Review of the Week: 24 April-1 May 2023


It was a great week for British birding. The reappearance of 2022's final British first coincided with the arrival of a true wildcard of a national first, both on a bank holiday weekend – when has it been so easy? Of course as spring progress, patchbirding continues to focus on common migrants yet to arrive, with a decent arrival of Common Swift and the first Common Quail, while Wood Warblers were widely scattered. May often produces, and with the forecast hinting at some easterlies in this coming week, hopefully there are more great birds to be enjoyed. 

Sometimes the species' name accompanying the sounding of a new 'mega' stops you in your tracks, and 'Grey-headed Lapwing at Low Newton-by-the-Sea, Northumberland' did just that. The find was a just reward for the hard-working dedicated patcher Gary Woodburn, alongside Richard Lowe, Gary even being involved with creating the very scrape the bird was using! Needless to say, this East Asian wader represents the first British record and only the fourth for the Western Palearctic, following birds Turkey in 2018, Norway, Sweden and The Netherlands in 2019, and Slovenia in 2021. Of course, how many individuals this actually involves is just a guessing game – and it could all feasibly be the same bird. A few eyebrows were raised over the bird's provenance, but rest assured this species isn't popular with aviculturists, and the species is a long-distance migrant with an increasingly westerly range. Unless it can be proven otherwise, surely this bird should be treated with an open mind. 

A donation bucket was present on site, but for anyone who missed it, or for any birders willing to donate to a good cause, donations can be made via this link.

Grey-headed Lapwing, Low Newton-by-the-Sea, Northumberland (Brian Martin).

Grey-headed Lapwing, Low Newton-by-the-Sea, Northumberland (Bethan Clyne).

As if the lapwing wasn't enough excitement, news of an apparent drake Stejneger's Scoter came from Lower Largo, Fife, on the evening of 28th. Pictures soon became available and the bird was indeed a Stejneger's. Amazing. A big gathering of Velvet Scoter close inshore likely involves birds that had wintered too far offshore to be scrutinised until now, allowing for the complete absence since presumably the same bird was last reported in Lothian at the end of 2022. This beautiful male remained relatively close offshore throughout the bank holiday weekend, displaying contentedly to any available Velvet Scoter

Stejneger's Scoter, Lower Largo, Fife (Steve Nuttall).

Stejneger's Scoter, Lower Largo, Fife (Dan Owen).

The gathering of close velvets also housed a few more surprises. During the same evening that the Stejneger's came to light, videograbs of one of the scoter flocks revealed a drake White-winged Scoter. Both species were present the following morning, removing any confusion. Although news of two drake White-winged Scoter was quickly followed by three! In an incredible series of events, an apparent fourth drake was found off Ruddon's Point while three others were accounted for off Lower Largo, on 30th. It should also be raised that an apparent drake White-winged Scoter × Velvet Scoter hybrid was off the west end of the village on 30th too – this bird originally found at Lunan Bay, Angus and Dundee, in August 2022. Finally, to make it a 'five scoter day', at least four Surf Scoter were also present offshore (two adult drakes, a second-calendar-year drake and a female). 

White-winged Scoter (right), Lower Largo, Fife (Steve Nuttall).

The 19th also saw the arrival of a male Pine Bunting on Papa Westray – the seventh April record for the UK. Perhaps most surprisingly, this is also the first Orkney record since 1995.

It should come as no surprise that American songbirds often stow away on ships, so news of a Song Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco onboard Federal Severn between North Ronaldsay and Fair Isle on 25th, having originally departed Quebec, Canada on 27th. Fair Isle has historically been ‘the place' to see them, with half of all records hailing from there – perhaps no surprise if this is a regular shipping route.

After the gambelii White-crowned Sparrow proved elusive during the initial days, the usual plan of putting seed down in a strategic place was put into action. As if often the case, this worked, and from the evening of 26th views were much more regular. This continued to be the case until 29th, allowing anyone who had previously dipped to connect with this smart sparrow. Unfortunately, the bird seemed to have done a bunk and wasn't present from 30th.

White-crowned Sparrow, Seaford Head, East Sussex (Ian Wells).

An adult Elegant Tern passed through Lodmoor RSPB, Dorset, on the morning of 24th, briefly alighting among the Sandwich Terns. To date, it hasn't been reported since, though there's a fair chance it could crop up again somewhere in southern England. Dorset has fared well for this species in the past, with birds at Stanpit Marsh in 2005 and Brownsea Island NT in 2017. Staying in the county for the next rare tern species, the first-winter Forster's Tern continued at the aforementioned Brownsea Island NT throughout the week. The lingering adult was reported again from Inishroo, Co Galway, on 29th.

Elegant Tern, Lodmoor RSPB, Dorset (John Wall).

Forster's Tern (right) with Sandwich Terns, Brownsea Island NT, Dorset (Mark Leitch).

Fife's seaduck bonanza also included a second-winter drake King Eider off Elie from 24th, presumably the bird noted past Isle of May last week. A lingering drake was also reported again from Bluemull Sound, Shetland, on 28th while a drake at Ythan Estuary, Aberdeenshire, on 1st is thought to be the long-returning drake 'Elvis'. Away from Lower Largo, just one other site reported Surf Scoter, with an impressive group of five in Burghead Bay, Moray and Nairn.

A smart drake Blue-winged Teal located at Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire, on 1st was a great find. The unringed, fully winged drake Hooded Merganser remained faithful to Whinfell Tarn, Cumbria, seemingly opting to spend full days at the site now, opposed to flying off to feed with the local Goosanders. Just one Lesser Scaup lingered into the week, with the drake last reported from Audenshaw Reservoirs, Greater Manchester, on 26th. A drake American Wigeon on the Eden Estuary at Guardbridge, Fife, was the first in the country for a couple of weeks. Ring-necked Duck held into double figures, with 10 in Britain and two in Ireland, while Green-winged Teal were at five sites. Up to three Ferruginous Duck continued to be reported from Filby Broad, Norfolk, while a female of unknown origin was reported at Staines Reservoirs, London, on 29th.

Hooded Merganser, Whinfell Tarn, Cumbria (Ian Bollen).

A late Taiga Bean Goose was reported near Memsie, Aberdeenshire, on 27th, while 28th saw one mingling with staging Pink-footed Geese at Longhaven, Aberdeenshire. The latter was still present with just five pink-feet on 1st.

Another wave of Black-winged Stilts entered the country this week, with 14 British and three Irish sites reporting birds. Notably, this included trios at Llanelli WWT, Carmarthen, on 28th, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire, and Boyton Marshes RSPB, Suffolk, on 1st. The West Midlands fared well, with Belvide Reservoir, Staffordshire, hosting the first record for 36 years, which later moved to Bridgwalton Quarry, Shropshire. Another was at Blithfield Reservoir, Staffordshire, on 30th and Branston GPs on 1st. Two were near Rhyl, Clwyd, on 25th brief bird moved through Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB, Cheshire, on 27th. Further singles or pairs were scattered at other sites and with so many in the country, yet another breeding attempt is likely on the cards.

Black-winged Stilt, Lodmoor RSPB, Dorset (John Wall).

Black-winged Stilt, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire (Chris Borrell).

Long-billed Dowitchers remained at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB, Cheshire, and Cley Marshes NWT, Norfolk. A Eurasian Stone-curlew was taken into care at Hackleton, Northants, on 30th, while on Fair Isle the same day was a surprise find – just the 11th island record and the first April record to boot. A Little Ringed Plover was also present on the island, representing the 10th record, seven of which occurring since 2016.

Eurasian Stone-curlew, Fair Isle, Shetland (Patrick Safford).

There was a scattering of Eurasian Dotterel this week, though no bigger 'trips' than four at Choseley Drying Barns, Norfolk, from 27th. Other groups included two on Mull on 24th, plus two on North Ronaldsay, Orkney, and Waxham, Norfolk, on 1st. Other sites hosting singletons included Tresco, Scilly, on 24-25th, Great Orme, Conwy, on 25-27th and The Range RSPB, Anglesey, on 25-26th. Three Pectoral Sandpipers were discovered this week, at Loch Gruinart RSPB, Islay, on 24-25th, Cors Ddyga RSPB, Anglesey, on 29th and Abberton Reservoir, Essex, on 1st. A small arrival of Temminck's Stints occurred, with the first noted at Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire, on 25th. Others were at Titchwell RSPB, Norfolk, Hickling Broad NWT, Norfolk, and Churchtown Moss, Lancashire.

Lingering Bonaparte's Gulls included an adult at Ballydehob, Co Cork, and first-winters at Marazion and Hayle Estuary, Cornwall. A new adult was at Tacumshin, Co Wexford, on 25th. Two Ring-billed Gulls made it into the reporting week, one in Limerick and another in Perth and Kinross. White-winged gulls continue to move off north, with Iceland Gulls at just 16 sites and Glaucous Gulls at 14. It was a slower week for Gull-billed Terns reports. Firstly, a probable was reported off Falmouth, Cornwall, on 28th and one flew north past Landguard NR, Suffolk, on 30th.

Two Squacco Heron sightings in Cornwall were feasibly the same bird. One was photographed in a garden at Dobwalls on 26th, and from 29th one was just to the north-east at Lethytep. Fortunately, access was arranged at the latter site and the bird showed well until at least 1 May. The Black-crowned Night Heron influx continued apace, with 21 British sites and eight Irish sites notching up records again. This included a new pair at Lound, Suffolk, on 24th, three at Watermead CP, Leicestershire, from 26th, and trios at Tacumshin, Co Wexford, and Combe Valley CP, East Sussex. An immature was at Llanelli, Carmarthen, from 27th and an adult was at Belvide Reservoir, Staffordshire, on 29th. It was another good showing for Purple Herons, with 10 new birds on offer. This included two in Ireland, at Buckroney, Co Wicklow, and Baile an Reannaigh, Co Kerry. Wales also hosted two, otherwise the rest were scattered across central and eastern England.

Black-crowned Night Heron, Watermead CP, Leicestershire and Rutland (Mark Healey).

Typically, White-billed Diver records were restricted to Scotland, with some seven sites reporting these impressive banana-billed gaviid. At least two remained off Cullen, Moray and Nairn, and other singles were off Portsoy, Burghead Bay and Spey Bay. One was off North Ronaldsay and another off Westray, Orkney, plus others at South Nesting Bay and Uyea, Shetland. The seemingly resident Double-crested Cormorant remained part of the furniture at Doon Lough, Co Leitrim.

A possible female Pallid Harrier was doing the rounds in north-east Norfolk, with presumably the same bird responsible for reports at Sheringham on 29th, and both Waxham and Hickling Broad NWT on 30th. There was a smattering of Montagu's Harriers this week. The first-summer female remained present and correct around Kynance Cove, Cornwall, while another ringtail flew south over Carlton Marshes SWT, Suffolk, on 30th. A male flew north-east offshore past The Naze, Essex, the same day, and another adult male flew west over Seamer Tip Pools, North Yorkshire, on 1st.

The lingering adult Black Kite continued to try its luck picking up scraps at the National Bird of Prey Centre, North Yorkshire, until 30th. Others were reported over Lady's Island Lake, Co Wexford, on 28th, Burbage Valley, South Yorkshire, on 30th and Coombe Valley, Dorset, on 1st. A possible male Red-footed Falcon was photographed at Tyttenhanger GP, Hertfordshire, on 30th although there were no other reports thereafter. A possible Snowy Owl was reported in flight on Yell, Shetland, on 27th.

Red-rumped Swallows arrived in small numbers, with birds at Lytchett Bay, Dorset, and St Martin's, Scilly, on 25th. One at Waterhead on 28th was a decent Cumbrian record, as was one at Lough Aderra, Co Cork, on 30th, though typically neither were around for long. Otherwise, one was reported near Edgehill, Warwickshire, on 1st.  The Alpine Swift tap finally ran dry, with no birds reported this week.

A probable Golden Oriole was reported at Hardcastle Crags, West Yorkshire, on 26th and another report came from Craneham Hill, Devon, on 27th. Four Wryneck made the newspage, including one in a Buckinghamshire garden, plus others in Suffolk, Norfolk and Scilly. A female Bluethroat was present at Abbotsbury Swannery, Dorset, between 29-30th. Four Woodchat Shrikes included two on the Isles of Scilly, plus singles at Langton Matravers, Dorset, on 25th and Great Saltee, Co Wexford, on 30th. Hoopoes were well received, with 25 sites reporting birds, including five in Scotland. Other notables included one at Rixton Moss, Cheshire, on 24-25th, and singles in Co Durham and North Yorkshire. 

Hoopoe, Werrington, Staffordshire (Michael Erwin).

Initially reported as an Iberian Chiffchaff, a funky-sounding Phylloscopus warbler at Mill Hill, West Sussex, would've proved to be a county first. However, the song was atypical, lacking the classic three contrasting sections within the song. The upper limit of the frequency range was also more in-keeping with collybita, with notes rising well above 6 kHz, whereas they should sit around or under. With aberration within the song, the bird should ideally look the part, but it appeared to fall flat here too. The bird was rather drab, within range, but not the classic bright, Willow Warbler-esque bird you'd want. The ear coverts looked problematic, as they were shown to be solidly dark in most pics, with great distinction with the throat, whereas you'd want more diffuse ear coverts, with any demarcation much further back. All in all, without sounding or looking the part, the bird is best regarded an atypical Common Chiffchaff.

Another welcome addition to the country year list came in the form of a singing Great Reed Warbler at Ham Wall RSPB, Somerset, from 28th. Surprisingly, this constitutes the first record for the Avalon Marshes. A male Western Subalpine Warbler was a top garden bird at St Just, Cornwall, on 24th though had gone to ground by the evening. Yellow-browed Warblers were uncovered at Pool of Virkie, Shetland, and South Gare, Cleveland, on 29th. Two singing Siberian Chiffchaffs were on offer: one at Marazion Marsh RSPB, Cornwall, on 25th and another at Sutton Park NNR, West Midlands, on 27-28th.

Great Reed Warbler, Ham Wall RSPB, Somerset & Bristol (Gill Sapsed).

Unfortunately, neither reported Ashy-headed Wagtail this week was confirmed. A possible spent a short amount of time at Spurn Point, East Yorkshire, on 23rd before continuing north. Another probable was at Churchtown Moss, Lancashire, on 1st. A possible Black-headed Wagtail at Shustoke Reservoir, Warwickshire, on 27th also went without confirmation. A smart male Grey-headed Wagtail was photographed at Morfa Nefyn, Gwynedd, on 1st. The long-staying Eastern Yellow Wagtail continued to be reported from Carlton Marshes SWT, Suffolk, throughout the week into May.

A probable Tawny Pipit was on the golf course at Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire, on 24th though was never confirmed. A brief Richard's Pipit at Welwick Saltmarsh YWT, East Yorkshire, on 1 May was likely to be the same lingering bird. Single Shore Larks lingered at Beacon Ponds, East Yorkshire, and Holkham Gap, Norfolk, with a new bird at Blakeney Point on 1 May. Fair Isle also hosted at least two during the week. A Greater Short-toed Lark was present on St Mary's, Scilly, from 25th.

Up to two Eurasian Penduline Tits continued to be reported sporadically at Oare Marshes NR, Kent, while a male was present at Seamer Tip Pools, North Yorkshire, on 24-25th.  The latter a most welcome county tick for some, the last in Yorkshire hailing from Wintersett Reservoir, West Yorkshire, in November 2011.

Fair Isle hosted a Little Bunting on 30th. A male European Serin was a brief visitor to East Prawle, Devon, on 1 May, while belated news of one on 20 April came from Lundy. 

Eurasian Penduline Tit, Seamer Carr, North Yorkshire (Ian Howard).

Keep up to date with sightings of Grey-headed Lapwing and other rarities, as well as spring migrants, at www.birdguides.com/sightings or via the BirdGuides app. New users are entitled to a one-month free trial.


Western Palearctic

As the influx of Black-winged Stilts continues in Britain and Ireland, Iceland also got in on the action, with the second national record found at Hvoll on 25th. Impressively, the bird, a male, was found some 19 km from the coast. 

Norway also recorded a second national record, with a smart Western Sandpiper on the North Sea coast in Rogaland on 27th. A Black-winged Pratincole was at the same site the same day.

Following the good winter period for Stejneger's Scoter in the WP, a drake was logged north-west past Landsort, Sweden, on 29th. The first-winter Baltimore Oriole continued to attract admirers in southern Sweden until at least 22nd.

Photographs of a Calandra Lark taken in Slovakia on 22nd represents the first record of this species for the country.

An African Desert Warbler was on Sicily on 26th, thought to be the second record for Italy. Meanwhile, a Slender-billed Gull was in Switzerland on 28th.

In The Netherlands, the first-winter Ross's Gull remained at Texel, and photo analysis indicates this is the same bird in Dorset earlier this winter. A second-calendar year Bearded Vulture was present near Ede from 27th and turned out to be the first wild-born individual for the country. Sadly, the bird was struck by a train near Oostvaardersplassen on 29th.

A sub-adult Eastern Imperial Eagle flew over Cayeux-sur-Mer on 29th, right on the English Channel coast, with Dungeness sitting 89 km to the NNE. A colour-ringed adult Elegant Tern was back in the Sandwich Tern colony at Polder de Sébastopol. 

Spain also hosted an adult Elegant Tern, with an adult on the Mediterranean Sea coast. In Portugal, a satellite-tagged White-backed Vulture was photographed at Evora, and was originally tagged in Tarifa in November 2021. This was the third record for Portugal. The long-staying Hudsonian Whimbrel was reported again near Setúbal and Gibraltar's second Pallas's Warbler was trapped and ringed on 27th.

The adult Red-billed Tropicbird remained on Fuerteventura. 

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