Review of the Week: 23rd-29th October 2008


The week at a glance

The final full week of October 2008 passes by, presenting a trio of outstanding rarities as it goes. Often the pace of rarities can ease off as the month winds down, but the quality can often take an upturn and there have been any number of Grade A megas in November. For this year that's still to come of course, but for now there was the small matter of a potential British first to deal with.

The wide open spaces of the tidal grazing marshes at Banc y Lord near Kidwelly (Carmarthenshire) fell sharply into focus on 24th when news of a juvenile Little Blue Heron hit the headlines. The bird had been seen on a couple of occasions (over the course of the previous two weeks) prior to definitive views but was too far away for a conclusive identification. This two-week period alone would exclude the Irish Little Blue Heron from the mix (that bird was last seen in County Galway on 22nd). The expectant crowd that gathered from dawn on Saturday had plenty to look at as the wait began; but the wait went on and on, and nothing came. Well, nothing until the morning of 24th, when the original observer reported the bird in the very same spot. The game of cat and mouse seems to have begun all over again, but may not be helped by discussions regarding the identity of the bird in question.

Green Heron
Green Heron, Hythe, Kent (Photo: Brian Harper)

Green Heron
Green Heron, Hythe, Kent (Photo: Lee Fuller)

Grey-cheeked Thrush
Grey-cheeked Thrush, St. Agnes, Isles of Scilly (Photo: Steve Arlow)

Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl, St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly (Photo: Martin Goodey)

No such problems for birders heading to Kent to enjoy the county's first (and the country's sixth) Green Heron, found along the Royal Military Canal at West Hythe on 25th. The rather showy first-winter bird had possibly been present since 22nd but, whatever the arrival date, it was yet another superb Nearctic arrival in this remarkable autumn. The bird remained to 30th at least. Down on Scilly, it was still pretty lively this week and the drama began on 26th when a bird initially called as a Red-backed Shrike was re-identified as a Brown Shrike, which would have been the second record for the islands, following the bird on Bryher in September 2001. However, questions were asked throughout the day on 27th and, with the aid of a few cracking photos, the bird returned to being a Red-backed by dark and was still present on 28th. Still on St. Mary's, a Wilson's Snipe was identified on 24th at—where else?—Lower Moors (having first been seen there on 23rd). Quite how common Wilson's Snipe will prove to be is anyone's guess, but it seems highly likely that the small pools at Lowers Moors will be the place to search for this shiny new species in the years to come. St. Mary's hosted a Grey-cheeked Thrush at the end of Porth Mellon beach on 26th, where it remained throughout the rest of the day and on to 29th. It could have been the bird first seen on St. Agnes, but in an autumn such as this, a second bird is equally as likely. The island completed a neat hat-trick when the Scilly's second Red-flanked Bluetail of the month popped up on 28th. The wonder of Scilly 2008 was well and truly cemented on 29th with the amazing arrival of a Snowy Owl, firstly on Gugh and then heading across to St. Mary's (and lately on St. Martin's). Though not a "mega" in the listing sense of the word, the bird certainly merits a mention in the headlines: this was the first Scilly Snowy Owl since one spent much of March and April 1972 around the islands. A female or first-winter Hooded Merganser at Tayport (Fife) on 26th is definitely worthy of more than just a passing reference, given the mass of transatlantic quality that has been dumped on these shores this autumn. Could this bird make it on to the official record books? As ever, time will tell, and if it is seen again, and it has no obvious signs of captivity, then it could easily make the grade. In Argyll, off Uisead Point, a Black-browed Albatross flew north during the morning of 27th. If it heads north, loops around the top of the UK, it could well be thrust into the North Sea, and with those strong northerly winds predicted, who knows where it could end up? In County Clare, the first-winter Rose-breasted Grosbeak remained at Kilbaha to 23rd. The autumn could have become even better still if the reported Siberian Thrush (at Nantmel in Powys) and Northern Flicker (in Hampshire, at New Milton) had come to pass, but it wasn't to be.

Grey Phalarope
Grey Phalarope, Norwick, Unst, Shetland (Photo: Robbieb)

Grey Phalarope
Grey Phalarope, Norwick, Unst, Shetland (Photo: Mike Pennington)

The adult White-billed Diver remained around South Ronaldsay, Orkney this week, seen again on 27th, while an adult flew south off Long Nab, Burniston (North Yorkshire) on 29th and another was seen from Kirkabister (Shetland) on the afternoon of the same date. A Pacific Diver was reported on Stronsay (Orkney) on 29th but had not been confirmed at the time of writing. Up to 55 Balearic Shearwaters were seen during the week, with double-figure totals of 11 off Seaton, 12 past Berry Head (both Devon) and 16 from Portland Bill (Dorset), all on 23rd, the highest counts noted. Sooty Shearwaters barely reached double figures, with birds noted from Scilly to East Yorkshire. The amazing autumn for Grey Phalaropes continued this week, with over 400 birds reported. More than 110 birds were recorded around Orkney on 27th, with 41 near the Churchill Barrier No. 2 (with 53 there on 29th), 33 off Carness, and 26 at the Hunda causeway the highest counts reported. Elsewhere, 52 birds were seen at Gedintailor, Skye (Highland) on 27th–28th, 26 were seen by birders on board the Scillonian III crossing from Scilly to Penzance on the evening of 24th, with further counts of 24 from Land's End (Cornwall) on 27th and 21 from Porthgwarra (Cornwall) on 23rd. The Outer Hebrides fared well again, with as many as 48 birds recorded over the past seven days, including 13 from Griminish Point, North Uist on 24th and 10 off the Butt of Lewis, Lewis on 26th the largest counts. Prior to 27th, around 30 birds had been seen around Orkney, including 12 off the golf course at Stromness on 26th, while at least 40 were noted around Shetland. Some 20 Leach's Storm-petrels were seen this week, only in ones and twos, save for seven seen off Peninerine, South Uist (Outer Hebrides) on 26th, while three Long-tailed Skuas were also noted: off Donna Nook (Lincolnshire) on 25th, and on 26th at Sandwich Bay (Kent) and Formby Point (Lancashire). Before the northerly blast that trundled down the east coast late in the week, just 12 Pomarine Skuas were reported, while at least seven Sabine's Gulls sadly included a dead bird picked up at Loch Slapin, Skye (Highland) on 25th (a Grey Phalarope was found in a garden near the loch on the same day, but it too died later). Hale and hearty Sabine's Gulls were seen at Portland Bill (Dorset) on 25th, and from Malin Head (Co. Donegal) and Kilcummin Head (Co. Mayo) on 26th (with another off the former site the following day) and two flew past Land's End on 27th. Three single Little Auks were seen this week, off Strumble Head (Pembrokeshire) on 24th, Turnberry Point (Ayrshire) on 26th and Aranmore Island (Co. Donegal) on 27th, while eight flew past Girdle Ness (Aberdeenshire) on 29th.

Spoonbill, Yelland, Devon (Photo: Colin Scott)

In East Sussex, four Cattle Egrets remained at Rye Harbour (East Sussex) to 23rd. In Dorset, one was again seen at Studland Heath (Dorset) on 23rd and 27th–28th, with another Dorset bird at Lytchett Bay on 25th. On 23rd and 28th a Cattle Egret was seen at Inchydoney Bay (Co. Cork) and the bird at Sandy Haven (Pembrokeshire) was still present on 24th, when two were noted flying over the M5 motorway at Yatton (Somerset). On 25th a Cattle Egret was seen at near Llanelli (Carmarthenshire) and the 26th saw single birds noted at Drift Reservoir (Cornwall) and White's Marsh (Co. Cork). Four Great White Egrets were seen this week, with the familiar bird at Blashford Lakes (Hampshire) seen on 25th–27th, and at Minsmere (Suffolk) the French colour-ringed bird remained to 26th at least. On 24th, single Great White Egrets were at Saddington (Leicestershire) and what may have been the same bird flew over Atherstone (Warwickshire) with another over the M60, near Salford (Greater Manchester). This latter bird must have accounted for the bird that was at Astley Green on 26th–29th. Numbers of Spoonbills dropped a little this week, with around 30 birds seen. Six were still on Isley Marsh (Devon) on 24th–29th and the week's high count was of some 15 birds in Arne Bay (Dorset) on 28th. The adult Glossy Ibis was again seen at Swillington Ings (West Yorkshire) on 26th and 28th, while 34 Common Cranes were seen at the Stubb Mill roost, Hickling (Norfolk), also on 26th. Three Cranes flew over Minsmere (Suffolk) on 27th and a White Stork was seen at Desford (Leicestershire) on 28th.

Canada Goose enthusiasts would have been kept busy week with four different vagrant forms recorded. At Caerlaverock (Dumfries & Galloway) the Cackling Canada Goose (form minima) was still present to 28th and the Taverner's Canada Goose (form taverneri) was seen again there on 26th–28th. A second Taverner's was at Loch Gorm, Islay (Argyll) on 26th, along with a Richardson's Canada Goose (form hutchinsii) and a Todd's Canada Goose (form interior), while also on Islay, a Richardson's Canada Goose was at Loch Gruinart on the evening of 26th. By close of play on 29th, at least four Richardson's Canada Geese were found around the island, including two at Loch Gruinart. Rather less complicated is Ross's Goose and one remained at various sites in Lancashire between 26th and 28th at least, while a Snow Goose was in Aberdeenshire, near Slains Pool and then Meikle Loch on 26th. A second white Snow Goose appeared at Windwick, South Ronaldsay (Orkney) on 29th. On 25th, single Black Brants were seen at Butterstreet Cove (Dorset) and Pagham Harbour (West Sussex), the Dorset bird still present around The Fleet to 28th at least.

King Eider
King Eider, Appledore, Devon (Photo: Gary Thoburn)

Green-winged Teal
Green-winged Teal, Farlington Marshes HWT, Hampshire (Photo: Gavin Farnell)

The two adult drake Lesser Scaup remained at Hogganfield Loch (Clyde) to 28th and a drake was found at Holme Pierrepoint (Nottinghamshire) on 27th–29th (the first county record for a decade). Five Ring-necked Ducks were reported this week;, the drake remained at Foxcote Reservoir (Buckinghamshire) to 26th at least and an eclipse drake was still on Inish Mor (Co. Galway) to 28th. Two Ring-necked Ducks were at Carrowmore Lake (Co. Mayo) on 27th and the same date saw the drake still present on Loch of Clickimin (Shetland). Drake Ferruginous Ducks continued to be seen at Calvert Lake (Buckinghamshire) from 23rd–28th, Weston-super-Mare (Somerset) to 24th and Amwell Gravel Pits (Hertfordshire) to 28th at least. A new drake was found at Thornton Reservoir (Leicestershire) on 25th. The drake Black Duck remained at Blanket Nook, Lough Swilly (Co. Donegal) to 23rd at least and another drake was seen again at Ventry Harbour (Co. Kerry) on 27th. In Northumberland, a drake American Wigeon remained at Fenham Flats until 25th, while a drake at Broad Lough (Co. Wicklow) on 28th seemed to have brought his hybrid chums with him—four drake American × Eurasian Wigeon were present there too! There was a slight upturn in numbers of drake Green-winged Teal this week, with at least six birds recorded. The Farlington Marshes (Hampshire) individual was still present to 26th and at Belfast Lough the bird seen first on 18th was still present on 28th. New birds were seen at Caerlaverock on 24th–25th and Capringstone Flash (Ayrshire) and Inner Marsh Farm (Cheshire), both on 26th, with another at Carrowmore Lake (Co. Mayo) on 27th. Also on 27th, a Green-winged Teal returned to Marshside (Lancashire). The King Eider remained at Appledore (Devon) to 29th, while an eclipse drake was found in Spey Bay (Moray), at Tugnet, on 23rd and a drake was in Mousa Sound (Shetland) on 29th. The drake Surf Scoter in Lunan Bay (Angus) was still present from 24th–26th and a new drake was seen at Waterville (Co. Kerry) on 26th. A female Surf Scoter was seen off Dawlish Warren (Devon) on 27th and a juvenile was in Gerrans Bay (Cornwall) on 28th. The drake Hooded Merganser remained at Radipole Lake (Dorset) to 28th at least.

The only raptors of note this week were single Honey Buzzards over Gibraltar Point (Lincolnshire) on 27th and near Brighton (East Sussex) on 29th, while Rough-legged Buzzards were seen at Eoropie, Lewis (Outer Hebrides) on 23rd and over D'Engayne Woods (Cambridgeshire) on 25th.

American Golden Plover
American Golden Plover, Over Fen, Cambridgeshire (Photo: Richard Thomas)

Waders also had something of a quiet week this week. An American Golden Plover was on St. Mary's (Scilly) on the afternoon of 26th, with a White-rumped Sandpiper also on St. Mary's on 24th and 27th–29th, another on Tresco on 23rd–25th and one on St. Agnes on the afternoons of 27th and 28th (but which was seen heading to St. Mary's on the latter date). Further White-rumped Sandpipers were at Baile Gharbhaidh, South Uist (Outer Hebrides) on 23rd–28th, Leam Lough (Co. Mayo) on 24th, Pool of Virkie (Shetland) on 25th and Newport Wetlands (Gwent) on 26th, where the only Pectoral Sandpiper of the week was also seen, remaining to 27th. In County Louth, the Long-billed Dowitcher was seen again at Soldier's Point, Dundalk on 28th. New arrivals included a Baird's Sandpiper at Black Rock Strand (Co. Kerry) on 27th and American Golden Plovers at Ballymacoda (Co. Cork) on 27th, near East Harling (Norfolk) on 28th–29th (with a Dotterel there too on the latter date), and at Needingworth (Cambridgeshire) on 29th.

Caspian Gull
Caspian Gull, Rotherhithe, London, Greater (Photo: Richard Bonser)

Ring-billed Gull
Ring-billed Gull, Gosport, Hampshire (Photo: Lee Fuller)

The dark, rather menacing-looking, second-winter probable Azorean Yellow-legged Gull was still being seen around Sennen (Cornwall) to 24th at least. Some 15 Caspian Gulls were recorded this week, including four birds at Long Drove, Cottenham (Cambridgeshire) on 25th, with three there on 26th. An adult Kumlien's Gull was found at Lerwick (Shetland) on 28th. Eleven Iceland Gulls included two at Scalloway (Shetland) on 26th, two birds in Ayrshire and on Orkney between 26th and 27th, singles at Liscannor (Co. Clare) on 23rd–25th, Coate Water Park (Wiltshire) and Draycote Water (Warwickshire) on 24th, Sligo Harbour on 26th and Whitehead, Belfast on 27th. The juvenile Glaucous Gull continued to be seen at Ditchford Gravel Pits (Northamptonshire) this week (between 24th and 26th) while others were at Wood Wick (Orkney), Peninerine, South Uist (Outer Hebrides) and Liscannor (Co. Clare) all on 26th, at Dosthill (Warwickshire) on 29th, and on Fair Isle, where while two were seen on 29th. It was Ireland 5 England 1 in terms of this week's Ring-billed Gulls: two birds were seen in Derry on 23rd, with an adult at Lough Foyle and a 2nd-winter at Limavady, and further adults at Cork City Lough (Co. Cork) on 25th, Black Rock Strand (Co. Kerry) on 26th and Nimmo's Pier (Co. Galway) on 27th. In Hampshire, the adult remained at Gosport to 25th at least.

Bluethroat, Land's End, Cornwall (Photo: Mike Barker)

Red-backed Shrike
Red-backed Shrike, Halling, Kent (Photo: Mike Buckland)

In Norfolk, a Red-rumped Swallow flew east along Warham Greens on 23rd, while in Cornwall a delightfully showy Bluethroat performed to all comers at Land's End on 25th–29th. A couple of Hoopoes were reported on 24th; one (heard only) was on St. Mary's (Scilly) with the other near Basingstoke (Hampshire). The Olive-backed Pipit remained on St. Agnes (Scilly) until 23rd while one of seven Richard's Pipits this week was also seen on St. Agnes on 25th–26th. The other birds were at Brew Pool, Sennen (Cornwall) on 24th, at Cardross (Clyde) on 26th, on Cape Clear Island (Co. Cork) on 27th and, on 28th, at Barton on Sea (Hampshire), Wilstone Reservoir (Hertfordshire) and Kilnsea (East Yorkshire). The young Red-backed Shrike was still at Wouldham (Kent) on 23rd–29th while Great Grey Shrikes included two birds in Norfolk, two birds in the New Forest (Hampshire) and two birds in Dorset, while singles were seen in Bedfordshire, Berkshire and Somerset. As cool conditions drifted quickly down from the north on 28th, Waxwings began to arrive, with around a dozen birds noted, including three at Filey (North Yorkshire). On 29th, at least 25 birds were seen at Holme (Norfolk)—hopefully the first of many this winter.

Red-breasted Flycatcher
Red-breasted Flycatcher, Dungeness, Kent (Photo: Mike Galtry)

A late warbler surprise came this week in the shape of a Paddyfield Warbler on Lundy (Devon) on 29th, representing the first record for the county. A Blyth's Reed Warbler remained on St. Agnes (Scilly) this week, still present from 23rd–29th. There has been some debate as to whether this bird, complete with a newly acquired ring as mentioned last week (but ringed as a Reed Warbler), is the same bird that was seen from 12th–18th and it is pretty tricky to tell from photographs taken. The first Pallas's Warbler of the autumn was found at Ovingdean (East Sussex) on 24th while just under 40 Yellow-browed Warblers included up to 26 in the far southwest: 12 in Cornwall and at least 14 on Scilly. Three Barred Warblers this week included two birds on Scilly, both on 24th, with one on St. Mary's and the other on St. Agnes. The third bird was at Berry Head (Devon) on 27th. Scilly also laid claim to two of the week's three Red-breasted Flycatchers, and again it was St. Mary's and St. Agnes that held the birds, while the third was seen at Dungeness Bird Observatory on 26th–27th.

Little Bunting
Little Bunting, St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly (Photo: John Spraggett)

And continuing the trend, Scilly hosted one of the two Common Rosefinches seen this week, one on St. Agnes from 24th–26th, with the other appearing on Lundy (Devon) on 24th. At Rainham Marshes (London) a single Serin was present on 24th, with last week's three birds topped by four on 26th, with three still present there to 29th. Another Serin flew over Barton on Sea (Hampshire) on 25th. The adult Rose-coloured Starling was still at Bowmore, Islay (Argyll) this week (after arriving in the middle of August). This week's review ends with news of a male Pine Bunting in a private garden in Essex on 24th—this would be the second county record if accepted, following on from the popular bird at Dagenham Chase in February and March 1992.

Red-eyed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo, Land's End, Cornwall (Photo: Matthew Sallis)

Photo of the Week

Hobby, Holkham Pines, Norfolk (Photo: Jim Almond)

Although we've received a number of great aerial action shots of Hobbies, we've had relatively few perched photos of these handsome falcons. Even when they do touch down, they are seldom considerate enough to choose a photogenic setting within easy shooting distance! Visiting Holkham Pines in Norfolk, however, Jim Almond was fortunate to have an extended close encounter with a juvenile bird, enabling him to capture a range of superb images. Our favourite, for its sheer studio quality, is a shot of this bird highlighted against a black background. With side lighting picking out the textures and a strong composition of crossing diagonals, Jim has created the kind of image that's very rarely achieved in wild bird photography.

Other notable photos

Green Heron
Green Heron, Hythe, Kent (Photo: Brian Harper)

Red-eyed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo, Land's End, Cornwall (Photo: Matthew Sallis)

Turnstone, Salthouse, Norfolk (Photo: Nigel Pye)

Grey Phalarope
Grey Phalarope, Norwick, Unst, Shetland (Photo: Robbieb)

Wood Duck
Wood Duck, United States (Photo: Matt Bango)

Common Kingfisher
Common Kingfisher, undisclosed site, Cambridgeshire (Photo: Jeff Harrison)

Black Redstart
Black Redstart, Spain (Photo: Steve Fletcher)

Common Kestrel
Common Kestrel, Donna Nook, Lincolnshire (Photo: Matt Latham)

Egyptian Goose
Egyptian Goose, Bushy Park, London, Greater (Photo: Richard Steel)

Grey Plover
Grey Plover, Titchwell RSPB, Norfolk (Photo: Matt Latham)

Mediterranean Gull
Mediterranean Gull, Scarborough, North Yorkshire (Photo: Steve Race)

Snow Bunting
Snow Bunting, Fort le Crocq, Guernsey (Photo: Paul Hillion)

Dartford Warbler
Dartford Warbler, Kynance Cove, Cornwall (Photo: anon)

Spoonbill, Yelland, Devon (Photo: Colin Scott)

Olive-backed Pipit
Olive-backed Pipit, St. Agnes, Isles of Scilly (Photo: Richard Stonier)

Written by: Mark Golley