Review of the Week: 21-28 August 2023


Late August has plenty of form for exciting seabird records – Red-billed Tropicbird, Brown Booby and band-rumped storm petrel being just three of the megas recorded at this time in past years – and recent weeks have been simply staggering for extremely rare species.

Few, however, would have dared dream up the absurd events of Bank Holiday Monday. When 32 birders boarded the MV Sapphire, hoping to connect with the long-staying Red-footed Booby at Bishop Rock Lighthouse, they couldn't have predicted they would stumble upon a Brown Booby sat at the base of the lighthouse as well. Astoundingly, sat just 50 m below Britain's second Red-footed Booby was Britain's tenth Brown Booby! Read an account of the find by Mark Thomas here.

Bishop Rock continued to hold the pair of boobies into the evening, allowing a grateful boatload of pelagic-goers and island residents to see the unprecedented phenomenon for themselves. Yellow legs and bill, coupled with clean white underparts and dark brown upperparts identify the Brown Booby as an adult, while apparent blue bill and eye surrounds should make it a male. Interestingly, an adult spent several hours around cruise ship Anthem of the Seas while 100 km north-west of the Galician coastline on 25th, bound for Southampton. It's possible that these two birds could be one and the same, but then again Brown Booby now seems to be an annual event in small numbers in western Europe and a different bird is perhaps just as likely.

To help any would-be twitchers organise trips out to see the boobies, a WhatsApp group has been set up to arrange boat charters out to the lighthouse. Anyone who is considering a trip in the coming days is invited to drop me an email to request the group invite link.

Brown Booby, Scilly pelagic, Isles of Scilly (Joe Pender).

Red-footed Booby, Western Rocks, Isles of Scilly (Sam Viles).

If the Brown Booby wasn't enough, the Scilly pelagic season continued in style this week with a South Polar Skua – the second of the summer and only the fifth British record – on 25th, while two more Scopoli's Shearwaters were photographed the following day. It was another remarkable week for the latter species: two more were photographed from the Scillonian III on 27th, another by booby boat-trippers to Bishop Rock on 27th (although the Red-footed Booby was disappointingly absent), and one from a pelagic in Devon waters off Lyme Bay on 26th – the last becoming a county first. A Swinhoe's Storm Petrel was reported from the Scillonian III crossing too on 21st.

South Polar Skua, Scilly pelagic, Isles of Scilly (Simon Slade).

Scopoli's Shearwater, Lyme Bay, Devon (Bill Coulson).

At least four Fea's-type petrels were noted during the week, including reports from Pendeen, Cornwall, on three dates. Most notable of all was one off South Galson, Lewis, Outer Hebrides, on 26th, with others logged from Bridges of Ross, Co Clare, and Brandon Point, Co Kerry. An excellent few days at Pendeen also produced a brief adult Sooty Tern on 22nd, although this was missed by the majority of birders on site in a galling repeat of the tropicbird incident of 2019 – with this rarity passing underneath the majority of attendant birders' eyelines.

Juvenile Long-tailed Skuas began to appear in numbers, including one inland at Staines Reservoirs, London, on 28th. Wilson's Storm Petrel totals comprised four from Scilly pelagics, one in Mount's Bay, Cornwall, and singles off Porthgwarra, Cornwall, and Bridges of Ross, Co Clare. Several Cory's Shearwaters blogged up and down the North Sea coast; Sabine's Gulls seen at 25 sites included several in the North Sea. Seven Grey Phalaropes flew past Spinkadoon, Co Mayo, in two hours on 27th, with others off Scilly, Co Clare and Mull, Argyll.

Long-tailed Skua, Scilly pelagic, Isles of Scilly (Richard Stonier).

Wilson's Storm Petrel, Scilly pelagic, Isles of Scilly (Matthew Barfield).

In Kent, the ongoing Black Tern movement brought at least two White-winged Terns along for the ride: an adult along the River Thames off Higham Bight with 50 Black Terns on 24th and a juvenile at Pegwell Bay on 26th. Other new White-winged were logged in Forth, Dumfries and Galloway, Co Dublin and Co Meath, with lingering birds in Hampshire and the Outer Hebrides. Elsewhere, Azores Gulls at The Gearagh, Co Cork, and Sennen, Cornwall, were welcome new finds, the Forster's Tern lingered at Poole Harbour, Dorset, and seven Bonaparte's Gulls – all adults – consisted of three in Ireland, two in Scotland and singles in England and Northern Ireland.

Highlighting in the Outer Hebrides was an adult Oriental Turtle Dove at Boisdale, South Uist, from 27th. This bird, with its white undertail coverts, white tail tips and a warm pinkish breast allow it to be identified as a bird of the meena subspecies, a resident of south-west Siberia and Central Asia. This is the most commonly recorded taxon in Britain, responsible for the nine British records since the last orientalis, a widely twitched bird at Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, in the winter of 2010-11. This latest individual was a first for the Hebrides and only the eighth for Scotland

Oriental Turtle Dove, Boisdale, S Uist, Outer Hebrides (Patrick Safford).

A Booted Warbler was a nice find on Out Skerries, Shetland, on 25th, with another still on North Ronaldsay, Orkney. Two Arctic Warblers were in the Northern Isles, along with 18 Icterine Warblers, nine Barred Warblers and a Blyth's Reed Warbler. Six Icterine Warblers were noted away from the Northern Isles, including two notable records from Devon and one at St Margaret's at Cliffe, Kent.

Booted Warbler, Out Skerries, Shetland (Roger Riddington).

Arctic Warbler, Brough, Whalsay, Shetland (John Irvine).

A Greenish Warbler – one of eight in Shetland – looked incredibly rare as it explored the weathered rock faces of Kirn o' Skroo, Fair Isle, on 26th. Further south, one at Cresswell Pond, Northumberland, even engaged in bouts of song, with others at Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire, and on St Mary's, Scilly. A small spread of Melodious Warblers was enjoyed in the south-west, including two in Devon, one in Dorset and one in Cornwall. Another lingered on Bardsey Island, Gwynedd. Marsh Warblers were in Dorset and Aberdeenshire.

Greenish Warbler, Fair Isle, Shetland (Alex Penn).

Barred Warbler, Northdale, Unst, Shetland (David Cooper).

At least one Citrine Wagtail at Hoylake, Cheshire, on 23rd became only the third county record. Another overflew Nanjizal Valley, Cornwall, on 24th, while the Greater Short-toed Lark remained at Dale, Pembrokeshire. The week's only Ortolan Bunting concerned one sound recorded over Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, in the early hours of 24th. Other scarce migrant totals comprised at least 26 Wrynecks, 23 Red-backed Shrikes, eight Hoopoes, five European Bee-eaters, four Common Rosefinches and three Rosy Starlings, plus a European Serin in Dorset. Woodchat Shrikes were on both St Mary's, Scilly, and Fair Isle, Shetland, with a Golden Oriole at Halligarth, Unst. A brief Alpine Swift dashed over Wilmington, East Sussex, on 27th.

Red-backed Shrike, Norwick, Unst, Shetland (David Cooper).

Rosy Starling, West Burra, Shetland (Alan Curry).

Ireland has enjoyed a great run of Greater Sand Plover records in recent years. A first-summer at Tacumshin and The Cull, Co Wexford, from 23rd is Ireland's fourth, but also the third in three years – with the first national record also occurring as recently as 2016. Starring in the Outer Hebrides was a juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Ardivachar Point, South Uist, on 27th – the first young bird of the autumn. Lingering rare and scarce waders included two Long-billed Dowitchers and two American Golden Plovers, plus both Pacific Golden Plover and White-rumped Sandpiper in Northumberland. 

Greater Sand Plover, Tacumshin, Wexford (Tom Shevlin).

White-rumped Sandpiper, Boulmer, Northumberland (Steven Fryer).

A purple patch for shorebirds on the north Lothian coast was headlined by a crisp juvenile Broad-billed Sandpiper at Tyninghame Bay on 25th, followed by a Eurasian Stone-curlew at Aberlady Bay on 27th. Additional stone-curlews were at Cliffe Pools RSPB, Kent, and Hengistbury Head, Dorset. Red-necked Phalaropes visited Suffolk and Somerset, Black-winged Stilts remained in Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire, and Pectoral Sandpipers were at eight sites, although all five Eurasian Dotterels referred to fly-overs. Kentish Plovers paid fleeting visits to Spurn, East Yorkshire, and Gibraltar Point, Lincolnshire.

Broad-billed Sandpiper, Tyninghame Bay, Lothian (Keith Gillon).

Eurasian Stone-curlew, Aberlady Bay, Lothian (Keith Gillon).

In Hampshire, a Black Stork wandered the length and breadth of the New Forest, while one at Snettisham RSPB, Norfolk, on 22nd presumably referred to wanderings of the Lincolnshire bird, which was again seen irregularly at Frampton Marsh RSPB. A highly notable Scottish Purple Heron – at Loch of Strathbeg RSPB, Aberdeenshire, on 24th – proved disappointingly brief and elusive. Others were in Cumbria, Somerset, Scilly and Glamorgan. An adult Black-crowned Night Heron was near Exeter, Devon. A Spotted Crake at Alkborough Flats, Lincolnshire, over the weekend.

Black-crowned Night Heron, Riverside Valley Park, Exeter, Devon (Ian Livsey).

The entry fee for Tophill Low, East Yorkshire, paid out two for the price of one when a second Blue-winged Teal was found on 24th, after the first was identified the previous day. Co Londonderry birders enjoyed a moulting drake American Wigeon at Lough Beg and Ring-necked Duck hung on in Suffolk and Glamorgan. The trio of Stejneger's Scoter, Surf Scoter and King Eider all remained at Musselburgh, Lothian.

Blue-winged Teal, Tophill Low NR, East Yorkshire (Lee Johnson).


Western Palearctic

Recent days have seen an exceptional influx of American Cliff Swallows into Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, with more than 60 birds seen. This coincided with two juveniles over the famous Cabo da Praia quarry on Terceira, Azores, on 22nd. Spain's fourth Short-billed Dowitcher – a juvenile on the Mediterranean coast at Mas Pinell, Catalonia – was another early transatlantic arrival. Two Brown Boobies were off Galicia: an adult onboard Anthem of the Seas c 100 km offshore on 25th and an immature past Estaca de Bares on 26th. Action elsewhere in Spain comprised a Lesser Flamingo at Cabo de Gata, Elegant Tern at Chipiona and an adult Laughing Gull still at Isla de Ons. An immature Red-footed Booby was photographed midway between Madeira and the Azores on 23rd.

Brown Booby, at sea, Galicia (Dawn Wilkinson).

A five-day pelagic off the Finistère, France, coast to the Penmarch Canyon continental shelf from 14-18 August produced no fewer than two Barolo Shearwaters, at least one Scopoli's Shearwater, a Fea's-type petrel and 118 Wilson's Storm Petrels. A continuing adult Brown Booby was again on Sept-Îles, France, with at least one reported past Sylt, Germany. Also lingering were an Elegant Tern near Montpellier, France, and a White-headed Duck at Brabantse Biesbosch, the Netherlands, with an Eastern Imperial Eagle in France near Lac du Der. The first twitchable Little Bustard for Switzerland was near Geneva on 26-27th. Meanwhile, Slovenia recorded its fourth Long-tailed Skua this week.

A Booted Warbler at Ma'agan Michael was Israel's fifth and the first to be twitchable, while at least six Swinhoe's Storm Petrels were again noted from a pelagic trip off Eilat.

Little Bustard, Geneva, Geneva (Daniel Gebauer).


Written by: Sam Viles