Review of the Week: 19th-26th November 2009


The week at a glance

The very mild Atlantic airflow continued to dominate to the proceedings for much of the week and brought with it some extraordinary prolonged spells of torrential rain across parts of western Ireland and northwest England, with flooding causing havoc in some counties. The rain and floods were followed by more gales and more squally downpours. All in all, it was a pretty miserable week in terms of the weather, but the weather at the end of the week produced a very special bird indeed.

After three or four days of continuous strong southwest winds blowing up through the Bristol Channel (and roundly depositing a decent variety of pelagic plunder along the West-Country and Welsh coasts) the ultimate British birding scenario unfolded along the banks of the River Severn on the early morning of 25th. A British first, a potential Western Palearctic first but — and it is a pretty big but — one that may not be identified to specific status, was seen at Severn Beach (Gloucestershire) for 15 minutes or so before 9 o'clock, before reappearing again an hour or so later. The two species in question: Black-bellied Storm-petrel or White-bellied Storm-petrel. These two Fregetta species are regarded as tough ones to call in the field. Those with experience of them in the South Atlantic have offered up a number of identification pointers that may well end up with the lucky, lucky folk on site (right place, right time — it's Tufted Puffin all over again) plumping for one species over the other. The belly markings are variable (and there are white-bellied forms of Black-bellied Storm-petrel, some seabirding experts advising a call of Fregetta sp. only). However, the upperwing of Black-bellied Storm-petrel is generally darker than the upperwing of its counterpart and the Severn Beach bird was dark above and seemingly lacking a carpal bar, confirming feelings from those there that this was more likely to be Black-bellied. Whichever species is plumped for, this is a fantastically exciting record that confirms, once again, that the only thing to expect nowadays is the unexpected. Only time will tell how the record will fare, but hopefully it progresses further than the recently rejected record of a Fregetta species identified off Sheringham (Norfolk) in December 2007. The notes and sketches presented to the committee were compelling, and the bird seen by one of the most experienced seawatchers in the county, but it stalled at the first hurdle. There'll presumably be no way back for that record (BBRC policy) but no doubt that lone soul will feel some sense of vindication.

The Gloucestershire petrel followed claims of two other potentially outstanding seabirds. A probable immature Masked Booby was reported heading south off Cape Cornwall on 23rd. In May 2007 an immature was reported in the English Channel, off the Dorset coast then the Isle of Wight, and later the same year one was reported from the Cornish coast. On 24th a juvenile Frigatebird sp. was seen flying over Lockwood, Huddersfield (West Yorkshire). So far both Ascension and Magnificent Frigatebird are on the British List, but whether this one will progress to official status is anyone's guess at the moment. The most recent accepted record is the adult male Magnificent Frigatebird that was picked up in Shropshire in November 2005 (after being seen, rather appropriately, flying through the Bristol Channel).

Prior to all the seabird shenanigans, the super-showy moulting adult Pacific Diver that appeared on the Carnsew Basin alongside the Hayle Estuary (Cornwall) on the afternoon of 19th was the star of the show. News emerged after dark, with the bird having flown off towards Carbis Bay, but fortunately the obliging bird returned on 20th and showed, off and on, until 25th. The full suite of characters were on offer, and flight shots even managed to capture, rather beautifully, the distinctive black line extending across the vent. This is presumably the Pacific Diver that has frequented, albeit very occasionally, the winter waters of Mounts Bay a little further to the west in the past couple of years, and it is also likely to be the adult that was reported as a probable off Marazion at the start of November. Meanwhile, in Gloucestershire (where else!), the second Pacific Diver of the week, another adult, was seen off Sharpness on 19th (after its appearances the previous day, as reported in last week's review). It was seen again three days later at Fretherne and, finally, on 25th, this time off Awre and again at Sharpness. Could this be the Llys-y-Fran bird making a (slightly askew) return? And where will it turn up next? Still on the Severn? With many eyes on that river at the moment, that seems most likely. Or perhaps it will pitch up on a nearby river, reservoir or gravel pit? Local birders will be searching hard in the days to come, with half an eye on any petrels that chance by.

Pacific Diver
Pacific Diver, Carnsew Basin, Cornwall (Photo: Duncan Jeggo)

The almost-wintering Brown Shrike on Staines Moor (Surrey) entered its early 40s this week, still present on 25th (a 46-days-and-counting stay now) and a possible Blyth's Pipit was reported at Land's End (Cornwall) on 20th.

Seven Balearic Shearwaters flew past Prawle Point (Devon) on 21st and the following day's stormy conditions saw nine pass Towan Head (Cornwall), with 14 off Pendeen and 25 noted from Sennen Cove further along the coast. A further 20 were seen from Portland Bill (Dorset) on 24th and Sennen scored a further 18 on 25th. The gales of 22nd–25th also saw at least 100 Leach's Storm-petrels thrown out of the Western Approaches and along the coasts of counties in the southwest, the West Country and Wales, including at least six off Porthcawl (Glamorgan) and Slimbridge (Gloucestershire) on 23rd and further half-dozens from Severn Beach (Gloucestershire) on 24th and Chesil Beach (Dorset) on 25th. All these tallies were eclipsed though by 14 off Severn Beach and 20 from Chesil Cove on 25th. A single Leach's Storm-petrel seen well inland, at Grafham Water (Cambridgeshire) on 25th, was also of note.

Balearic Shearwater
Balearic Shearwater, Rumps Point, Cornwall (Photo: Colin Selway)

Leach's Storm-petrel
Leach's Storm-petrel, Severn Beach, Gloucestershire (Photo: P.J.Underwood)

Leach's Storm-petrel
Leach's Storm-petrel, Severn Beach, Gloucestershire (Photo: Paul Bowerman)

The week's total of around 25 Pomarine Skuas included four off Portmellon (Cornwall) on 19th, with another appearing on Chew Valley Lake (Somerset) on 22nd. A Grey Phalarope was also seen at Chew this week, and was one of at least 35 birds reported, including notable inland birds at Weir Wood Reservoir (East Sussex), Radley GPs (Oxfordshire) and Fisher's Mill (Warwickshire), two birds in Glamorgan, two birds off Helvick Head (Co. Waterford) and four birds seen off both Cornwall's Towan Head and Dorset's Chesil Beach on 22nd.

Pomarine Skua
Pomarine Skua, Severn Beach, Gloucestershire (Photo: Paul Bowerman)

Grey Phalarope
Grey Phalarope, St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly (Photo: Martin Goodey)

On Scilly, the juvenile Sabine's Gull remained around St. Mary's until 25th, and first-winters appeared at Salthill, near Galway City, on 23rd–25th and Helvick Head (Co. Waterford) on 24th, while the adult remained in County Cork throughout the week. Another adult was seen flying past Penmon Point (Anglesey) on 24th and an adult was at Thurlestone (Devon) on 25th. Just 14 single Little Auks were seen (two in Cornwall, Devon, Gloucestershire and Pembrokeshire, with one each for Scilly, Cheshire, Ayrshire, Antrim, Fermanagh and Argyll) with two birds passing North Ronaldsay (Orkney) on 25th.

Sabine's Gull
Sabine's Gull, St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly (Photo: Martin Goodey)

The three first-winter Glossy Ibis continued to linger around the Somerset Levels this week, still present at Catcott Lows until 21st. In Kent, two birds remained at Dungeness, while in Worcestershire a single Glossy Ibis was seen briefly at Grimley New Workings on 20th. Two Cattle Egrets were seen at Isley Marsh (Devon) on 21st (it makes a change from Spoonbills, doesn't it?) and another new bird was around the Glaslyn Marshes and Porthmadog (Gwynedd) on 20th–22nd. In Dorset, last week's new arrival at Winkton (Dorset) was still in place to 22nd, and in Kent the bird at Dungeness was present to 23rd at least, along with one of the week's 15 or so Great White Egrets. Three birds were still in Suffolk (including two on the Hockwold Washes, spending some time in Norfolk too) and new notable singles were seen at Wormleighton Reservoir, then Brandon Marsh (Warwickshire), from 19th–21st and at Wimborne Minster (Dorset) on 20th. Elsewhere, singles remained in place from Devon to Moray (where two single birds were noted on 22nd).

At least 35 Spoonbills were reported during the week, with six at Isley Marsh and five on Dinham Flats (Cornwall) the largest groups of the week. Four were still around Scilly (seen on Tresco on 20th), four were on the River Tamar (Cornwall) and at Ibsley (Hampshire) on 24th, three were at Courtmacsherry (Co. Cork) on 20th–21st, a new twosome appeared in Carmarthenshire, and singles were in Kent and Kerry. The high count of Broadland Common Cranes was 23 on 19th (where are the other 20 then?) and five birds continued to reside at the opposite end of Norfolk, still in place at Welney until 21st at least, nipping across to the Ouse Washes (Cambridgeshire) on 23rd. Two birds were then seen at March Farmers the following day.

In Lancashire, four white Snow Geese were still at Leighton Moss until 23rd at least (with a fifth bird there on 23rd), and six white Snows appeared over Bolton-le-Sands on 21st (the "of unknown origin" tag presumably applies to these, and maybe the Leighton Moss ones too?). In Northumberland, a single Snow Goose was near Powburn on 22nd, and on 23rd one was again at Vane Farm and Loch Leven (Perth & Kinross). A further Scottish Snow Goose was seen near Tranent (Lothian) on 24th and then at Longniddry the following day.

Two adult Black Brants were again at Ferrybridge (Dorset) from 19th–23rd and a single bird was again at Allhallows-on-Sea (Kent) on 22nd. In County Waterford, the returning Brant was back on the pitch & putt course at Dungarvan on 20th and further Irish Brants were seen at the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve and Ardtermon (Co. Sligo) on 22nd, while the same county continued to entertain both the Richardson's Canada Goose and the "medium-sized" Canada Goose sp. at Lissadell until 24th at least.

Black Brant
Black Brant, Dungarvan, Waterford (Photo: Rónán McLaughlin)

The drake Green-winged Teal at Cley Marshes (Norfolk) clocked up a month-long stay this week, still present to 24th, while further singles remained at Draycote Water (Warwickshire), Eyebrook Reservoir (Leicestershire), Caerlaverock (Dumfries & Galloway) and Belfast Lough (Co. Antrim). The latter county hosted a second bird — a new arrival — found at Glynn on 20th. In Lancashire, a Green-winged Teal was again at Marshside on 22nd, and on Scilly a first-winter drake (or possibly a hybrid) was seen on St. Mary's on 23rd (if 100% pure, it would be the first on Scilly for over seven years).

Green-winged Teal
Green-winged Teal, Caerlaverock WWT, Dumfries & Galloway (Photo: Brian Henderson)

On Guernsey, two first-winter Lesser Scaup were at Grande Mare on 21st (having appeared on 15th) — an island first — and then moved to St. Saviour's Reservoir on 22nd. After a surprising blank week last week, Ring-necked Ducks made it back into the review by way of a female at Wroxham Broad (Norfolk) from 19th (she had initially been seen on 18th) and a drake on the Apex Pits and then Whisby Nature Park (Lincolnshire) on 21st–25th. Three Ferruginous Ducks, all males, were seen this week: one was again at Chew Valley Lake (Somerset) on 19th–24th, another was seen at Corbet Lough (Co. Down) on 20th with a drake at Fen Drayton Lakes (Cambridgeshire), on 22nd, completing the trio.

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Lesser Scaup
Lesser Scaup, Grande Mare, Guernsey (Photo: M Lawlor)

Ring-necked Duck
Ring-necked Duck, Apex GPs, Lincolnshire (Photo: Russell Hayes)

In Glamorgan, a first-winter or female Surf Scoter was off Mumbles Head from 19th–25th (the first in the county since one in November 2003) and the week's second female was back in Hough Bay, Tiree (Argyll) on 23rd. In Scotland, the drake King Eider was still on the sea off Burghead (Moray) until 24th at least.

A Rough-legged Buzzard over Smallburgh (Norfolk) on 23rd was one of the only raptors of note this week, although the dead Dark-breasted Barn Owl picked up in Lincolnshire on 23rd might have attracted some interest if circumstances had been different. In Sligo, a far-from-dead Snowy Owl was at Inishcrone on 24th.

In Lothian, the Wilson's Phalarope at Musselburgh Lagoons remained until 25th, and the county's Lesser Yellowlegs was, inevitably, still at Aberlady Bay. Last week's new Lesser Yellowlegs at The Cunnigar (Co. Waterford) was still present to 22nd.

Wilson's Phalarope
Wilson's Phalarope, Musselburgh Lagoons, Lothian (Photo: Mike Thrower)

Lesser Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs, The Cunnigar, Waterford (Photo: Sean Cronin)

In Essex, the first-winter Spotted Sandpiper continued to show well at Abberton Reservoir until 25th. The same date saw two further Spotted Sandpipers identified; one was alongside the Exe Estuary, at Topsham (Devon) — this bird had been present for three weeks before this — and another was firmed up at Lower Brook, along the River Test (Hampshire) — this bird had been around for six days. The Long-billed Dowitcher remained at Mullagh, Lough Beg (Co. Antrim) to 22nd and the bird at Port Carlisle (Cumbria) was seen again on 23rd. The first-winter Red-necked Phalarope remained at Far Ings (Lincolnshire) from 19th–25th.

Spotted Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper, Abberton Reservoir, Essex (Photo: Phil Wallace)

Red-necked Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope, Far Ings NR, Lincolnshire (Photo: Mark Ranner)

In Sligo, the not-as-talked-about-as-it-should-be juvenile Larus sp. remained around Drumcliff Bay, Lissadell until at least 24th, still merrily chomping away on starfish and still managing to avoid having a name pinned on it. The hybrid option is still the favoured option (American Herring Gull × Iceland or Kumlien's Gull the best bet), but the air of Glaucous-winged Gull still looms to a degree.

No doubting the pure genes of the adult American Herring Gull that returned to Nimmo's Pier (Co. Galway) this week — its progress has been charted since it was a smoky juvenile, back in 2004. A new Irish juvenile smithsonianus appeared this week, flying over Tralee town centre (Co. Kerry) on 20th.

Back at Lissadell, last week's newly arrived juvenile Kumlien's Gull was still present on 21st, along with three Iceland Gulls. Two other Iceland Gulls were seen in Ireland (at Nimmo's Pier and up in Donegal, at Killybegs), while four were seen in England (in Cornwall, Northamptonshire, Durham and Northumberland) and two were in Scotland (in the Outer Hebrides). Just two Glaucous Gulls appeared, at Tophill Low (East Yorkshire) on 21st and Stanwick GPs (Northamptonshire) on 22nd.

The adult Ring-billed Gull continued to appear in the roost at Carsington Water (Derbyshire) from time to time between 19th and 25th, while the old stager at Westcliff-on-Sea (Essex) was reported on 21st and further adults were at Nimmo's Pier on 23rd and Chew Valley Lake on 25th. Also in Ireland, an adult Bonaparte's Gull was seen at Cobh (Co. Cork) on 22nd, a site which has recorded the species in four years since 2004.

Ring-billed Gull
Ring-billed Gull, Nimmo's Pier, Galway (Photo: Tom Cuffe)

At least 30 Caspian Gulls this week included nine birds from just four sites on 20th: three birds were at Stubber's Green (West Midlands), while there were two each for Calvert Lakes (Buckinghamshire), Minsmere (Suffolk) and Chasewater (Staffordshire). Minsmere then bagged three of its own on 22nd (one third-winter and two fourth-winters) with a site tally for the week of at least five different birds. Chasewater gullwatchers also popped in a hat-trick on 22nd, 23rd and 25th. Three single birds were noted in Northamptonshire during the week and two or three birds were in Cambridgeshire. In Greater Manchester, an adult Caspian Gull at Audenshaw Reservoirs on 22nd and a first-winter at Scarborough (North Yorkshire) on 25th were also of note.

The Red-rumped Swallow at Eyemouth (Borders) lingered until 24th, while other late stayers included the snazzy male Bluethroat and super-stripy Red-throated Pipit, both still at Ballycotton (Co. Cork) until 21st at least. Three Richard's Pipit were seen around Land's End on 20th and one was reported flying over Sheringham (Norfolk) on the same date.

Red-rumped Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow, Eyemouth, Borders (Photo: Jack Brodie)

In an exceptionally quiet week (in comparison to recent ones) for Great Grey Shrikes, the only one reported until the weekend was the bird at Dersingham Bog (Norfolk). It's also been quiet for Waxwings so far this autumn, but a flock of 21 seen briefly at Portballintrae (Co. Antrim) on 24th gave hope that we may be graced with rather more than we have been in the next few days and weeks.

A Yellow-browed Warbler remained around Porth Hellick, St. Mary's (Scilly) until 22nd, while a new bird was found at the National Wetlands Centre (Carmarthenshire) on 20th. Pallas's Warblers have been notable by their absence this autumn, so the bird found in bushes alongside Pitsford Reservoir (Northamptonshire) on 22nd was something of a surprise.

A juvenile Rose-coloured Starling was a nice find for Great White Egret watchers at Beachans (Moray) on 19th, a juvenile in gardens at Pembroke Dock in Wales was present on 20th–24th and the young bird at Forest Hill (Oxfordshire) was seen again on 23rd. In Kent, the three Penduline Tits at Dungeness showed until 19th (reappearing on 24th), the two female-type Serins were still at Rainham Marshes (London) to 25th, with another near Land's End on 20th, and two Northern Bullfinches were at Dorman's Pool (Cleveland) on 21st.

Rose-coloured Starling
Rose-coloured Starling, Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire (Photo: George Clayton)

Serin, Rainham Marshes RSPB, Greater London (Photo: John Murray)

Photo of the Week

Pacific Diver
Pacific Diver, Carnsew Basin, Cornwall (Photo: Matthew Sallis)

Having only recently been added to the Western Palearctic list, Pacific Diver is one of the UK's rarest species. The small number of these birds that have graced our shores have been recorded by a fortunate few photographers who have managed to catch up with them. We've had a hundred or so images of these stunning birds uploaded, most of which have been distant record shots, with a few good portraits amongst them, but have not had any decent flight shots. This week, though, Cornwall-based photographer Matthew Sallis had been photographing the well-marked individual on his doorstep in the Hayle Estuary when it decided to move on down the coast. Very considerately, the bird flew a couple of circuits before departing, giving Matt a chance to end his photo session on a high. Tracking this flying bird with a 1200mm focal length lens combination with manual focus must have been a real challenge, but Matt managed a perfectly lit and posed shot of the bird flying low over the water. An excellent image of such a rare bird!

Other notable photos

Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed Woodpecker, Canada (Photo: David G Hemmings)

Great White Egret
Great White Egret, Hong Kong (Photo: Stephen Ha)

Greylag Goose
Greylag Goose, Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire (Photo: Chris Grady)

Sabine's Gull
Sabine's Gull, Salthill, Galway (Photo: Tom Cuffe)

Red-necked Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope, Far Ings NR, Lincolnshire (Photo: Dean Eades)

Common Buzzard
Common Buzzard, Summer Leys LNR, Northamptonshire (Photo: John Betts)

Red Kite
Red Kite, undisclosed site, Dumfries & Galloway (Photo: Brian Henderson)

Shore Lark
Shore Lark, Point of Ayr, Clwyd (Photo: Richard Steel)

Zitting Cisticola
Zitting Cisticola, Spain (Photo: Steve Fletcher)

Goosander, Dumfries, Dumfries & Galloway (Photo: Richard Pittam)

Tawny Owl
Tawny Owl, Ipswich, Suffolk (Photo: Amanda Hayes)

Chaffinch, Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk (Photo: Jon Evans)

Hen Harrier
Hen Harrier, Stodmarsh NNR, Kent (Photo: Steve Ashton)

Bittern, Far Ings NR, Lincolnshire (Photo: Russell Hayes)

Barn Owl
Barn Owl, undisclosed site, Lancashire (Photo: Brian Rafferty)

Coot, Regent's Park, Greater London (Photo: Fraser Simpson)

Written by: Mark Golley