04/01/2002
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Review of the Week: 21st December 2001-3rd January 2002

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As 2001 drew to a close it gave us all time to reflect on the year. Foot and Mouth and the restrictions associated with it came as a shock for many of us used to using the countryside for our birding as and when we please. The consequences of 2001 will take time to unfold, but hopefully reduced disturbance to the countryside during the breeding season will have been to the benefit of many species. However, the flip side is that it was not possible to monitor, and protect, our rarer breeding birds. Aside from these concerns though, by the late summer many sites and reserves had re-opened and it was business as usual across many parts of the country. Many people will have their favourite moments of 2001, be it an extreme rarity or a spectacular fall. There was no doubting that many exceptionally rare birds occurred, though as is the nature of these things some regular rarities did not make an appearance or arrived in low numbers despite apparently favourable weather conditions. A full review of the birds of 2001 can be found at:

www.birdguides.com/birdnews/article.asp?a=32

The last two weeks of the year were the most productive for some time and a cold snap livened things up for many inland birders. Pick of the bunch were an adult Ivory Gull in Highland from 22nd-26th December and a 1st-winter on the Montrose Basin (Angus) from 27th December onwards. A Hume’s Warbler was seen briefly at Porthgwarra on 23rd December and another was still in Greater London at the end of the month, having first been seen in mid-November. A Spotted Sandpiper was at Hanningfield Reservoir (Essex) on 30th December and was the only record of the species this year, following just one record in 2000; lean times for this regular rarity. The Snowy Egret was relocated in Ayshire from 22nd onwards, though many would have hoped that it would have travelled just that little bit further south. Continuing the ‘white’ theme, a Great White Egret was seen in Cheshire on 2nd January and a presumed escape Cattle Egret was seen in Devon at the end of the month. In Norfolk at least a couple of Arctic Redpolls, amongst a flock of Common Redpolls, continued to bemuse their observers at Titchwell.

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Several of the long-stayers still remain, such as the Redhead in Glamorgan, and Lesser Scaup in Dorset, but the Baikal Teal seems to have left the frozen landscape around Minsmere. Both the Pectoral Sandpiper in Dorset and the Lesser Yellowlegs in Pembrokeshire continued to be seen, as did the confiding Bonaparte’s Gull in Cornwall. The elusive Dusky Warbler remains at Sennen (Cornwall) and a Little Bunting continues to be seen intermittently on Shetland. The Sociable Plover was last seen in East Sussex just prior to Christmas. A Rough-legged Buzzard in Cornwall could possibly be the bird that was seen earlier in the autumn on the Scillies, and considered to be of Nearctic origin.

The freezing conditions gave inland birders the opportunity to search reedbeds for Bitterns and good numbers have been seen at several sites with up to 6 at Stodmarsh (Kent) and 3 at Fen Drayton (Cambs), plus singles at a number of locations. Also displaced by the weather have been a good number of Smew and Red-crested Pochards, both dispersed from usual areas in the Midlands and the south. As would be expected Tundra Bean Geese have been seen at a number of sites, predominantly in the southeast. Across much of the country it is becoming apparent that Common Redpolls are present in good numbers this year, and with more observers looking out for them more will probably be detected, plus there is always the prize of an Arctic Redpoll for the diligent observer. A number of Siberian Chiffchaffs have been seen over the festive period too, so it is a good time to check your local sewage works and damp areas for this scarce form of Chiffchaff which favours this type of habitat during the winter months.

May I also take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy New Year and let's hope that 2002 is just as exciting.

Written by: Russell Slack, BirdGuides