Review of the Week: 20-26 November 2023


Recent days have seen the icy tentacles of winter make their first appearance. This left much of Britain and Ireland with a light layer of frost, as overnight temperatures reached as low as -5°C in parts of southern England – a trend seemingly set to continue for the next couple of weeks at least.

For many, a steady November week was again punctuated by the trill of energetic Waxwing flocks. This week produced 590 reports from approximately 240 locations, with triple-figure flocks gracing at least 13 sites. Recent reports from southern England mean that, up to 26th, only six English counties still await their first birds of the current influx – Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Worcestershire, Surrey and West Sussex (though the last of these scored the first birds today [27 November]). Waxwings have yet to reach Ireland and Wales en masse, however. Anywhere with a cluster of berry bushes – perhaps a local supermarket car park or housing estate – is likely to be worth a look.

Waxwing, Glasgow, Clyde (Steven Mcgrath).

Mealy Redpoll is another species that looks set for a productive winter across these isles. Leicestershire and Rutland in particular enjoyed a run of sightings this week, with at least six in a large Lesser Redpoll flock at Normanton le Heath, as well as five trapped and ringed at additional sites and four more at Rutland Water. Ringers enjoyed the lion's share of birds, with no fewer than 13 mistnetted – including four during a single session at Budby Common, Nottinghamshire, on 22nd. It is likely that plenty more remain undiscovered in redpoll flocks across the country, and no doubt as the winter progresses the number of reports will build.

Mealy Redpoll, Luffenham Airfield, Leicestershire and Rutland (Tim Collins).

The week's most eye-opening news concerned the belated announcement of an American Kestrel in Irish waters approximately 280 km SSW of the Co Cork coastline on 1 October. It had joined the MV Aurora cruiseliner on its return voyage from a month-long tour of the Eastern Seaboard at St John's, Canada, on 28 September and was watched hunting passerines during its four-day stay. This species has a controversial history of vagrancy to the European continent, with its abundance in captivity and frequent escapes clouding the picture. Currently, there are eight accepted records from the Western Palearctic: four in the Azores, two in Britain and singles in Denmark and Malta.

Another transatlantic visitor, Scilly's Cape May Warbler, continued to draw admirers to Bryher throughout the week.

Cape May Warbler, Bryher, Isles of Scilly (Mark Dowie).

A male Eastern Yellow Wagtail at Carlton Marshes, Suffolk, on 26th was thought likely to be a returning bird, with one spending some six months at the site last winter. The same day saw a probable logged at nearby Benacre Broad. Elsewhere, Hoopoes were in Derbyshire, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, six Great Grey Shrikes were seen and a Wryneck was still on Skokholm, Pembrokeshire. In the Isles of Scilly, St Mary's hosted a surprise singing male European Serin on 25th. The first-winter male Red-headed Bunting at Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire, continues to look better by the week. Shore Larks at six sites included one still on Mull, Argyll. The juvenile Pallid Swift departed Winterton-on-Sea, Norfolk, after 21st. Further north, two Black-bellied Dippers were in Mainland Shetland and a Northern Treecreeper was trapped and ringed at Finstown, Mainland Orkney.

Red-headed Bunting, Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire (Andy Hood).

Pallid Swift, Winterton-on-Sea, Norfolk (Jonathan Farooqi).

A Dusky Warbler at Dungeness RSPB, Kent, on 23rd wasn't relocated, but the Hume's Leaf Warbler lingered on Fetlar, Shetland, and a Barred Warbler at The Cunnigar, Co Waterford, was new on 26th. New Pallas's Warblers were at Sandwich Bay, Kent, and Dawlish Warren, Devon.

Hume's Leaf Warbler, Tresta, Fetlar, Shetland (Paul Macklam).

At least three Pallid Harriers were reported this week, including only the fifth for Wales over Skokholm, Pembrokeshire, on 23rd, with likely the same bird later at Marloes Mere. Two were in Norfolk – a ringtail north past Waxham and the regular bird at Warham Greens – with a possible in Dorset. The Northern Harrier was still in Co Wexford.

Pallid Harrier, Skokholm, Pembrokeshire (Richard Brown/Skokholm Warden).

Could this year see Cory's Shearwater recorded into December? This week saw one fly north past Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire, on 26th. A handful of Great Shearwaters remained off Cornwall and Scilly, with other seawatch records including two Leach's Storm Petrels and seven Grey Phalaropes. A young Sabine's Gull lingered off Dungeness, Kent, on 20th and a lone White-billed Diver flew north along the Aberdeenshire coast. Two Bonaparte's Gulls were in Ireland: a first-winter was at Aughris Head, Co Sligo, and an adult at Drains Bay, Co Antrim.

The discovery of no fewer than four Lesser Scaup at Slapton Ley, Devon, from 25th perhaps explains where some of Cornwall's recent record-breaking flock disappeared to, with another still at Northam Burrows. There was no sign of the young Bufflehead in Co Antrim after 22nd, but the East Yorkshire Blue-winged Teal and Essex Canvasback both lingered. Other tallies numbered six American Wigeon, seven Surf Scoter, eight Green-winged Teal and 18 Ring-necked Duck. Norfolk boasted two Ferruginous Duck together in the Broads, with the female in Cambridgeshire moving to Berry Fen over the weekend.

Canvasback, Abberton Reservoir, Essex (Shaun Ferguson).

Green-winged Teal, Grafham Water, Cambridgeshire (Roger Hardie).

A noteworthy Snow Goose record saw a white-morph adult hang out on St Kilda, Outer Hebrides, on 22nd, while two more were still in Co Wexford. At least two Richardson's Cackling Geese continued on Islay, Argyll, and a Todd's Canada Goose was again in Lancashire. Phoenix Park, Co Dublin, hosted a Grey-bellied Brant on 23rd and Black Brant were at three sites. A juvenile Red-breasted Goose at Montsale, Essex, on 23rd is perhaps the Norfolk bird relocating, with the Argyll adult also still present.

Todd's Canada Goose, Hundred End, Lancashire (Pete Kinsella).

Several Nearctic shorebirds lingered into the penultimate week of November: Long-billed Dowitcher, Lesser Yellowlegs and American Golden Plover all numbered three apiece, with a White-rumped Sandpiper in Gloucestershire still attracting attention. The returning Kentish Plover was again in Somerset.

Long-billed Dowitcher (left), Cuckmere Haven, East Sussex (Ian Chivers).

American Golden Plover, Lodmoor RSPB, Dorset (John Wall).


Western Palearctic

An excellent find in Spain concerned the country's first Swainson's Thrush in an urban park at A Coruña from 23rd. Elsewhere, a Brown Booby flew past Cape Matxitxako and the long-staying American Black Duck continued. A Sudan Golden Sparrow, Semipalmated Plover and Blue-winged Teal were in the Canary Islands.

A stunning adult drake Surf Scoter on Lake Geneva, Switzerland, became an unexpected national first. France scored an adult Cream-coloured Courser at Hyères, Italy's second Rüppell's Vulture was over Rose, and a Lesser Scaup was back at Kannsee, Germany, for a second winter. A couple of Eurasian Crag Martins were in the Netherlands and the two Ross's Geese remained in Belgium.

Surf Scoter, Cologny, Geneva (Florian).

A Dark-eyed Junco in a Reykjavík, Iceland, garden is thought to be a bird fed onboard a ship from America that arrived in the city the previous week. Rarity news from Sweden included a Stejneger's Scoter, Pacific Diver, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Black-throated Thrush and Eastern Black Redstart, with the Northern Harrier still in Denmark.

News from the Azores comprised a Great Blue Heron, Wood Duck and Pied-billed Grebe on São Miguel, Green Heron on Faial, and Pied-billed Grebe on Terceira. São Vicente, Cape Verde, held a Hudsonian Whimbrel and a Red-fronted Serin was on Cyprus. A European Shag at Tripoli on 21-22nd became the first Lebanese record.


Written by: Sam Viles