Review of the Week: 2-8 May 2023


It proved to be another excellent May week as far as rare visitors were concerned, with the breaking mega alert sounding no fewer than four times. Inland areas were treated to some excellent passage wader action – a major movement of Ruff in particular – while the prolonged stay of the Grey-headed Lapwing tempted many to head to Northumberland.

This week it was Ireland's turn to pick up the honours of the week's best find. A first-summer male Western/Eastern Black-eared Wheatear at South Slob, Co Wexford, on 6th led to some head scratching, with birders on site initially identifying it as a Western Black-eared Wheatear. Although the identification is yet to be resolved, it might be an Eastern after all – black speckling in lower parts of the throat and above the eye suggest that the black throat/mask might not have completely developed. If you 'fill in' these areas, the extent of this feature seems a better fit for Eastern. Young male Western also tends to look more advanced, while the Irish bird shows obvious signs of immaturity. Unfortunately, it followed the established pattern of vagrant spring wheatears and remained a one-day bird, leaving only a few short hours for Irish birders to get down to the country's south-eastern corner for a chance at connecting.

Black-eared wheatear sp, South Slob, Wexford (Tom Shevlin).

On 5th, a Pacific or White-rumped Swift at Ham Wall RSPB, Somerset, sounded the mega alert. Unfortunately only present in the skies overhead for 15 brief minutes, it was considered to be a Pacific Swift by observers, who noted its large, slim appearance versus neighbouring Common Swifts, a deeply forked tail, pale underparts, and lack of an obvious chin patch. It would also be extremely early for a White-rumped Swift, which doesn't typically return to Iberia until mid-/late May.

Presumed Pacific or White-rumped Swift, Ham Wall RSPB, Somerset & Bristol (Oliver Mockridge).

It appears that the Alpine Swift invasion isn't quite over after all, with birds logged over both Shillingstone, Dorset, and Brandon Point, Co Kerry, on 5th. Red-rumped Swallows flew over sites in Scilly, Norfolk, Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire. Another species taking to British skies week was European Bee-eater. A bumper 10 were in Kent, with a least five in Cornwall, two in East Yorkshire and one in Norfolk.

Elsewhere in Kent, an excellent week of overshoots from the Continent saw the county's third Short-toed Treecreeper of 2023 – at Dungeness on 5th – followed by a Red-throated Pipit over St Margaret's at Cliffe on 7th. Otherwise, a male Red-spotted Bluethroat at Dawlish Warren, Devon, on 5th was followed by one at Seacroft, Lincolnshire, on 8th. An unseasonal young male Siberian Stonechat stopped off at Scatness, Mainland Shetland, with a Red-breasted Flycatcher at Kilminning, Fife.

Red-backed Shrike, Boulmer, Northumberland (Terry Fountian).

Woodchat Shrike, Gugh, Isles of Scilly (Rik Addison).

The year's first Red-backed Shrike concerned a male at Boulmer, Northumberland, where it became a popular stop-off point for Grey-headed Lapwing twitchers. At least three Woodchat Shrikes persisted in Scilly, with an equal number of Wrynecks in Scotland. A healthy 20 Golden Orioles were logged, although that would pale in comparison against the number of Hoopoe spread across Britain: 15 in England, nine in Scotland and two in Wales, with one more in Ireland. Six European Serins were along the south coast between Cornwall and Kent.

Wryneck, Fair Isle, Shetland (Patrick Safford).

Hoopoe, Landguard NR, Suffolk (Nick Brown).

Sussex bagged its first Iberian Chiffchaff – a territorial male at Abbot's Wood from 5th. On 7th, meanwhile, a couple of Great Reed Warblers arrived on the East Yorkshire coast, with birds at Sammy's Point and Flamborough Head. Another continued to sing in Somerset. Elsewhere, Yellow-browed Warblers were in Essex, Cleveland and Shetland, while a Marsh Warbler was on Foula, Shetland. Subalpine warblers were at Saltfleet, Lincolnshire, and Mire Loch, Borders.

Iberian Chiffchaff, Abbot's Wood, East Sussex (David Campbell).

Great Reed Warbler, Ham Wall RSPB, Somerset & Bristol (Dawn Micklewright).

Fair Isle bagged an Olive-backed Pipit and female Citrine Wagtail. Another rare Motacilla was the Black-headed Wagtail at Cley Marshes, Norfolk, on 8th. Grey-headed Wagtails were at seven sites, four of those in Shetland.

Olive-backed Pipit, Fair Isle, Shetland (Patrick Safford).

Citrine Wagtail, Fair Isle, Shetland (Patrick Safford).

A brief Greater Short-toed Lark was at Sheringham, Norfolk, on 7th, while single Shore Larks hung on in Norfolk and East Yorkshire. A Little Bunting sang at Calf of Man, Isle of Man, and, in Orkney, Westray's Pine Bunting was last noted on 2nd.

Pine Bunting, Papa Westray, Orkney (Alan Leitch).

Belated footage taken on the south Devon coast on 4 March emerged over the weekend and is thought by some to show a near-adult Egyptian Vulture. This week, Black Kites overflew East Sussex, Northamptonshire, North Yorkshire, Powys and Caithness, with early European Honey Buzzards at six locations. Two female Red-footed Falcons scythed over Stodmarsh, Kent, while Norfolk and Cornwall both bagged slate-grey males.

A wide spread of Montagu's Harrier reports saw confirmed birds in Cornwall, Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincolnshire, and – most notably – an adult male in Northern Ireland at Portmore Lough RSPB, Co Antrim. Pallid Harrier, meanwhile, continues to go from strength to strength, with roaming birds in Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincolnshire, East Yorkshire, Lothian, Highland and Orkney. It can't belong until this once-mega rarity is downgraded from the list of species considered by the BBRC altogether.

Pallid Harrier, Walberswick NNR, Suffolk (Jake Gearty).

Wader passage across England on 4th culminated with a major movement of Ruff. Lincolnshire birders produced some notable tallies, with 158 at Frampton Marsh RSPB, 141 at Anderby Marsh and 85 at Alkborough Flats. Inland, some 90 passed through at Nene Washes, Cambridgeshire, and 72 were at Pulborough Brooks RSPB, West Sussex, while 17 at College Lake was a notable Buckinghamshire record. A mammoth 394 flew through at Burnham Norton, Norfolk, and, in North Yorkshire, 63 at Potter Brompton Carr was followed by 59 at Greta Bridge.

Ruff, Alkborough Flats, Lincolnshire (Graham Catley).

The Grey-headed Lapwing remained in Northumberland throughout, relocating a short distance north to Long Nanny from 2nd. An early contender for bird of the year and perhaps even the decade, excited chatter about the occurrence even hit the headlines of major news networks. Just the fourth Western Palearctic (WP) record, the species has been expanding its wintering range both west and south in recent years and other vagrants in recent years have reached Russia, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia and Sri Lanka, alongside an additional record for the 'Greater WP' at Salalah, Oman, in January 2012.

Grey-headed Lapwing, Long Nanny, Northumberland (Alan Shaw).

A lack of pale-fringed juvenile coverts, worn primaries and iris colour mean it can be safely identified as an adult. Although recent range expansion might hint at more future WP vagrants, might all European records to date relate to the same wandering individual? For anyone still wishing to contribute towards a collection towards Embleton Quarry, a community nature reserve on the edge of Low Newton-by-the-Sea, donations can be made via this link.

Grey-headed Lapwing, Low Newton-by-the-Sea, Northumberland (Mark Rayment).

It was another excellent week for Black-winged Stilt reports. As many as 24 sites across 17 counties hosted sightings, with notable visitors including birds at Meikle Loch, Aberdeenshire, and Sibster, Caithness – the latter a county first. Something of a surprise after the events of late April, none were recorded in Ireland during the review period.

Black-winged Stilt, Southwold, Suffolk (Andrew Moon).

A bright male Kentish Plover at Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk, was well twitched, although birds in Essex and West Sussex proved less obliging. Long-billed Dowitchers were in Cheshire, Norfolk and Hampshire, Temminck's Stints were logged at 13 sites, and a Eurasian Stone-curlew lingered on Fair Isle. A Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Rubha Ardvule, South Uist, was a smart find, with Pectoral Sandpipers split two apiece between England and Northern Ireland. 

Kentish Plover, Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk (Colin Bradshaw).

Long-billed Dowitcher, Pennington Marshes, Hampshire (Steve Laycock).

Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers began to appear at coastal sites, while passage through inland areas included a particularly strong push of Wood Sandpiper. This species is always scarcer in spring, but the week's south-easterly airflow produced some good counts across the southern half of Britain. Several 'trips' of Eurasian Dotterel were noted, with seven at the reliable spot of Choseley Drying Barns, Norfolk, being the most popular.

Wood Sandpiper, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire (Darren Chapman).

The sixth Squacco Heron for Co Wexford at Kilmore Quay on 5th proved a one-day visitor. Another remained at Lanreath, Cornwall, until 5th at least. Black-crowned Night Heron arrivals slowed to a trickle, though Norfolk, Essex, Shropshire, Cumbria and Gwynedd all hosted new arrivals. The total of 14 included two still on Scottish islands. Eight Purple Herons were on offer: six in England, plus singles in Wales and Ireland. A surreal Glossy Ibis sighting involved two over the ferry between Ullapool, Highland, and Stornoway, Lewis, on 6th! White Storks in six counties included one at Cambo, Fife.

Squacco Heron, Lanreath, Cornwall (Alex Mckechnie).

'Pom days' are one of the most anticipated events on the birding calendar in south-east England, with 4th producing this year. Flocks of Pomarine Skua passed a large number of coastal localities between Charmouth, Dorset, in the west and Dungeness, Kent, in the east, with a high day counts of 42 at the latter site and 27 past Splash Point, East Sussex. Elsewhere, action saw a Cory's Shearwater photographed from a boat off Hartlepool, Cleveland, recently and Long-tailed Skuas past Coll and North Uist.

Pomarine Skua, Birling Gap, East Sussex (Laurence Pitcher).

A displaying adult Laughing Gull in a Lesser Black-backed Gull colony on Gugh, Scilly, from 5th must have made for quite a sight. Late last summer, an adult spent several weeks blogging around the islands and there is surely a strong likelihood that it might be one and the same. 

Laughing Gull, Gugh, Isles of Scilly (Will Scott).

In Dorset, the young Forster's Tern wandered more widely this week, putting in appearances off Bournemouth and Hengistbury Head alongside ad-hoc visits to Brownsea Island. A small push of Black Terns mid-week included the bonus addition of up to five White-winged Terns: three at Rainham Marshes RSPB, London, on 4th were followed by two at Hanningfield Reservoir, Essex. A brief Roseate Tern at Baston and Langtoft Pits, Lincolnshire, on 7th was the first inland record of the spring and represents just the second for the Peterborough area, following a bird in August 1984.

Forster's Tern, Brownsea Island NT, Dorset (Mark Leitch).

Bonaparte's Gulls comprised a delightful adult at Hillwell, Mainland Shetland, and the continuing first-summer in Cornwall. Otherwise, the regular summering adult Ring-billed Gull was again in Perth and Kinross, with a first-summer at Gearhies, Co Cork. 

Bonaparte's Gull, Hayle Estuary, Cornwall (Martin Webb).

The adult drake Stejneger's Scoter remained reliable off Lower Largo, Fife, throughout, as did two White-winged Scoter and five Surf Scoter. 'Elvis', Aberdeenshire's semi-resident King Eider, was back at Ythan Estuary, with another still off Yell, Shetland. White-billed Divers were again off Moray, Westray and Lewis.

Stejneger's Scoter (upper bird), Lower Largo, Fife (Graham Jepson).

Northumberland became the latest county to add Lesser Scaup to its 2023 year list, with a drake at Grindon Lough on 6th. Another continued to roam the Staffordshire gravel pits and three Ferruginous Ducks remained nationwide, as did seven Ring-necked Duck and singles of both American Wigeon and Green-winged Teal. Cumbria held onto the drake Hooded Merganser for another week, although the Blue-winged Teal at Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire, was last noted on 7th.

Hooded Merganser, Whinfell Tarn, Cumbria (Steve Wilson).

Blue-winged Teal, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire (Sean Moore).

A record of two Bar-headed Geese heading out to sea from Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, on 4th was intriguing and perhaps hints at vagrants at self-sustaining Category C populations on the Continent. This is surely a future addition to the British list from this perspective. Other recent Bar-headed records concern one at Udale Bay, Highland, and five reported flying in off the sea at Widewater Lagoon, West Sussex, on 27 April. Meanwhile, the unusually late-staying Taiga Bean Goose was again near Longhaven, Aberdeenshire.

Keep up to date with by-the-minute sightings updates of rarities, spring migrants and birds in your local area at www.birdguides.com/sightings or via the BirdGuides app. New users are entitled to a one-month free trial.


Western Palearctic

A Hooded Vulture on the southern edge of the Strait of Gibraltar at Jbel Mousa, Morocco, from 2nd made for a tempting lure for regional twitchers. It is just the fourth record for the WP as well as the second for Morocco – the first concerning two at Sbayera in June 1955. A Red-billed Tropicbird flew past the Spanish mainland at Tarifa on 7th.

One species making the WP news this week that will have had British twitchers salivating over is Slender-billed Gull. Two were at Monheim am Rhein, Germany, on 5th, with one relocating to Gremsdorf the following day. Slovenia's third Semicollared Flycatcher at Razdrto will have elicited a similar response.

The Netherlands's fifth Cretzschmar's Bunting was an amazing garden find at Alblasserdam on 5th. The same day produced a male Common Rock Thrush on Texel, with a Greater Sand Plover near Moddergat and the Falcated Duck moving to Nieuwe Driemanspolder. On 6th, a Lesser Spotted Eagle overflew Thesinge, Groningen.

Black-crowned Night Heron, Grands Vaux, Jersey (Romano Da Costa).

A Eurasian Crag Martin was at Zeebrugge, Belgium, with a Black Scoter off Ohtakari, Finland, and a Baikal Teal at Verdalsøra, Norway. A record invasion of Black-crowned Night Herons has reached Iceland, with at least seven found so far since April.

In France, a colour-ringed adult Elegant Tern returned to Polder de Sébastopol and an American Herring Gull remained at Gueltas, while an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler was at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. A Western Olivaceous Warbler was on Corsica too, while Jersey boasted an Ashy-headed Wagtail at La Sente on 5th.

Cyprus's excellent run of rarities this spring continued with a male Seebohm's Wheatear at Cape Greco on 29th, the first national record. A Hume's Leaf Warbler on Antikythera was just the second for Greece.

Written by: Sam Viles