Review of the Week: 23-29 October 2023


Without wishing to whip up mass hysteria, it felt like an impressive week for Waxwing, with no fewer than 446 reports in total. This includes several triple-figure flocks in Scotland, which for late October should be considered a good start to the season ahead. Other standout reports of the species include the sixth for Lundy, Devon, and one on St Agnes, Scilly, on 29th. Several birds made it to Ireland, too, while irruptions of Continental Coal Tits, Northern Bullfinches and Northern Treecreepers continued apace.

Waxwing reports during the week (BirdGuides.com).

Waxwing, Spurn YWT, East Yorkshire (Jonathan Dodds).

Otherwise, all eyes were on Flamborough Head this week. Monday started with a report of a possible Bimaculated Lark over, though there was no further sign of this true beast from the east. There are only three previous British records, with the last in 1976. Thankfully, the scraggy (apparent) Red-headed Bunting proved more co-operative and continued to be reported around it's favoured hedge throughout the week. 

Red-headed Bunting, Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire (Ian Howard).

News of a Two-barred Warbler at Flamborough broke on Friday evening, having been watched and reported by observers as a Yellow-browed Warbler until photographs were reviewed. The bird remained present for much of Saturday, and was located again on Sunday, making for an incredible pair of megas less than a mile apart!

Two-barred Warbler, Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire (Lee Johnson).

Meanwhile, a reasonably showy Grey-cheeked Thrush was on St Mary's, Scilly, over the weekend, and was successfully twitched, making for yet another North American landbird to have been logged in Britain this autumn.

Some 10 days after the original photographs emerged, Kent's juvenile Solitary Sandpiper was eventually pinned down at Stodmarsh NNR, on 26th. The bird was then present over the weekend, though gave observers the runaround. Given the last, and only, county record hails from 1908, it was a most welcome Kent tick for many. Incredibly, it's also been 12 years since the last mainland British record, so was appreciated by plenty from further afield.

Solitary Sandpiper, Stodmarsh NNR, Kent (Steven Clinch).

Solitary Sandpiper, Stodmarsh NNR, Kent (Brendan Ryan).

You also need to cast your mind back to 2011 for the last twitchable British Upland Sandpiper, when one was present on St Mary's, Scilly, from 8-27 October. So it was a relief for many when the Cornish bird had finally been located at Sennen on 23rd. Thankfully the bird remained faithful to a set few fields until 28th but became trickier again the next day. A possible was also heard over Yeovil, Somerset, early on 28th.

Upland Sandpiper, Sennen, Cornwall (Peter Tongue).

Belated news of a female Black-throated Blue Warbler came from Irish waters, with on aboard a ship some 225 km off Mizen Head on 15 October. Amazingly, Inishbofin's first-winter male Black-and-white Warbler stuck around into the recording week, and was last noted on 25th. Shetland's American Yellow Warbler was reported up to 23rd.

A particularly furtive Oriental Turtle Dove was on North Ronaldsay from 28th, and looks to be ssp meena

A candidate Madeiran Storm Petrel was reported from Scillonian III while in Cornish waters on the morning of 23rd. American Cliff Swallows were reported from Lizard village, Cornwall, on 24th and Bangor, Co Down, on 28th though neither stuck around.

An adult female Great-tailed Grackle proved to be one of the talking points of the week. Photographs of an 'unusual bird' taken in Nolton Haven, Pembrokeshire, were initially posted on a Facebook page asking for identification, but unlike how many of these situations pan out, the bird was real and remained present for the rest of the week. There is no question as to how the bird travelled across the Atlantic; due to the bird's physical capability but also location, the bird was undoubtedly ship-assisted. However, the confiding nature and 'personality' shown by grackles meant the bird was popular. This is the fourth record of Great-tailed Grackle for the Western Palearctic, following three previous birds in Spain (two in 2014 and one in 2022), all of which were also treated as ship-assisted.

Great-tailed Grackle, Nolton Haven, Pembrokeshire (Simon King).

Great-tailed Grackle, Nolton Haven, Pembrokeshire (John Hewitt).

What is arguably the most outrageous record of the week came in the form of an arrival of Lesser Scaup into Cornwall on 29th. A pair was located at Dozmary Pool, with the female apparently being a different bird to the probable reported earlier in the week. Later that afternoon news of a flock of 10 came from Drift Reservoir – doubling the previous record British count. The four drakes and six females were reportedly feeding actively, and had likely not long touched down after the transatlantic flight.

Not to be outdone, two Greater Scaup (a juvenile drake and a juvenile female) were also present with the flock – and appear to be good candidates for the American subspecies nearctica. Hopefully the birds stick around and continue to moult, but apparent head shape and coarse vermiculation moulting through on the drake's mantle are good clues – you'd also think the whole flock arrived together. The slighter build suggested in pictures is another pointer. Open wing shots may also aid in further identification. 

Ten Lesser Scaup and two Greater Scaup (fourth from right and far right), Drift Reservoir, Cornwall (Reuben Veal).

Eight Lesser Scaup and two Greater Scaup (right-hand pair), Drift Reservoir, Cornwall (Reuben Veal).

Three Richardson's Cackling Geese were around; two at Coul Point, Islay, and one at Ballygilgan NR, Co Sligo. Four Snow Geese were reported, and both Red-breasted Geese remained. A Black Brant was mingling with Dark-bellied Brent Geese at Ferrybridge, Dorset. Two Todd's Canada Geese were reported in Scotland.

Both Blue-winged Teal were reported once more from Tophill Low NR, East Yorkshire, on 23rd, but just one remained through until the week's end. Just two American Wigeon featured on the BirdGuides newspage this week, with lingering birds at Beacon Ponds, East Yorkshire, and Islay, Argyll. Ring-necked Duck were reported from 16 sites. Ireland's female Ferruginous Duck was reported again from Inch Island Lake, Co Donegal, on 28th. Five Green-winged Teal were reported this week, including two juveniles on St Mary's, Scilly. 

A possible drake White-winged Scoter in Brandon Bay, Co Kerry, on 25th was confirmed with photographs the following day, this appearing soon after Ireland's first only last winter off Achill Island, Co Mayo. An immature drake King Eider off Butt of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, on 27th was new in. Surf Scoter put in a decent showing, with six new birds including a female-type logged past Selsey Bill, West Sussex, on 28th and again on 29th, plus a juvenile on Helston Loe Pool, Cornwall, on 29th.

Fourteen sites recorded Cory's Shearwaters and it's remarkable to think since the species was only recorded on a Scilly pelagic in October for the first time in 2022. This total also includes two past Selsey Bill, West Sussex, over the weekend. Away from the South-West and English Channel, a single Great Shearwater was logged past Aberdeenshire on 27th.

Notable Pomarine Skua passage was noted past south Cornwall with peak counts of 30 past Swanpool on 26th and 43 past Maenporth within 35 minutes on 27th. Some 17 Little Auk reports were received through the week, and Grey Phalaropes remained scattered around the coast.

The Double-crested Cormorant continued at Doon Lough, Co Leitrim, needless to say. Seven Scottish sites reported White-billed Divers, including adults lingering in Lothian and Moray, and another relatively smart bird off St Abbs Head NNR, Borders, on 28th. The only English record of the week concerned another adult again off Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire, on 23rd.

South Uist hosted a juvenile Squacco Heron from 23rd, just the sixth Scottish record and second for the Outer Hebrides following one back in 1913. Somerset's juvenile continued to oblige at Ham Wall RSPB. Two lingering juvenile Purple Herons continued to be reported, with birds at Marazion Marsh RSPB, Cornwall, and Whelford, Gloucestershire.

Purple Heron, Whelford, Gloucestershire (Chris Teague).

In Ireland, the juvenile Northern Harrier was reported from three sites in Co Wexford from 24-27th and photos taken match the Co Mayo bird present earlier in the autumn. Pallid Harriers were scattered across five sites. Notable reports included a probable adult male over Kessingland and an injured juvenile female that was taken into care on Inishbofin, Co Galway, but later died. Seven Rough-legged Buzzards was arguably enough to proclaim a decent arrival by recent standards. The 'crowd favourite' was the showy juvenile at Stone Creek, East Yorkshire, which remained twitchable throughout the week.

Rough-legged Buzzard, Stone Creek, East Yorkshire (Glyn Sellors).

Wader of the week goes to a first-winter Stilt Sandpiper at Crook of Baldoon RSPB, Dumfries & Galloway, on 27-28th. The showy juvenile Spotted Sandpiper held out at Lough Gill, Co Kerry, and the juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper was reported again from Ballycotton, Co Cork, on 28th following a week's absence. Three lingering Baird's Sandpipers remained in Ireland and all four Lesser Yellowlegs reported also concerned lingering birds. Five Long-billed Dowitchers involved three in England and two in Ireland. In Cornwall, a candidate Pacific Golden Plover was eventually confirmed at Colliford Lake on 29th. Of the 13 American Golden Plovers reported, a respectable seven were new birds; meanwhile, only three Pectoral Sandpipers were on offer. A Eurasian Dotterel was at Sennen, Cornwall.

An adult Bonaparte's Gull at Portree, Highland, from 27th was the first record for Skye. A possible first-winter American Herring Gull was reported at Belfast Lough, Co Antrim, on 21st. A possible second-winter Franklin's Gull was reported off Falmouth, Cornwall, from 27-28th but evaded confirmation. Cornwall's third-winter Azores Gull settled around Sennen, providing a bonus for any Upland Sandpiper twitchers. Another was in Dingle Bay, Co Kerry, on 25th. Seven Glaucous Gulls and six Iceland Gulls were reported, and five Sabine's Gulls were along England's south coast.

Reports of confirmed Pallid Swifts hailed from 16 sites, including two Scottish birds. This also includes two showing simultaneously at two sites in Lincolnshire on the afternoon of 29th. Meanwhile unresolved Common or Pallid Swifts were also reported from a further 16 sites.

Pallid Swift, Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire (Colin Bradshaw).

It was a slightly quieter week for Shore Larks, with only four reported along the east coast, none of which lingered. Of the four Red-throated Pipits reported this week, only one (on St Agnes, Scilly) hung around beyond the initial report. A probable was also heard over Seaforth LWT, Lancashire, on 29th. Olive-backed Pipits were on St Mary's and Fair Isle and five Richard's Pipits were reported. Fair Isle's Black-bellied Dipper remained all week. Four Wrynecks and eight Hoopoes were reported by the week's end.

Identification of a male 'Eastern Stonechat' at Brotton, Cleveland, was resolved by analysis of a video posted online, with extensive white in the tail confirming the bird as a Caspian Stonechat. Further photographs taken showed the true extent of white present, critically in the outermost tail feathers, with more than 50% white narrowing the bird down to subspecies hemprichii

Caspian Stonechat, Brotton, Cleveland (Martyn Sidwell).

Flamborough's apparent Siberian Stonechat was still reported until 25th, and a new bird was at Corton, Suffolk, on 24-25th. A female Pied Wheatear was at Burrafirth, Unst, on 26th – the second on the island this autumn. A new Red-flanked Bluetail was in Lerwick, Shetland, on 24th with last week's bird lingering at Kilnsea, East Yorkshire, throughout the week. Two Bluethroats were in Shetland.

Siberian Stonechat, Corton, Suffolk (Chris Darby).

Pied Wheatear, Burrafirth, Unst, Shetland (David Cooper).

The first Hume's Leaf Warbler was a brief and elusive visitor to Filey, North Yorkshire, on 26th. No fewer than 15 Pallas's Warblers were scattered along the east coast, and all proved popular. The week also saw three Radde's Warbler reported, including the Isle of Man's first trapped and ringed at Calf of Man on 25th. Nine Dusky Warblers were on offer.

Pallas's Warbler, Bempton Cliffs RSPB, East Yorkshire (Ian Howard).

An elusive Paddyfield Warbler was a good find on St Mary's, Scilly, though went on to give brief views. A candidate first-winter Central Asian Lesser Whitethroat was at Boulmer, Northumberland, from 27-29th, with another possible reported at Landguard NR, Suffolk, on 28th. At least 12 apparent Siberian Lesser Whitethroats were also recorded. The six Barred Warblers were all in routine locales, bar one briefly at Polemere, Shropshire, on 29th.

Red-breasted Flycatchers were recorded on St Mary's and St Agnes, Isles of Scilly, with another on Achill Island, Co Mayo, on 24th being the first island record.

Red-breasted Flycatcher, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly (Joel Knapp).

Four new Great Grey Shrikes were reported during the week, but only one proved twitchable. The first-winter Lesser Grey Shrike lingered on Islay, whilst a late first-winter Red-backed Shrike was on Barra. There was just one Rosy Starling to report on this week, with a juvenile frequenting a garden in Trefin, Pembrokeshire from 18-23 October. A male Eurasian Penduline Tit was found at Portbury Wharf, Somerset, on 29th.

Five Coues's Arctic Redpolls was a respectable tally for late October, and hopefully indicates a few more are yet to arrive. This comes as a healthy arrival of Mealy Redpoll was enjoyed along the east coast, with a notable count of 171 on Fair Isle. The week's only Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll was a lingering bird on Unst, Shetland. 

Coues's Arctic Redpoll, North Ronaldsay, Orkney (Tom Gale).

Three Common Rosefinches were discovered this week, including two in Ireland, with singles on Tory Island, Co Donegal and Cape Clear, Co Cork. Brief European Serins were reported in Kent and Essex. A Rustic Bunting was reported on St Agnes, Scilly, on 24th only. The island also had a glut of Little Buntings, with an impressive four at Troytown Farm. Others were reported on St Mary's and Bryher. Away from the usual spots, one in Bedfordshire on 29th was an impressive find and just the second county record. 

The impressive run of American insects on the Isles of Scilly again gets an honourable mention, as amazingly up to five American Painted Lady butterflies are now on St Mary's. Two Green Darner dragonflies also remained on the island. 


Western Palearctic 

Iceland enjoyed its first vagrant wheatear species, with a first-winter male Pied Wheatear at Garður on 28th. A Black-faced Bunting at Snöan on 26th became Sweden's fifth record, otherwise an Eastern Black Redstart was at Ottenby on 28th. The adult meena Oriental Turtle Dove remained. In Norway, a first-winter Brown Shrike was photographed in a garden at Kirkenær. 

Pied Wheatear, Garður, Suðurnes (Alex Máni Guðríðarson).

A first for Denmark came in the form of a juvenile female Northern Harrier at Vejlerne on 26th, while a large pipit species at Skagen was confirmed as the country's fifth Blyth's Pipit after 10 days.

The Netherlands recorded its third Yellow-browed Bunting with a showy individual at Oost-Vlieland. An Eastern Black Redstart was also performing nicely at Egmond aan den Hoef.

France also recorded a Yellow-browed Bunting, with one at Groix on 27th. A Chimney Swift was also on the Finistère coast on 26th, but news was released belatedly. Several Lesser Scaup were also reported, with the largest flock consisting of four birds. Sadly, the second Yellow-billed Cuckoo of the autumn was found dead at Île de Sein.

A male Eyebrowed Thrush was photographed on Sicily on 27th, and an Oriental Turtle Dove at Larnaca sewage works was the fifth record for Cyprus. 

In Spain, a Common Nighthawk became a regular feature of the Vigo nightlife from 23rd, and the Belted Kingfisher remained at Lekeito. A first-winter Franklin's Gull was in Cantabria from 28th. A first-winter Rose-breasted Grosbeak near Esmoriz on 27th was the first record for mainland Portugal. 

The male Sudan Golden Sparrow remained on Gran Canaria. It was announced that both Sudan Golden Sparrows recorded on the Canary Islands this summer/autumn were admitted to Category A on the Spanish list this week.

Nearctic action on the Azores was headlined by the fifth Western Palearctic record of Eastern Wood Pewee on Corvo. A Grey Catbird on the island on 26th is only the second record for the Azores; other highlights included Wood Thrush, Least Bittern, Cape May Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler and Northern Waterthrush. The adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron also remained on Corvo. 


Written by: Dan Owen

Dan Owen is a Cheshire-based birder with a keen interest in ringing and wildfowl. He works for the BirdGuides news team. Follow him on Twitter: @_danielowen