Review of the Week: 23rd–29th August


The week at a glance

Although genuine rarities were relatively few and far between, it was another week in which changeable weather conditions ensured that the autumn gradually continued to shudder into action. Migration was well underway on the land, in the air and out at sea, with good numbers of the more expected species filtering southwards on their way to pastures new.

However, pride of place this week goes to a bird which probably appeared where it did thanks to man: a male Spanish Sparrow was at Landguard Nature Reserve (Suffolk) briefly in mid-morning on 24th, although it was not seen again by the week's end. Had this been August 2011, there would have been mass hysteria among the British birding fraternity but, Hampshire's male having worked its way onto many a list earlier this year, the record has received relatively little attention. As with the Calshot bird, the close proximity of a major international port suggests that a boat has played at least some part in the bird's appearance in this corner of Suffolk.

Spanish Sparrow
Spanish Sparrow, Landguard NR, Suffolk (Photo: John Richardson)

In a much more scenic setting was the Barolo Shearwater past the Bridges of Ross (Clare) in mid-afternoon on 27th. Seen by just three Irish observers, it managed to evade the prying eyes of several holidaying Brits despite being seen for around a minute as it cruised by. 'The Bridges' has enjoyed a productive relationship with the species since the first was seen off there in September 1991; eight reports since 2001 make it arguably the most 'reliable' site for the species anywhere in Britain and Ireland, if such a word can be used. Another Barolo was reported off Porthgwarra (Cornwall) on 29th.

There were also reports of Fea's-type Petrels past Porthgwarra (Cornwall) on 24th and Galley Head (Cork) in mid-morning on 29th; the latter is the third county record of 2012. Largely thanks to a changeable wind direction, most coastlines enjoyed some respectable seawatching conditions at various points throughout the week. Large shearwaters were typically most prominent in the southwest: Pendeen (Cornwall) registered 12 Cory's and 11 Greats on 25th, and 40 Cory's passed Cape Clear (Cork) the following day. Sightings of Great Shearwaters off Hartlepool Headland (Cleveland) and Sheringham (Norfolk) on 27th bucked the western trend. The first push of southbound Long-tailed Skuas also occurred over the Bank Holiday weekend. Most seawatching localities in the North Sea and English Channel registered birds, predominately on 27th when tallies included 11 off Dungeness (Kent), ten off Flamborough Head (E Yorks) and nine off Berry Head (Devon), with the latter site also claiming 53 Balearic Shearwaters that day. Sabine's Gull and Leach's Storm-petrel numbers also gradually picked up throughout the week, with 11 of each past Bridges of Ross on 29th.

Sabine's Gull
Sabine's Gull, At sea, Highland (Photo: Nick Davies)

Long-tailed Skua
Long-tailed Skua, Hope's Nose, Devon (Photo: Tom Whiley)

Returning wildfowl included a drake Blue-winged Teal at Carbarns Pool (Clyde) on 25th–28th (when it moved to the nearby reserve at Baron's Haugh); it seems logical to assume this is the same bird that was last seen in the county on 22nd May. Another drake was at Tacumshin (Wexford) on 25th–26th — again, this could easily be a bird from earlier in the year. The eclipse drake Lesser Scaup once again returned to Chew Valley Lake (Somerset) on 28th after a brief stop-off at its other favoured site — Cardiff Bay (Glamorgan) — on 25th. The female Ferruginous Duck was still at Minsmere (Suffolk) on 23rd. Aberdeenshire's recent monopoly of Surf Scoter sightings was finally broken this week: although up to four were off Blackdog throughout, a drake was also located off Old Colwyn (Conwy) on 28th among the impressive 15,000+ rafting Common Scoters there.

Blue-winged Teal
Blue-winged Teal, Carbarns Pool, Clyde (Photo: D Abraham)

Rather surprisingly, Cambridgeshire's recent adult Purple Heron on the Ouse Washes — last seen on 24th — was replaced by a juvenile there on 25th–26th, and a Glossy Ibis also took up residence from 24th. Add to that an impressive haul of returning waders and a ridiculous 83 Garganey in the area, the Washes made for some great birding. Down in Kent, the continuing juvenile Purple Heron was still putting in early-morning appearances at Grove Ferry to 27th at least, while the county hosted three of the week's dozen Great White Egrets. In contrast, the sole Cattle Egret cut a lonely figure at Abbotsbury (Dorset) for a few days from 24th.

Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis, Ouse Washes RSPB, Cambridgeshire (Photo: Garth Peacock)

Great White Egret
Great White Egret, Dungeness RSPB, Kent (Photo: Josh Jones)

As well as the Cambridgeshire individual, Glossy Ibises were still at Tacumshin (Wexford) and Marloes (Pembrokeshire) to 25th, with the latter possibly accounting for a bird at Steart then over Meare Heath (both Somerset) on 26th–27th. One at Pagham Harbour (W Sussex) on 26th was probably the bird last seen there in July, while another at Ring Marsh (Cork) on 29th was no doubt one of the birds that have been touring south Cork in recent months. In addition to a singleton reported near Messingham (Lincs) on 29th, the flock of four White Storks flew over two Dorset sites during the morning of 23rd, later being noted over St. Andrew's (Guernsey) at 15:00 and St. Helier (Jersey) at 16:30. After enduring a miserable British summer, many birders will no doubt be wishing them well as they finally head south for warmer climes.

Unfortunately for London birders, the sweet smells emanating from Rainham landfill site failed to lure in the Black Kite seen heading south over the RSPB reserve there on 23rd; it was later also seen over Crayford Marshes. In contrast, a white-morph Gyr Falcon at the Giant's Causeway (Antrim) chose an altogether more picturesque location to pitch down from 25th, although the party was rather spoilt when a large ring was spotted on the majestic creature's leg on 27th. Add to that the greyish-looking back, and one wonders if it really was a pure Gyr after all. Also big, white and in the north of Ireland, the male Snowy Owl remained on Arranmore Island (Donegal) to at least 26th. A belated report of a dark-morph Eleonora's Falcon flying east over Boreham Street (E Sussex) on 19th may or may not relate to recent Cornish and Kent sightings.

Another productive week for Spotted Crake sightings saw last week's bird at Birstall Meadows (Leics) joined by a second individual on 25th, while at least two unringed birds were noted at Marazion Marsh (Cornwall) to 28th. Two were found at Lower Moors on St. Mary's (Scilly) on 28th, with one lingering to the following day. Others were seen at Slimbridge (Glos) on 25th–29th and on the Ouse Washes (Cambs) on 26th.

Spotted Crake
Spotted Crake, Marazion, Cornwall (Photo: Alex Mckechnie)

The splendid juvenile Baird's Sandpiper remained on show at West Angle Bay (Pembrokeshire) until 26th, and a juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper on St. Mary's airfield (Scilly) on 29th arrived right on cue (the adult was also seen again at Tacumshin on 25th). The adult White-rumped Sandpiper remained at Kilcoole (Wicklow) to 26th, with another seen alongside a dowitcher sp. at Blennerville (Kerry) on 24th. Meanwhile, back in England, the adult Long-billed Dowitcher remained at Slimbridge (Glos) throughout. A dozen Pectoral Sandpipers included three on the Hayle Estuary (Cornwall) from 28th, with two adults at The Naze (Essex) that day. Another was at Nosterfield (N Yorks) on 24th, with a brief Broad-billed Sandpiper there on 25th making it a great week for this inland site.

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Baird's Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper, West Angle Bay, Pembrokeshire (Photo: Richard Smith)

The first Wilson's Phalarope of the autumn was at Rosscarbery (Cork) on 24th–25th, while the mobile American Golden Plover remained in the Chain Corner/Haddenham area (Cambs) until 24th. Red-necked Phalaropes consisted of the remaining adult at Frampton Marsh (Lincs) and a juvenile at Caerlaverock (Dumf & Gall) on 28th, while a moulting male Kentish Plover was reported on ARC Pit at Dungeness (Kent) on 24th.

Following last week's candidate third-winter at Rainham landfill site (London), no fewer than three probable Azorean Yellow-legged Gulls were seen in County Cork on 26th. Of these, a fine 2nd/3rd-winter was perhaps the most 'obvious' of the trio, although a near-adult at Rosscarbery also looked very good. The third was reported as a 'possible' from Ballycotton. Given the string of transatlantic weather systems and an airflow stemming from Azorean waters over the past two weeks, surely we are staring a genuine influx in the face as opposed to multiple hybrids appearing?

Azorean Yellow-legged Gull
Putative Azorean Yellow-legged Gull, Rainham Marshes RSPB, Greater London (Photo: Josh Jones)

Other gulls included the adult Bonaparte's again in ploughed fields near Whitburn (Durham) on 28th, and Ring-billed Gulls remaining at Groomsport (Down), Doonbeg (Clare) and Kinneil Lagoon (Forth). The adult Forster's Tern returned to County Louth on 29th, patrolling the beach at Soldier's Point for much of the afternoon. An adult Gull-billed Tern was an unexpected (and brief!) visitor to Tophill Low (E Yorks) during the afternoon of 25th, while juvenile White-winged Black Terns included two flying in to Langstone Harbour (Hants) on 24th and a single at Poulaphouca Reservoir (Wicklow) on 29th.

Forster's Tern
Forster's Tern, Soldier's Point, Louth (Photo: Peter Phillips)

Gull-billed Tern
Gull-billed Tern, Tophill Low NR, East Yorkshire (Photo: Richard Hampshire)

It was another good week for Wrynecks, with around 25 noted. The south and southwest fared best: there were seven in Dorset, four in Cornwall and three in Devon, although popular lingering birds were seen at Wanstead Flats (London) on 25th–29th and Cuckmere Haven (E Sussex) on 26th–29th. Two Hoopoes were about as far apart as they could possibly be on 24th: at Prawle Point (Devon) and Tresta, Mainland (Shetland). Also from the south came a brief Red-rumped Swallow to Frodsham Marsh (Cheshire) on 29th.

Wryneck, Quendale, Mainland, Shetland (Photo: James Wood)

A light easterly blow delivered a mini-influx of Greenish Warblers to the northeast over the Bank Holiday weekend, with Northumberland claiming three on 26th: at Tynemouth, St. Mary's Island and the Farne Islands. The latter two both hung around until 28th, the Farnes bird even partaking in a little subsong. Other birds were at Kilnsea (E Yorks) and Blakeney Point (Norfolk) on 26th, the latter lingering for three days. Bucking the trend was a brief bird on the Great Orme (Conwy) on 28th, where there was also a Red-backed Shrike on 26th. Also associated with the conditions were a dozen Barred Warblers along the east coast between Aberdeenshire and Lincolnshire as well as Icterine Warblers on the Yorkshire coast at Flamborough Head and Filey.

Greenish Warbler
Greenish Warbler, St. Mary's Island, Northumberland (Photo: Jack Bucknall)

Barred Warbler
Barred Warbler, South Gare, Cleveland (Photo: Martyn Sidwell)

Otherwise, it was the Northern Isles that once again hosted the majority of the passerine action. Highlights on Fair Isle included an Arctic Warbler on 29th, yet another Thrush Nightingale on 24th–26th and a Citrine Wagtail on 25th, with up to three Barred Warblers, 2 Red-backed Shrikes and an Icterine Warbler providing a reasonable supporting cast. North Ronaldsay (Orkney) held on to its Ortolan Bunting as well as up to four Barred Warblers and a Red-backed Shrike.

Other odds and sods included both Melodious Warbler and Common Rosefinch on 28th, with two of the latter on Unst (Shetland) on 26th and a fourth on Fair Isle. West Wales also boasted a fine adult Rose-coloured Starling at Llansantffraid (Ceredigion) for three days from 26th, while another was reported in Perranporth (Cornwall). The first-summer Woodchat Shrike remained at Wyke Regis (Dorset) to 28th and, to end this week on a high, this gorgeous Aquatic Warbler was extracted from a mist net at Gunwalloe (Cornwall) early on 23rd:

Aquatic Warbler
Aquatic Warbler, Gunwalloe, Cornwall (Photo: Mark Grantham)

So, what for next week? In 2011, the remnants of Hurricane Irene brought us remarkable numbers of seabirds and a big 'dump' of Nearctic waders in the first week of September. Although the forecast isn't quite as exciting for the coming week this year, a westerly airflow and arrival of further transatlantic weather systems suggest that, as with last year, it is likely to be a case of 'Yank or bust'.

Photo of the Week

Hobby, Greylake RSPB, Somerset & Bristol (Photo: Simon Richarsdon)

A very easy choice this week was Simon Richardson's stunning flight shot of a Hobby clutching an unfortunate House Martin. Even without the prey, this would have been a very nice flight shot, bringing out the colours and plumage markings of this attractive falcon species, the red 'trousers' and yellow bare parts contrasting against a rich blue sky. A head-turn providing eye contact and a catch-light in the eye would have been the finishing touches. In this case, though, the finishing touch was much more unusual: a struggling House Martin clasped firmly in the Hobby's talons. Simon responded brilliantly to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, securing his first Photo of the Week in style.

Cuckoo, Druridge Pools, Northumberland (Photo: Bill Doherty)

Gannet, Saltee Islands, Wexford (Photo: Ronan McLaughlin)

Kingfisher, Alphington, Devon (Photo: Charlie Fleming)

Baird's Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper, West Angle Bay, Pembrokeshire (Photo: Richard Stonier)

Red-necked Grebe
Red-necked Grebe, Romania (Photo: Peter Beesley)

Spoonbill, Cley Marshes NWT, Norfolk (Photo: Graham Brownlow)

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Spain (Photo: Fran Trabalon)