Near-unprecedented warm-weather conditions in Europe have led to a late October quite unlike any other – and Pallid Swifts aplenty. Lingering over the north-east Atlantic to the west of the continent, a low-pressure system has drawn winds out of Iberia, North Africa and the Canaries into North-West Europe, raising temperatures and leading birders to look south rather than east or west for the first time this autumn.
More impressive still was an arrival of Alpine Accentors. Two no less, the first twitchable birds in Britain for 20 years. The first – at Slaughden, Suffolk, from 27-29th – was particularly well enjoyed, with many making the trip to the shingle beach and adjacent Martello where the bird roosted during its three-day stay. The second – at Blakeney Point, Norfolk, on 30th – was found just a short distance from a male Desert Wheatear unearthed at Cley Marshes a few hours earlier. The species is a far rarer prospect in autumn than spring, making this duo all the more notable. Just six of 38 accepted records hail from the months of October and November, most recently a one-day bird at Strumble Head, Pembrokeshire, in October 1997.
Reports of Pallid Swift, meanwhile, hailed from an utterly ridiculous 71 sites in Britain and Ireland during the week, with reports of unconfirmed Common/Pallid Swifts received from in excess of 100 localities. Many instances have involved two or three birds, although groups of four have been logged – including at West Runton, Norfolk, Buckton, East Yorkshire, Dunbar, Lothian, and St Abbs Head, Borders. In Ireland, which has just previously six accepted records, a confirmed individual was over Wexford town, Co Wexford, with unconfirmed birds at four more sites. Another swift surprise saw a Little Swift over Brean Down, Somerset & Bristol, late on 30th – it is a testament to the scale of this unprecedented arrival that the rarer visitor has been relegated to an also-ran.
Late visitors to Shetland were treated to another far eastern visitor this week, with a juvenile meena Oriental Turtle Dove at Quendale, Mainland, from 24-26th. In Ireland, an Isabelline Wheatear made for headline news at Toe Head, Co Cork, from 24th. It is just the second Irish record following one at Mizen Head, Co Cork, in October 1992.
Durham was graced by a confusing chat from 25th, when a first-winter Whinchat × Siberian/Stejneger's Stonechat was discovered on a golf course near Marsden. Its appearance both in the field and in photographs was confusing – sometimes it looked just like a Whinchat and at others a match for a Siberian/Stejneger's Stonechat – so a hybrid conclusion is perhaps not particularly surprising. It has a wing formula and a head pattern matching Whinchat, while the uppertail coverts and rump and overall paleness are a better match for Siberian, and is a hybrid combination previously recorded in Finland and areas of eastern Europe. More typical, a Siberian Stonechat was new-in at Goonhilly Downs, Cornwall, from 24th, while the Stejneger's Stonechat held on at Crail, Fife, until 25th.
Visitors from Central Asia continued to arrive on North Ronaldsay, Orkney, with a Hume's Leaf Warbler on 29th. Both the Eastern Black Redstart and Central Asian Lesser Whitethroat remained, while the Black-bellied Dipper lasted on Fair Isle, Shetland, until 25th.
Three Radde's Warblers included two in Ireland – where the species is a bonafide rarity – at Helvick Head, Co Waterford, and Cape Clear, Co Cork. Cape Clear hosted a Dusky Warbler too, complimented by two in Yorkshire and singles in Norfolk and Somerset & Bristol. Two other Irish rarities, Arctic and Blyth's Reed Warbler, were still on Tory Island, Co Donegal, with two more Blyth's Reeds in Shetland.
Last week's subalpine warbler continued throughout at Tynemouth, Northumberland. An apparent adult female, the tail pattern rules out Eastern, although distinguishing between Western and Moltoni's may yet prove more difficult.
Several of last week's incredible Pallas's Warbler totals began to filter westward, including two along Welsh coastlines, five in southern England and three in Ireland. Three more were along the English east coast. A solid week for putative Siberian Lesser Whitethroats, meanwhile, produced seven in Scotland, three in England and singles in Wales and Ireland. A Melodious Warbler was on St Mary's, Scilly.
On 29th, a Red-eyed Vireo surfaced at Lehanmore, Co Cork, after a seven-day absence, while, in Scilly, the Blackburnian Warbler lingered on Bryher until 28th at least and an American Buff-bellied Pipit was again on St Mary's.
A surprise Hoopoe arrival produced reports at seven sites. Twitchable birds included those at Ince Blundell, Lancashire, Staunton Harold Reservoir, Derbyshire, and West Runton, Norfolk, while one was photographed in Cheshire. Birds in the Northern Isles were on Sanday, Orkney, and Fair Isle, Shetland; another was on Mull, Argyll.
A Red-flanked Bluetail was unfortunately taken by a cat at Tingwall, Mainland Shetland. Two others remained in the archipelago – at Kergord, Mainland, and Mid Yell, Yell – while one was trapped and ringed on Bardsey Island, Gwynedd. Three Bluethroats in the Northern Isles were split between Fair Isle, Mainland Shetland, and Westray, Orkney, and the week's only Little Buntings concerned birds on Lundy, Devon, and Tresco, Scilly.
Red-throated Pipits flew over both Hengistbury Head, Dorset, and Sand Point, Somerset & Bristol, with two more in Scilly. Olive-backed Pipits concerned one in Scilly and two in Shetland, while Richard's Pipits were in Norfolk and Cornwall. A Greater Short-toed Lark continued on St Agnes, Scilly, and several Shore Larks remained along the North Norfolk coast. At Kilnsea Wetlands, East Yorkshire, an Eastern Yellow Wagtail on 27-28th became the first for the Spurn recording area.
Four European Serins included one some way inland over Shapwick Heath NNR, Somerset & Bristol, on 30th, two on the East Yorkshire coast and one in Devon. At least two Hornemann's Arctic Redpolls continued in Shetland, with another still on North Ronaldsay, Orkney. Otherwise, Common Rosefinches were at four sites, seven Red-breasted Flycatchers were noted, a Rosy Starling was at Layer Marney, Essex, and Wrynecks were at four locations, most notably Dunquin, Co Kerry. At least two Red-rumped Swallows were in Lincolnshire, with others in Yorkshire and Glamorgan.
A remarkable record from Fair Isle, Shetland, saw two apparent Siberian Bar-tailed Godwits of either the baueri or menzbieri subspecies photographed on 30th, long-distance migrants to South-East Asia that are more at home in their breeding grounds of eastern Siberia and Alaska – and recently smashed the record for length of a non-stop flight in the species. Features supporting the identification include heavily barred brown uppertail coverts, a barred rump and tail, and grey, heavily barred underwings.
A lingering Wilson's Snipe on St Mary's, Scilly, was otherwise the week's best piece of shorebird news. Elsewhere, a new Lesser Yellowlegs was on Papa Westray, Orkney, with others in Cornwall, Lancashire and Cleveland. Three Long-billed Dowitchers remained – at Cley Marshes, Norfolk, Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB, Cheshire, and Morfa Madryn, Conwy.
Five counties – Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire & Rutland, Staffordshire, Aberdeenshire and Co Antrim – played host to Pectoral Sandpipers, with a new Spotted Sandpiper at Castletown Bearhaven, Co Cork. Along the western flanks of Scotland and Ireland were four American Golden Plovers – in Argyll, Outer Hebrides, Co Londonderry and Co Clare. Also seeking out the company of European Golden Plovers was a Eurasian Dotterel near Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire, with the Collared Pratincole still proving popular at Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire. Last week's plover on Holy Island was reidentified as a Pacific Golden.
A young Purple Heron reappeared at Seasalter, Kent, from 29th, with another logged over Brighton, East Sussex, on 30th.
Norfolk enjoyed a glut of Pallid Harrier reports. One overflew Walcott on 29th, the same day one arrived in-off the sea over Salthouse where it would linger for the next three days. Another flew in-off the sea over Titchwell RSPB, Norfolk, on 30th. Across the Irish sea, the returning second-winter female Northern Harrier was back at Lough Boora Parklands, Co Offaly, from 27th. Some seven sites along the Yorkshire coast were treated to Rough-legged Buzzard sightings, with others comprising three in Orkney and one in Lincolnshire.
Great Shearwaters continued to dominate interest in the South-West Approaches alongside single-figure tallies of Cory's Shearwaters, with massive totals of over 4,000 off both St Mary's and St Agnes, Scilly, on 25th. Most notable of the week's Leach's Storm Petrel reports were birds off Seaford, East Sussex, Chesil Cove, Dorset, and Criccieth, Gwynedd. Three Grey Phalaropes were inland and Sabine's Gulls were off five counties.
On Ireland's west coast, Ring-billed Gulls were in Cos Galway and Kerry an adult Bonaparte's Gull was still at Rough Point, Co Kerry, although the adult Whiskered Tern was last noted at Forfar Loch, Angus & Dundee, on 24th. In Co Leitrim, the Double-crested Cormorant remained at Doon Lough.
Early on 27th, An adult Lesser White-fronted Goose was located in the Loch of Skene, Aberdeenshire, Pink-footed Geese roost. The species has experienced a rocky ride with the rarity committees in recent years, with a regular returning adult recently placed into Category E of the British list. Reserved for presumed escapes, it is likely that the same fate awaits this latest example – particularly if it is confirmed as the same bird.
A Richardson's Cackling Goose returned to Lissadell, Co Sligo. Others remained on North Uist and Islay, with a probable at Marshside RSPB, Lancashire. Two likely Todd's Canada Geese were at Shalwy, Co Donegal, and one lingered in Lothian, with Black Brant in Kent, Dorset and Devon, and Snow Geese in Lothian and Highland. In the Outer Hebrides, a Red-breasted Goose was with Barnacle Geese at Loch Paible, North Uist, from 25th.
Still a rather rare bird in Ireland, a female Ferruginous Duck at Inch Island Lake, Co Donegal, was notable, with another still at Belvide Reservoir, Staffordshire. Three Lesser Scaup were unearthed – drakes at Loch Leven, Perth & Kinross, and Dunfanaghy New Lake, Co Donegal, and a female at Loch Bee, South Uist, Outer Hebrides. Ring-necked Duck reports hailed from 13 sites.
Scotland hogged all of the week's Green-winged Teal: singles in Moray & Nairn and Highland and two in the Outer Hebrides. American Wigeon, meanwhile, were at Meare Heath, Somerset & Bristol, and Grafham Water, Cambridgeshire, and the Blue-winged Teal was again at Halton Marshes, Lincolnshire.
The reliable drake White-winged Scoter returned to the waters off Musselburgh, Lothian, from 25th, while the Black Scoter remained off Northumberland. Surf Scoter were noted off Angus, Outer Hebrides and Co Kerry. King Eider were off Mainland Shetland and Findhorn, Moray & Nairn, and the Pied-billed Grebe was again in Argyll, with a single White-billed Diver off Orkney.
A quite simply astounding week for vagrant Lepidoptera produced no fewer than three British firsts, comprising the first and second records of Pseudozarba bipartita (in Hampshire and Essex), and the firsts of both Diasemiopsis ramburialis (in Devon) and Anyclosis convexella (in Kent). Massive numbers of moths more typically associated with Iberia, North Africa and the Canary Islands littered moth traps across Britain and Ireland. Crimson Speckled numbers are now record-breaking, with well in excess of 100 recorded. Other rare vagrants recorded in large numbers have included Diasemiopsis ramburialis, Spoladea recurvalis and Uresiphita gilvata, while a Monarch butterfly at Toe Head, Co Cork, perhaps relates to a vagrant from the growing Iberian population. In Oxfordshire, a Lang's Short-tailed Blue butterfly found inside a house in Reading on 17 October feels a somewhat strange record, although perhaps deserves the benefit of the doubt considering the supporting cast. It is the first British record in 84 years.
Another blistering week across the region, most notable of all was a remarkable Common Yellowthroat in landlocked Switzerland, with this national first present at Magadino from 29th. Another yellowthroat – and another national first – was on the Norwegian coast at Øygarden the previous day.
A wider influx of Pallid Swifts across North-West Europe produced an astonishing count of 14 on Vlieland, The Netherlands, on 28th, although even more notable still was the country's first White-rumped Swift over Schiermonnikoog on 26th – found while the observers looked for three Pallids seen earlier in the day. Elsewhere in The Netherlands, the Yellow-browed Bunting lasted at Donderen until 24th, a female Red-tailed Shrike was on Vlieland and the Black Scoter continued off Schiermonnikoog.
The second Red-eyed Vireo for Italy was on Lampedusa on 29th; a surprise national first concerned an Indian Silverbill at Arma di Taggia – a vagrant from feral populations in neighbouring France. Hungary enjoyed two national firsts: a Sandhill Crane at Balmazújváros and an Armenian Gull at Debrecen. A Yellow-browed Warbler at Spille was a first for Albania, while Georgia's first Hume's Leaf Warbler was at Batumi.
More remarkable French Nearctic vagrancy produced a Tree Swallow at Île-de-Sein on 28-29th, with an Eastern Yellow Wagtail also on the island. On Ouessant, the Northern Harrier, Black-faced Bunting, Isabelline Shrike and Isabelline Wheatear all remained. Otherwise, a Lesser Scaup was at Étang du Curnic, the Long-legged Buzzard hung on and a Sociable Lapwing was at Cheppes-la-Prairie.
In the Channel Islands, a Desert Wheatear was at Pleinmont, Guernsey, and Pallid Swifts were on both Alderney and Jersey. A Rock Bunting was at Membach, Belgium, while Denmark hosted a Hooded Merganser (at Randers from 19th) and two Black Scoter.
An American Robin on Corvo was the best of the week's Azorean action, with a Great Blue Heron also there. A Snowy Egret was again at Praia da Vitória, Terceira, in the company of two Great Blue Herons and two American Great Egret continued on Flores.
In Spain, Brown Boobies flew past A Coruña, Galicia, on 23rd and Cap de Creus, Catalonia, on 27th, with a South Polar Skua from a pelagic out of Gijón on 16 October. A young Least Sandpiper was at Cecebre reservoir. Stranger still was a Great-tailed Grackle at Mazagón, Andalucia. A short-distance migrant of Central America, it is thought likely to be a ship-assisted vagrant.
An African Crake on Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, on 6 August was belatedly reported, while a Least Sandpiper was on Sal, Cape Verde.