Review of the Week: 19th-26th October 2001


As the warmest October on record simmers to an end, the week produced a constant run of warm south to south-easterly winds keeping temperatures way above the norm. Large high pressure systems from eastern Europe eastwards facilitated the continued arrival of reverse migrants, and the week was notable for a massive arrival of thrushes along the whole of the east coast. Many sites reported several thousand birds grounded after the fog and rain over weekend. Not surprisingly, in view of the weather, the majority of interest was provided by birds from the east.

For the second week running, rarity of the week is awarded to Black-faced Bunting. The second of the autumn was located on Fair Isle on the 21st and 22nd. Elsewhere, a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler was on Fair Isle on the 19th, with a Booted Warbler on Tresco on the same day. An Arctic Warbler was in Nanquidno Valley from the 20th and a Yellow-breasted Bunting on North Ronaldsay on the 21st. A Hume's Warbler in Northumberland allowed many birders another opportunity to observe the subtle identification criteria for the species, whilst a Lesser Grey Shrike was on Orkney on the 22nd. Associated arrivals included yet more Dusky Warblers, several Olive-backed Pipits and Radde's Warblers. Small numbers of Pallas's Warblers dazzled observers at several sites early in the week, but presumably more are to come. From across the Atlantic a Bonaparte's Gull was an excellent inland find in Lancashire on the 25th, 2 Forster's Terns were in Orkney on the 24th and a Cliff Swallow was on the Isles of Scilly on the 26th.

In a week of 'probables' and 'possibles', an orange-billed tern, thought to be a Royal Tern, was in County Mayo on the 19th, a tail-less acrocephalus warbler in the Obs garden at Portland had many scratching their heads, though some features pointed towards Blyth's Reed Warbler, and several swifts provided their observers with frustratingly inconclusive views. Students of taxonomy were presented with a Desert Lesser Whitethroat in Lincolnshire though given last year's bird at South Gare interest was, perhaps, not as great as it might have been. A grey shrike species on North Ronaldsay was tentatively identified as a Southern Grey Shrike of the nominate race meridionalis, which would constitute the first record of the nominate form for the UK.

Not surprisingly, given the southerly component of the wind, birders across the country were treated to several Pallid Swifts during the week. Birds lingered in both Norfolk and the north-east, providing a repeat performance of events two years ago. Associated with the massive incursion of thrushes were small numbers of Waxwings, which are once again on the move in good numbers in Scandinavia. Although it's too early to predict whether we are to be treated to another excellent winter from the 'urban berry-gobbler', based upon these early arrivals the omens look promising, though what happens in Scandinavia does not always reach the UK!

Event of the week for many was perhaps the arrival of a Snowy Owl in the unlikely surroundings of Felixstowe Docks. The oiled plumage of the bird and the location pointed to a ship for its origin. Initially unexciting news, it soon transpired that this was, perhaps, one of 50 birds that had boarded a ship off Quebec and other similarly oiled birds were taken into care in The Netherlands and Belgium. Of course, ship-assisted birds are now countable as long as they have not been fed on their journey, thus this particular bird is 'tickable' should you want it to be. No doubt this will test the scruples of many life-lists, especially for those who had yearned to see their 'first' in a bleak, windswept wilderness.

The winds look westerly for the foreseeable future, but with large high pressure systems remaining across eastern Europe and beyond, reverse migrants will still find a way through. Once again it looks as though autumn will extend well into November and, that being the case, the rarity season goes into extra-time once again and we can expect more excitement over the coming weeks with late Sibes presumably playing a part.

Written by: Russell Slack, BirdGuides