29/08/2002
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Review of the Week: 22nd-28th August 2002

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A northerly airflow over the Bank Holiday weekend ensured that, for most eastern parts of Britain, autumn was well underway, with seawatching and scarce migrants offering ample distraction, particularly on north-facing stretches of coast. In the west, seawatching off Ireland proved rewarding, with rare seabirds and good shearwater movement.

Once again Hippolais warblers grabbed the headlines. A Sykes's Warbler was trapped and ringed on North Ronaldsay (Orkney) on 26th but was not present subsequently. Breeding in the arid areas of Central Asia and wintering from Arabia to India, this form of Booted Warbler (some consider it to be a separate species) is an extremely rare vagrant to northwest Europe, with two British records (though a couple of others are also considered to relate to Sykes's Warbler) and one from Sweden. However, greater awareness of the subtle identification features will no doubt lead to more being identified in the future.

The second Olivaceous Warbler of the autumn was found, this time in mist nets at a private site in Essex on the 24th. On Shetland the Eastern Olivaceous Warbler remained at Hoswick for part of the week. Two new Booted Warblers were located, with birds in Norfolk at Sheringham and at Sumburgh (Shetland), plus another was reported from the Isles of Scilly. Supporting rarities included Greenish Warblers on Fair Isle and in Norfolk, whilst a Thrush Nightingale on Fair Isle was a rare autumn record. During the week just one Aquatic Warbler was reported, making this an extremely lean autumn for this superb species. Scarce migrants were well represented during the week. In Cornwall a Yellow-browed Warbler was reported, which would constitute an exceptionally early date for this scarce 'phyllosc'. A Little Bunting at Flamborough Head (East Yorks) on 26th was also exceptionally early, and Red-breasted Flycatchers in North Yorkshire and Norfolk producing a mid-September feel to proceedings. Half a dozen Ortolan Buntings, all but one of which were typically on the south coast, were noted, along with nine Icterine Warblers, 30 Barred Warblers, 22 Red-backed Shrikes and at least 38 Wrynecks, with a number of birds inland and three in London alone.

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Seawatchers were not to be disappointed with a blast of northerlies along the east coast. Pride of place went to a presumed Fea's Petrel past both Flamborough and Filey on the 26th, but unfortunately it left seawatchers further north with eye-strain and saddened hearts as it chose not to continue its journey northwards. Sightings in the North Sea are becoming almost annual nowadays, but the 'I've seen a Fea's Petrel' club remains decidedly small! Not to be outdone, seawatchers at the Bridges of Ross notched up two birds, with singles on 23rd and 28th. Surely those wishing to see this fantastic seabird in British and Irish waters should venture west in late August to this seabird Mecca, which also produced a Little Shearwater on the 28th, several Wilson's Petrels and good numbers of Sooty Shearwaters. In the North Sea, small numbers of Long-tailed Skuas were noted off the Norfolk coast. The small numbers of skuas along the east coast so far suggest that we might in for something special this autumn. In Scandinavia the breeding season coincided with the best vole and lemming year since 1982, but this was followed by a crash in numbers, which will hopefully lead to a repeat of 1991 for seawatchers. Elsewhere in the North Sea, back-up was few and far between, with just small numbers of Sooty Shearwaters and a couple of Great Shearwaters and Cory's Shearwaters and several Sabine's Gulls.

Good numbers of Crossbills continue to be seen, with at least 165 through Spurn (East Yorkshire) on one day and smaller parties through many parts of Britain. At least a couple more Two-barred Crossbills were noted on the Northern Isles, taking this autumn's tally into the mid-teens. With another Parrot Crossbill reported, this time on the Outer Hebrides, it is clearly time to read the literature, listen to tapes of the calls and arm yourself with the knowledge to search diligently through any Crossbill flocks that you come across. With Two-barred Crossbills found in the Netherlands over the past few days, it is perhaps only a matter of time before those of us in mainland Britain have the opportunity to share in this bounty.

Rare waders were just that, with just four new rarities reported. A Lesser Yellowlegs was in Pembrokeshire, an American Golden Plover in Wexford and a White-rumped Sandpiper on St. Agnes. The two Marsh Sandpipers remained in Kent for much of the week, and a Terek Sandpiper in Essex proved popular and is still present at the time of writing. A good scattering of Spotted Crakes amounted to at least nine birds, but how many lurk undetected on a local pool? A Blue-winged Teal at Cotswold Water Park coincided with several other good birds there and in Oxfordshire the Franklin's Gull continues to come in to roost each night.

In Durham two young Bee-eaters fledged over the bank Holiday weekend, but there have been no sightings there since early on the 28th. This proved a fitting finale to a summer of excitement and anticipation!

Written by: Russell Slack