Review of the Week: 24–30 September


The week at a glance

That's more like it!

After a September of almost uninterrupted easterly winds, the monotony broke as a couple of promising transatlantic weather systems swept into the northern half of the country, bringing a westerly element to British and Irish birding that had been sorely lacking. It's been a great few weeks on the east coast, with a steady supply of 'standard scarce' among the commoner migrants, but, last week's Masked Shrike aside, it's actually been fairly slow for 'serious' rarities. But, as we approach autumn's peak, the altogether more changeable conditions finally provided a suitable cocktail to produce top-quality birds from both east and west.

It's well worth starting with the Masked Shrike, which lingered at Kilnsea (E Yorks) for the entirety of the week and which, as of this morning [1 October], has now been present for twelve days — still a few shy of the Fife bird of 2004, but looking ever more likely to become the longest-staying of the three to occur here so far. Also, belated news from last week concerned a suppressed Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler at Sea Palling (Norfolk), seen there during the evening of 19th but not again the following morning.

Masked Shrike
Masked Shrike, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire (Photo: Jason Ward)

With a transatlantic system arriving before the weekend, it was no great surprise to see the first Red-eyed Vireo of 2014 make landfall in Sumburgh Quarry (Shetland) on 25th; this was followed by two more in the week — a particularly showy bird that had evidently just arrived at Loop Head (Clare) on 27th and another in the valley at Firkeel (Cork) on 28th–29th.

Red-eyed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo, Firkeel, Cork (Photo: Caleb Knight)

But these were significantly upstaged by the Ovenbird seen briefly at Mizen Head (Cork) on 27th and then a Swainson's Thrush at Norwick, Unst (Shetland) on 28th. Both proved one-day wonders, and it looked as if the Yellow-rumped Warbler then found at Virkie, Mainland (Shetland) on 29th might be the same after it disappeared shortly after discovery. However, the same bird was then relocated at nearby Grutness the following day and enjoyed by the large number of birders currently on the Shetland archipelago.

Swainson's Thrush
Swainson's Thrush, Norwick, Unst, Shetland (Photo: Paul French)

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler, Grutness, Mainland, Shetland (Photo: Rebecca Nason)

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler, Grutness, Mainland, Shetland (Photo: Hugh Harrop)

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler, Grutness, Mainland, Shetland (Photo: Steve Minton)

Also on Shetland, from the east came a stunning White's Thrush to Durigarth on 29th. Still present the following morning, it showed extremely well in the walled garden there throughout the day, giving birders a most enjoyable experience as they watched it waddling its way around the lawn in the bizarre manner of this species. They are no doubt stunning birds, but are White's Thrushes really 'mega' these days? It seems they're an annual visitor, and yet another accessible (and showy!) bird seems to suggest a changing status for this species — that said, the next mainland bird will still be a huge hit.

White's Thrush
White's Thrush, Loch of Brow, Mainland, Shetland (Photo: Dougie Preston)

White's Thrush, Loch of Brow, Mainland, Shetland (Video: Hugh Harrop/Shetland Wildlife)

A couple of Pechora Pipits were seen; last week's bird remained on Unst at Baltasound to 25th and another was on North Ronaldsay (Orkney) briefly on 30th. Despite the multitude of rares further north, it was the latter island that claimed the week's best bird — an eye-poppingly resplendent male Eyebrowed Thrush that casually hopped about in the fields around the observatory for much of the day on 30th, blissfully unaware of its superstar status and its reduction of many British birders to quibbling wrecks as photos emerged in the evening. Has there been a better-looking individual of its kind in Britain before? Interestingly, this bird is in pretty much the exact same place as an altogether more drab first-winter in 2009, seen by a few but also causing grief for those who flew up and dipped on the afternoon of 6 October (myself included). Alas this latest bird appears to have been an even briefer affair — there has been no sign so far this morning.

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Eyebrowed Thrush
Eyebrowed Thrush, North Ronaldsay, Orkney (Photo: Mark Warren/North Ronaldsay Bird Obs)

Eyebrowed Thrush
Eyebrowed Thrush, North Ronaldsay, Orkney (Photo: Mark Warren/North Ronaldsay Bird Obs)

Pechora Pipit
Pechora Pipit, Baltasound, Unst, Shetland (Photo: Mike Pennington)

Pickings at sea this week were rather slim, but the presence of 120+ Great Shearwaters 8 km south of Galley Head (Cork) on 27th shows that birds are still out there — perhaps the strong westerlies forecast for the South-West Approaches the coming week will result in some decent seawatching. A familiar (gaudy) face appeared in Burghead Bay (Moray/Nairn) on 26th — the drake King Eider was back, while the female remained off Yell (Shetland). Surf Scoters comprised a female off Blackdog (Aberdeenshire) on 26th and returning drakes off Garretstown (Cork) on 27th and Llanddulas (Conwy) on 28th.

The Blue-winged Teal was still hanging around at Castle Island (Northumberland) to at least 27th; another youngster was found at Shannon Airport Lagoon (Clare) on 29th. American Wigeon were at Loch Leven (Perth/Kinross) to 28th and Inch Island Lake (Donegal) to 30th as well as on Sanday (Orkney). A Ring-necked Duck was at Rutland Water (Leics) on 24th–28th, and the Lesser Scaup stayed put in Cardiff Bay (Glamorgan).

Cattle Egrets consisted of birds still at Leighton Moss (Lancs) on 24th, Burton Mere (Cheshire) to 28th, Hillsborough (Down) and St Ouen's Pond (Jersey), while Great White Egrets and Glossy Ibis were widely scattered. A couple of brief Purple Herons were at Sculthorpe Moor (Norfolk) on 25th and over Walton-in-Gordano (Somerset) on 29th. The juvenile Night Heron was reported again from Brockholes (Lancs) on 27th, while White Stork reports arrived from both Lancashire and Greater Manchester — presumably the same bird?

Cattle Egret
Cattle Egret, Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB, Cheshire (Photo: Andy Ingham)

Great White Egret
Great White Egret, Rutland Water, Leicestershire and Rutland (Photo: John D'Arcy)

A juvenile Pallid Harrier floated north over Quoyangry, South Ronaldsay (Orkney) on 29th but was not seen again — a similar story applied to the Black Kite over Oare Marshes (Kent) on 24th, while a Rough-legged Buzzard was presumably fresh in at Patrington Haven (E Yorks) on 30th. The majestic male Snowy Owl also continued to sit atop Ben Macdui for much of the week.

Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl, Ben Macdui, Moray & Nairn (Photo: Jamie Sample)

A Spotted Crake was trapped at Chew Valley Lake (Somerset) on 25th and another remained at Marazion (Cornwall) to at least 28th.

American Golden Plovers were on Tory Island (Donegal) on 27th and at Tacumshin (Wexford) on 28th, in addition to the lingering bird still on Tiree (Argyll). Just two Buff-breasted Sandpipers included a surprisingly inland record from Ringstone Edge Reservoir (W Yorks) on 29th–30th, the other at Loch of Strathbeg (Aberdeenshire) on 25th–27th. The Lesser Yellowlegs was last seen at Titchfield Haven (Hants) on 27th, while Baird's Sandpipers were fresh in on the beach near Cross Lough in the south of County Mayo on 26th–27th and at Lenadoon Point (Sligo) on the latter date. A Temminck's Stint frequented a ditch at Haroldswick, Unst (Shetland) from 24th, while around 15 Pectoral Sandpipers were seen. A Great Snipe was on Foula (Shetland) on 24th–27th.

American Golden Plover
American Golden Plover, Tiree, Argyll (Photo: John Bowler)

Baird's Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper, Cross Lough, Killadoon, Mayo (Photo: Dermot Breen)

Adult Ring-billed Gulls were at Portrush (Antrim), Lurgan Green (Louth) and Ballycotton (Cork), with a second-winter at Kilpheder, South Uist (Outer Hebrides) on 27th. The Laughing Gull also remained at Ballycotton and the Forster's Tern was still in Louth, though it had moved to Cruisetown Strand by 28th.

Hoopoe records came from Catfirth and Bressay (Shetland) on 25th and 27th respectively; another was on Bardsey Island (Gwynedd) from 28th. At least ten Wrynecks included a couple on St Mary's (Scilly) and another hopping about on the beach at Norwick, Unst — the absolute opposite end of the country. Short-toed Larks were on North Ronaldsay and Fair Isle, while a third was in fields near Cubert (Cornwall) on 28th–29th.

Richard's Pipits are becoming more prominent, with at least half a dozen seen this week on the Isles of Scilly and in Hampshire, Kent, Gwynedd, East Yorkshire and on Fair Isle. Three Red-throated Pipits this week yet again failed to appease the long wait for a twitchable, accessible bird — the Fair Isle bird remained to 24th and birds flew over Clumlie (Shetland) and St Mary's (Scilly) on 30th.

Red-throated Pipit
Red-throated Pipit, Fair Isle, Shetland (Photo: James Lowen)

The Eastern Subalpine Warbler was still at Baltasound (Unst) on 30th, and Shetland also scored a Greenish Warbler at Voe on 28th and a Marsh Warbler at Lund (Unst) from 24th. At the other end of the country, an Arctic Warbler was discovered at Church Cove (Cornwall) on 30th. Meanwhile, somewhere in between, a Dusky Warbler was unearthed in Wells Woods (Norfolk) on 29th. An adult Paddyfield Warbler was a nice find in a mistnet at St Ouen's Pond (Jersey) late on 29th and was released early the following morning. Melodious Warblers remained on Tiree to 28th and Barra (Outer Hebrides) to 29th, with a third on Skomer (Pembrokeshire) on 26th.

Paddyfield Warbler
Paddyfield Warbler, St. Ouen's Pond, Jersey (Photo: Mick Dryden)

Fifty reports of Red-breasted Flycatcher during the week rounded off what has been a memorable month for this species on British shores. A reasonable scattering of other typical scarce migrants included half-a-dozen Bluethroats, numerous Common Rosefinches and Barred Warblers, the latter including a significant inland record from Blow's Downs (Beds) from 27th. A dozen Red-backed Shrikes were widely scattered, though the ten Rose-coloured Starlings were a little more biased towards the far southwest and the Northern Isles. Just two Great Grey Shrikes were seen: at Northolt (London) and Holcombe Moor (Gtr Man).

Barred Warbler
Barred Warbler, Blow's Downs, Bedfordshire (Photo: John D'Arcy)

Red-backed Shrike
Red-backed Shrike, Ness Point, Lowestoft, Suffolk (Photo: Nick Appleton)

Great Grey Shrike
Great Grey Shrike, Ickenham Marshes, Greater London (Photo: Andrew Moon)

Back to Shetland, and a Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll was a nice record from Veensgarth on 26th–28th; a Black-headed Bunting was on Out Skerries on 29th. The long-staying Rustic Bunting lasted another week at Halligarth (Unst) and four of the week's six Little Buntings were strewn across the archipelago — the exceptions being birds at Spurn (E Yorks) on 29th and Bryher (Scilly) on 29th–30th. Finally, an Ortolan was at Treeve Common (Cornwall) on 29th.

Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll
Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll, Veensgarth, Mainland, Shetland (Photo: James Lowen)

Little Bunting
Little Bunting, Spurn YWT, East Yorkshire (Photo: Jill Wilson)

Photo of the Week

Bearded Tit
Bearded Tit, Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk (Photo: John Richardson)

It looks like Bearded Tits have been performing well at a number of sites this week, writes Steve Young, judging by some of the superb shots submitted to Iris. This one, taken at Minsmere RSPB by John Richardson, is my personal favourite and selection for POTW.

The head-on view and fluffed-up feathers have combined to make this different to others — the bird just looks lovely! Despite the use of a 500mm lens with 1.4× converter, the depth of field at f5.6 is very good on this shot — virtually all of the bird is in focus, front to back. Congratulations to John on this week's winning shot.

Other notable images

Spoonbill, Lodmoor RSPB, Dorset (Photo: Jon Worthington)

Hobby, Richmond Park, Greater London (Photo: John William Few)

Golden Plover
Golden Plover, Holy Island, Northumberland (Photo: Heiko Peters)

Pomarine Skua
Pomarine Skua, Italy (Photo: Maurizio Sighele (Maudoc))

Raven, Canada (Photo: anon)

Little Owl
Little Owl, undisclosed site, North Yorkshire (Photo: Antony Ward)

Toco Toucan
Toco Toucan, Brazil (Photo: Sean Johnston)

Red-backed Shrike
Red-backed Shrike, Seasalter, Kent (Photo: Steve Ashton)

Little Grebe
Little Grebe, Aqualate Park, Staffordshire (Photo: Paul Burgess)

Marsh Harrier
Marsh Harrier, Grove Ferry NNR, Kent (Photo: Steve Ashton)

White Woodpecker
White Woodpecker, Brazil (Photo: Sean Johnston)

Chough, undisclosed site, Galway (Photo: Dorian Mason)

Buzzard, Robroyston Park LNR, Clyde (Photo: Glasgowstef)