyde, and Hayle Estuary, Cornwall. One was reported at Penmon Point, Anglesey. Only five sites in Ireland produced reports, all of single birds. Of interest, the returning adult Ring-billed × Lesser Black-backed Gull was back at Llys-y-Fran Reservoir, Pembrokeshire, on 29th and 1st. An unseasonal Sabine's Gull flew past Praa Sands, Cornwall, on 26th.

Bonaparte's Gull, Ballygalley, Antrim (Ian Dickey).

An adult White-billed Diver was at Bluemull Sound, Shetland, on 28th and another flew past Holy Island, Northumberland, on 29th.

Norfolk's Long-billed Dowitcher remained at Titchwell RSPB until 27th before relocating to its initial site at Cley Marshes NWT on 1st. New Years Day saw year listers back at Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, looking for the regular Kentish Plover, and with success too. Grey Phalaropes were spread across nine sites. The Eurasian Stone-curlew remained on St Mary's, Scilly, until 22nd.

At least 15 Glossy Ibises were present between seven sites, with no real change in distribution for a while now.

Midwinter seawatching is enough to send shivers down most birders backs, however, the past fortnight has seen a smattering of unseasonal records. Two Great Shearwaters were off Cornwall, one off Gwithian on 27th and another past Pendeen on 1st. Sooty Shearwaters were logged past six sites and a single Balearic Shearwater flew past Pendeen on 26th. Leach's Storm Petrels flew past three sites overlooking the English Channel, with another found dead in the harbour at Lyme Regis, Dorset, on 26th. While European Storm Petrels were reported from four sites. 

A Black Kite flew over Almer, Dorset, on 26th. While the bird appeared ‘clean' and ‘genuine' it's worth noting a known escape was recently on the Channel Islands. The juvenile female Pallid Harrier remained on the north Norfolk coast, almost exclusively at Warham Greens. A juvenile at Machir Bay, Islay, on 1st is conceivably the juvenile reported on the island back in November, though a great surprise and pick-up by the observer. Confirmed Rough-legged Buzzards were reported from just five sites, with an additional four unconfirmed records.

Black Kite, Almer, Dorset (birdsofpooleharbour).

The probable Black-throated Thrush (or hybrid) was reported again at Haddington, Lothian, on 20th but not thereafter. 

It's another bleak winter for Great Grey Shrikes, with a very poor five birds on offer. None were reported from Wales during the two-week period. One was a one-day bird at Bigton, Shetland, on 21st and another was unconfirmed record at Lee Valley CP, Essex. A new bird was found near Denny Wood, Hampshire, otherwise birds lingered at Pig Bush, Hampshire, and Hothfield Heathlands NR, Kent.

The Hume's Leaf Warbler continued at Brancaster, Norfolk, throughout the period with a report of a possible second on 22nd. Another was at Pencester Gardens, Dover, from 20th. Both birds were still present into the new year. Meanwhile, a Pallas's Warbler was a great find at Swalecliffe, Kent, on 2nd. Cornwall claimed five of the 14 Yellow-browed Warblers on the news page, and Siberian Chiffchaffs were reported from 36 localities. However, a Willow Warbler overwintering at Emerson Valley, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, is arguably one of the most notable Phylloscopus warblers reported. The Wiltshire Dusky Warbler was last reported on 26th and one was at Tregillowe Pools, Cornwall, from 24th. Apparent Siberian Lesser Whitethroats were at Banks, Lancashire; Llechryd, Ceredigion; and Holme Dunes NWT, Norfolk. 

Hume's Leaf Warbler, Brancaster, Norfolk (Tony Davison).
Siberian Chiffchaff, Hams Hall, Warwickshire (Dave Hutton).

As it stands the winter doesn't feel like a vintage white-winger winter, although the optimist in me would like it's still too early to rule out an arrival. Iceland Gulls were reported from 32 sites and Glaucous Gulls from 36. The juvenile Kumlien's Gull remained at Uyeasound, Unst, until at least 1st, the only example in the country at present. Caspian Gulls however continue to fare well, and for comparison, were reported from 48 sites. 

It's fair to say Waxwing reports aren't instilling the same sense of anticipation they were earlier in the season. In the two-week period, they were reported from 25 Scottish and 32 English sites, with the majority of reports involving no more than a handful of birds at most.

The Rosy Starling lengthened its stay at Wiveliscombe, Somerset. Sadly the showy Olive-backed Pipit was last reported at Exmouth, Devon, on 20th, and a possible overflew Sheringham, Norfolk, on 24th. Single Richard's Pipits were at St Mary's, Scilly, on 21st and Gunwalloe, Cornwall, on 24th.

Shore Larks continue to favour the north Norfolk coast, with a peak count of 11 at Holkham Gap. Elsewhere, three were again at Beacon Ponds, East Yorkshire, and four at Ross Back Sands, Northumberland. The Cornish Little Bunting was last reported at Cot Valley on 29th.

After moving back to France, it was possible that was the last we'd see of the male Walrus affectionately named ‘Thor'. However, fast forward to New Year's Eve and the impressive pinniped was found lounging in Scarborough harbour, North Yorkshire, and two days later was relocated again at Blyth, Northumberland. Giving anyone with an interest and some free time the option to see him, with the help and supervision of British Divers Marine Life Rescue.  

Walrus, Scarborough, North Yorkshire (Bethan Clyne).

Walrus, Scarborough, North Yorkshire (Bethan Clyne).


Western Palearctic 

Iceland's adult Slaty-backed Gull had relocated to Höfn on 21st and a first-winter American Herring Gull was at Þorlákshöfn on 1st.

An apparent orientalis Oriental Turtle Dove was at Stavanger from 26th and the Eastern Black Redstart remained at Vestbygd.

A first-winter Western Sandpiper was found at Långetången on 31st and is impressively Sweden's third record. Elsewhere, the first-winter Baltimore Oriole lingered at Förslöv into the new year, as did the Blue-winged Teal at Lund and Pine Bunting at Nordanås.

Drake Black Scoter remained off Dragsmur, Denmark, and Wladyslawowo, Poland. An adult drake Stejneger's Scoter was on the sea off Stegna on 18th, and is believed to be a new bird, if accepted as such this will represent the sixth record for Poland – continuing the excellent winter for the species in Europe.

Two Pallas's Warblers were at Lake Kerkini on Christmas Day, just the second and third record for Greece. A male Pine Bunting was photographed near Zagreb on 28th constituting the third record for Croatia. In Hungary, the adult Pallas's Gull was reported again at Balatonbogláron 22nd.

In Germany, the male Syrian Woodpecker did the decent thing and held out at Frankfurt an der Oder for the new year. In the Netherlands, a Pied Crow was at Breskens between 21-24th, while a Black-winged Kite continued to tease British birders just across the English Channel at Renesse.

An immature Black-browed Albatross flew past Quiberon, France, on 28th. The first-winter Forster's Tern lengthened its stay at Le Curnic as did the adult Bonaparte's Gull at Piriac-sur-Mer. The first-winter American Herring Gull was still at Gueltas and was joined by an apparent second-winter in late December. The juvenile Northern Harrier made a reappearance at Ouessant on 27th. A female-type White-headed Duck was at Pont-l'Évêque and the long-staying Long-legged Buzzard was still at Thibie.

Red-billed Tropicbird, Fuerteventura, Fuerteventura (Mark Leitch).

It was all systems go in Spain. A video showing an apparent Yellow-browed Bunting on Mallorca on 22 December would be the first national record if accepted. Otherwise it was Rallidae stealing the show. Sadly, the countries third Striped Crake was found dead in a car park at Figueras, an intriguing record … could one make it to Scilly one day? Would it be detected? Keeping with the slightly morbid theme, an Allen's Gallinule was found dead in the harbour at Vigo on 26th. There was also some belated news of a Plain Swift over Lagoa de Traba on 8 December is just the second record for mainland Spain. The drake American Black Duck continued at Sada. A Brown Booby was on the breakwater at Fisterra on 20th and two Bonaparte's Gulls were in the country.

The adult American Herring Gull was reported again at Sesimbra port, Portugal, on 1st.

The returning Red-billed Tropicbird was reported again at Atlantico shopping centre, Fuerteventura, a couple of times over the festive period. Otherwise, the Canary Islands saw a run of African Crake records, with three taken into care on Gran Canaria and another on Lanzarote. An immature Allen's Gallinule was also taken into care on Gran Canaria. Another African Crake made it to Cape Verde, with one pottering around a garden patio on São Nicolau on 27th.

A Great Blue Heron was reported on Corvo on 26th while one lingered at Paul da Praia, Terceira. Two Pied-billed Grebe were reported on the latter island, with one reported again at Gruta do Natal on 2nd another was at Cabrito Reservoir the same day.  The long-staying bird remained at Lagoa das Furnas, São Miguel. The American Coot continued at Lagoa do Junco. Elsewhere, the Wood Duck was again reported at Lagoa Azul Sao Miguel on 19th and a first-winter drake Hooded Merganser was found at Fajã dos Cubres, São Jorge on 23rd. The Double-crested Cormorant remained at Madalena harbour, Pico, on 22nd while a Killdeer was new at Feteira, Faial, on 28th.

Written by: Dan Owen

Dan Owen is a Cheshire-based birder with a keen interest in ringing and wildfowl. He works for the BirdGuides news team. Follow him on Twitter: @_danielowen