Recent weeks have seen a procession of Nearctic passerines found in gardens – namely a Baltimore Oriole, two American Robins, White-crowned Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco – but after the autumn to end all autumns it felt only a matter of time before an even bigger prize from across the pond was unearthed somewhere.
So it came to pass on 3rd, with the momentous finding of a Northern Waterthrush on a Heybridge, Essex, garden pond, found while the supremely fortunate resident birder ate his tea at the dinner table! Much to the delight of many the next morning it was swiftly relocated along a nearby drainage ditch, where it attracted a long procession of twitchers by the week's end (despite proving elusive for much of Saturday). Residing only 20 minutes from the continuing Essex Canvasback meant the duck attracted renewed attention also, despite proving highly elusive over the weekend.
A first for Essex, it is only the third mainland record and the first British record since 2011-12, when one wintered on St Mary's, Scilly. The eighth for Britain, Ireland has hosted a further two records – both on Cape Clear, Co Cork. Keep abreast of all the latest updates on the Northern Waterthrush at www.birdguides.com/sightings or via the BirdGuides app.
The rapid change in status of Baikal Teal continues to gather pace, with this now near-annual winter visitor seeing a further run of records this week. Although there was no sign of the Somerset drake, a female was found just 7 km to the north at Catcott Lows on 6th. It is just the second female for Britain following one at Finningley GPs, Nottinghamshire, in January 2023. Unexpectedly, this was followed by a first-winter drake with Eurasian Wigeon at Bishop Middleham, Durham, on 7th – a county first.
An exciting spell for Inishmore, Co Galway, began on 6th, with the discovery of a first-winter female White-winged Scoter at close range at the island's harbour. Incredibly it is only the third for Ireland, with the country's first found as recently as December 2022. Twitchers to the island the following day stumbled across a Pied-billed Grebe at Loch Phort Chorrúch. It is Ireland's first in 10 years – the last concerning an adult on Achill Island, Co Mayo, between August 2013 and April 2014.
The turn of the year saw Smew uplisted to Scarce on the BirdGuides sightings service, following the continued decline of this attractive duck in Britain (see here). Approximately 40 were logged in Britain this week, with just one in Ireland – at Derrybrick Lough, Co Cavan.
A new drake Lesser Scaup on Lough Neagh, Co Armagh, was one of 12 across Britain and Ireland. News elsewhere included three American Wigeon, four Surf Scoter, four Ferruginous Ducks, 12 Green-winged Teal, 22 Ring-necked Ducks and the Co Mayo American Black Duck.
A highlight of the week's Snow Geese was a blue morph with a large mixed goose flock near Wrexham, Denbighshire – potentially just the second wild Welsh record. A lone white morph at Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire, is perhaps left as 'of unknown origin'. Three more were in Scotland. A notable Taiga Bean Goose record concerned two with Pink-feet at Longtown, Cumbria, on 2nd.
Young Red-breasted Geese hung on in Norfolk and Essex, with adults still in Northumberland and Lancashire. Black Brant lingered in Kent and East Yorkshire. A Cackling Goose was again on the Mullet, Co Mayo, on 2nd, with another still with Canada Geese at Lunt Meadows, Lancashire.
A quiet winter for the taxon means that Ring-billed Gulls at Hayle Estuary, Cornwall and Strathclyde Loch, Clyde, would have proved popular with budding year listers. Two first-winter Bonaparte's Gulls remained in Cornwall, with an adult again at Ballygalley, Co Antrim. Glaucous Gulls numbered a meagre 20, while 30 Iceland Gulls included Kumlien's Gulls in Highland and Orkney.
Waxwings were again on the agenda for many at the start of January, with over 800 reports published on the BirdGuides sightings pages since the turn of the year. Several good-sized flocks were noted across much of Britain and the east coast of Ireland, including large numbers in south-east England for the first time since the start of the influx. Pleasingly, it looks like the animated trill of Waxwings will continue to be heard across Britain and Ireland for some time yet.
A map of Waxwing sightings from 2-7 January (BirdGuides.com).
Social media produced another 'find' when an adult male Black-throated Thrush was photographed in a Sheffield, South Yorkshire, garden on 2nd. The East Yorkshire bird remained reliable at Tophill Low throughout. At least three Little Buntings were still in Cornwall, while a paltry five Great Grey Shrikes were split three in England and two in Scotland. Two Yellow-browed Warblers at Oakthorpe, Leicestershire and Rutland, came as a pleasing surprise for county birders, especially given the small numbers wintering in Britain this year. One at Broadsands, Devon, was traced to a bird ringed in Norway during the autumn.
In Gloucestershire, a Richard's Pipit at Awre from 1st concerned a returning adult from last winter – one of a pioneering population that has begun wintering in Europe in recent years. News broke of another at Caerthillian Cove, Cornwall, on 6th – having been present since 29 November. Shore Lark numbered 23 across six sites – including 14 at Holkham Gap, Norfolk.
Britain's midwinter Pallid Harrier count increased to an impressive three this week, with the discovery of a juvenile at Castlemartin Corse, Pembrokeshire, on 5th. Another was in Ireland at Ballynamona, Co Cork, having first been seen there in November 2023. A Rough-legged Buzzard was at Loch Killin, Highland, while a white-morph Gyr Falcon reported at Ardgaten, Argyll, on 1st would undoubtedly prove popular if pinned down.
A Christmas market at Durbuy, Belgium's smallest town, became the surprise host location of the country's second Blue Rock Thrush. The first came as long ago as 1877, making this midwinter treat popular with everyone – and giving the Christmas fair a bumper rise in visitor numbers! The two Ross's Geese persisted on the West Flanders polders too.
A Siberian Buff-bellied Pipit returned to the very same fields it occupied at 's-Gravendeel, Netherlands, last winter and an Oriental Turtle Dove lingered at Sneek. Georgia bagged its second Hume's Leaf Warbler, a Blyth's Pipit persisted in Poland and the regular drake White-winged Scoter was still at Keflavík, Iceland.
Continuing in Spain was the Barcelona White-throated Sparrow, with a Double-crested Cormorant again on Faial, Azores. The Canaries Eastern Yellow Wagtail at Costa Teguise, Lanzarote, was confirmed as an Alaskan, while a popular Red-billed Tropicbird returned to a Fuerteventura shopping centre and a Semipalmated Plover was back on Tenerife.