Review of the Week: 24 December–6 January


The week at a glance

The Christmas and New Year period seemed to pass terribly quickly this year, no doubt partly due to a handful of excellent finds that ensured it was a lively and entertaining fortnight for British birding. Though there was no shortage of unsettled weather, particularly in the north and north-west, Christmas proved quite chilly and many areas were gifted their first notable snowfall of the year, while anticyclonic conditions caused a fairly short-lived freeze in southern and eastern areas.

Although it was a close-fought contest, the story of the fortnight was the occurrence of two different Little Bustards within the space of 24 hours. The first to arrive was at East Guldeford, not far from Rye, East Sussex, on 30th. Unfortunately its stay was brief and, just like the bird in Dorset in November, it quickly flew off and could not be relocated. In fact, many assumed that both records would relate to one bird until photos of the Sussex bird appeared, clearly showing plumage differences such as the hindneck pattern.

New Year's Eve came and with it fresh hope that the Sussex bustard might be relocated. It was therefore something of a surprise when news of a 'probable' in East Yorkshire broke mid-morning. The timing suggested that it was almost certainly not the Sussex bird. Fortunately local birder Tony Dixon relocated the bird near Fraisthorpe late in the morning and, unlike the previous two, it appeared twitchable. And so it proved — sitting in its favoured kale field for the rest of the day, it lingered overnight and went on to show well throughout New Year's Day. Having moved no more than around 20 metres throughout 1 January, there were some concerns for the bird's health and it was perhaps not the greatest of surprises that there was no sign of the bird the following morning. For many, though, very much a case of third time lucky!

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Little Bustard
Little Bustard, Fraisthorpe, East Yorkshire (Photo: Andy Hood)

Little Bustard
Little Bustard, Fraisthorpe, East Yorkshire (Photo: Richard Willison)

Coming a close second was a Harlequin on the River Don just north of Aberdeen, found on 3rd but first reported late on 4th following its identification. A young drake, its plumage is still very subtle but there are a few hints of the great things to come: slate-blue developing on the head and flanks, flashes of white and a very faint hint of the chestnut flanks to boot. Should this bird decide to linger throughout the winter (and it was still there on 6th), expect it to start looking rather smart and no doubt some brilliant photographs to emerge.

Harlequin Duck
Harlequin Duck, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire (Photo: Dennis Morrison)

The Blyth's Pipit continued to perform around Calder Park Industrial Estate, on the south side of Wakefield, W Yorks, throughout the festive period and began to show really quite well at times, allowing for brilliant photographs to be taken. In fact the bird received plenty of attention over the fortnight, partly because of the appearance of what appears a decent shout for a juvenile Thayer's Gull nearby at Mirfield on 27–28th. While plenty of features suggest thayeri, the bird comes across as something of a chameleon in images and whether it will go any further than a 'presumed' remains to be seen. Indeed, the almost alarming regularity with which Thayer's Gull seems to be occurring in Western Europe has to be considered, particularly in comparison to American Herring Gull which, based on population size and range should be altogether more regular — yet isn't. That said, Thayer's Gull is a proven vagrant and the status of other North American gulls should perhaps not cloud judgement. With no sign of the Thayer's around Wakefield since, one can only assume it's a matter of time before it pops up somewhere else in the Midlands.

Blyth's Pipit
Blyth's Pipit, Pugney's CP, West Yorkshire (Photo: Darren Chapman)

Blyth's Pipit
Blyth's Pipit, Pugney's CP, West Yorkshire (Photo: Jim Welford)

Thayer's Gull
Presumed Thayer's Gull, Mirfield, West Yorkshire (Photo: Jim Welford)

Though birds from a Scandinavian re-introduction scheme, the arrival of four immature Lesser White-fronted Geese in Suffolk caused quite a stir, not least because they were 'found' at Minsmere thanks to a signal from one of the birds' satellite transmitters! Birders first saw them at North Warren the following day, where they remained until 3rd. By 4th the birds had crossed the North Sea to Belgium, where they were residing in fields west of Bruges. You can follow their progress at www.blessgans.de.

Lesser White-fronted Goose
Lesser White-fronted Geese, North Warren RSPB, Suffolk (Photo: Bill Plumb)

Two Todd's Canada Geese continued to be seen at various sites around Lancashire, last being noted near Preesall on New Year's Eve. The Richardson's Cackling Goose was still at Baleshare, North Uist, on 29th and one remained on Islay in to the New Year; the Lesser Canada Goose was still at Wexford Wildfowl Reserve on 4th. Black Brants included three still at Deal Hall Marshes, Essex, with single birds remained in East Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Dorset, Devon and Co Kerry. After disappearing over Christmas, the white-morph Snow Goose flew west over Cley, Norfolk, on 4th.

Richardson's Cackling Goose
Richardson's Cackling Goose, Baleshare, N.Uist, Outer Hebrides (Photo: Steve Duffield)

Both American Coots remained in to the New Year, the Co Kerry bird still on Lough Gill on 4th and the Balranald, North Uist, bird still there on 6th.

A number of new Green-winged Teal were discovered: at Welney, Norfolk, from 27th; Ballycarry, Co Antrim, from 29th; Brand's Bay, Dorset, on 31st; Cliffe Pools, Kent, and Northwick Warth, Glos, on 1st; and Druridge Pools, Northumberland, on 3rd, while the drake returned to Saltholme, Cleveland, on 2nd and birds remained in Dumfries & Galloway and the Outer Hebrides. Up to two female American Wigeon remained on the Gannel Estuary, Cornwall, for much of the fortnight, while a drake was at Baleshare, North Uist, on 24–29th and another male was found at Malin Town, Co Donegal, on 31st. Others remained in Devon, Orkney, Shetland and Co Cork.

Green-winged Teal
Green-winged Teal, Druridge Pools, Northumberland (Photo: Jonathan Farooqi (Age 14))

American Wigeon
American Wigeon, Baleshare, N.Uist, Outer Hebrides (Photo: Steve Duffield)

An impressive four Ring-necked Ducks at Lough Leane, Co Kerry, on 2nd included three drakes; further drakes were in Berkshire, Argyll and Counties Waterford, Donegal and Londonderry, while females were at Billing Gravel Pits, Northants, from 24th, on North Uist throughout and the two remained at Carlingwark Loch, Dumfries & Galloway. A female Lesser Scaup at Rahasane Turlough, Co Galway, on 3rd is presumably the bird seen there back in October; the drake returned once again to Dozmary Pool, Cornwall, while the long-staying birds in Powys, Glamorgan and Co Kerry all remained. In Ayrshire the young male remained at Trabboch Loch, but the drake at Linlithgow Loch, Lothian, appears to be a hybrid. A female Ferruginous Duck was new in at Slimbridge, Glos, from 29th, while the drake remained ever-present at Blashford Lakes, Hants.

Ring-necked Duck
Ring-necked Duck, Jubilee River NR, Berkshire (Photo: Mark Leitch)

Ferruginous Duck
Ferruginous Duck, Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire (Photo: Chris Cook)

At sea the female King Eider remained off Ruddon's Point, Fife, while the drake was again off Burghead, Moray/Nairn, on 28th. Seven Surf Scoters were still off Old Colwyn, Conwy, on 30th, with smaller numbers seen on dates either side of this; the young drake also remained on the Stour Estuary and the adult was still off Musselburgh, Lothian, while a new bird was found off Newcastle, Co Down, on 2nd. In Cornwall, the Pacific Diver was still performing in Mount's Bay at times until 6th at least, while White-billed Divers were seen at Ballycotton, Co Cork, on 30th and on South Ronaldsay, Orkney, on 2–4th.

Two Cattle Egrets continued to perform brilliantly at Dungeness, Kent, throughout, but the Cheshire bird was last seen at Frodsham on Christmas Eve; another bird was seen on Jersey. A juvenile Night Heron was a nice find at Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex, on 30th and was later seen at Wallasea Island; an adult was at Sparham Gravel Pits, Norfolk, on 4–5th though historically a free-flying, captive colony was kept in an aviary at nearby Great Witchingham Wildlife Park. A Glossy Ibis was at South Huish Marsh, Devon, from 27th, and birds remained in Cambridgeshire and Co Waterford.

Cattle Egret
Cattle Egret, Lydd, Kent (Photo: Marc Read)

Night Heron
Night Heron, Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex (Photo: John Buchanan)

Three fleeting Gyr Falcon reports were received. The first was from Glen Ey, Aberdeenshire, on 29th, before another white morph was seen twice in Clyde — at Dumbarton then West Ferry — on 3rd. These were followed by a report of a white morph from Ardclach, Moray/Nairn, on 5th. News of a Snowy Owl near Kincasslagh, Co Donegal, broke on 5th, the bird having been seen a few times over several weeks.

A White-rumped Sandpiper was a surprise find at Lough Neagh, Co Antrim, on Boxing Day but was not reported again. In Aberdeenshire the Spotted Sandpiper was still patrolling the coast at Inverallochy until 4th at least, while further down the coast a Lesser Yellowlegs was a nice find along the shore at North Berwick, Lothian, on 2–4th. Another Lesser Yellowlegs was found at Pett Level, E Sussex, on Christmas Day and lingered until 6th; birds also remained in Counties Clare and Dublin. A Long-billed Dowitcher was seen briefly at Tacumshin, Co Wexford, on 2nd.

Lesser Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs, Rogerstown Estuary, Dublin (Photo: Paul Kelly)

Lesser Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs, Pett Level, East Sussex (Photo: Mark Tomlins)

Lesser Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs, North Berwick, Lothian (Photo: Ian Andrews)

What looks a very good shout for an adult/near-adult Azorean Gull was photographed at the east end of Valentia Island, Co Kerry, on New Year's Eve. The gorgeous juvenile Ivory Gull continued to show well in the harbour at Uig, Skye, until 4th, but it wasn't reported subsequently. The Bonaparte's Gull was back at Loch Gilp, Argyll, on 30–31st and the regular Devon bird continued to show in the Dawlish area, as did the Laughing Gull at Ballycotton, Co Cork, and the Forster's Tern in Co Galway.

Ivory Gull
Ivory Gull, Uig, Skye, Highland (Photo: Peter Stronach)

Ivory Gull, Uig, Skye, Highland (Video: FoghornsBirdingVideo)

Ring-billed Gulls enjoyed a prolific fortnight, with as many as ten reported around Britain — the highest total for some time. These included several new birds, including an adult showing well at the traditional location of Helston Boating Lake, Cornwall, from 3rd and a first-winter at Swanpool, Cornwall, on 30th. Hampshire boasted two adults (at Gosport and Blashford Lakes), and at least two were seen in Devon. A minimum of 22 in Ireland included threes at Bray, Co Wicklow, and Nimmo's Pier, Co Galway, and two (adult and first-winter) in Limerick City.

Ring-billed Gull
Ring-billed Gull, Helston, Cornwall (Photo: John Rowe)

Ring-billed Gull
Ring-billed Gull, Strathclyde Loch, Clyde (Photo: Lang Stewart)

A welcome improvement in Glaucous and Iceland Gull numbers occurred from Christmas onwards, the former species particularly apparent. Many sites recorded singles, but there were notable counts of two from Dogsthorpe, Cambs, on 31st and three at North Shields fish quay, Northumberland, on 6th.

Glaucous Gull
Glaucous Gull, Dogsthorpe Tip, Cambridgeshire (Photo: Josh Jones)

Iceland Gull
Iceland Gull, North Shields, Northumberland (Photo: Ron Hindhaugh)

A Hoopoe continued to be seen around Dawlish Warren, Devon, until at least 2nd. A new Richard's Pipit dropped in at Galley Head, Co Cork, on 27th and birds also remained in Somerset (2), Dorset, East Sussex and North Yorkshire. The Eastern Black Redstart remained on St Mary's, Scilly, throughout and was showing hilariously well at times, feeding around local birders' boots!

Richard's Pipit
Richard's Pipit, Redcliff Point, Dorset (Photo: Peter Moore)

Eastern Black Redstart, St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly (Video: MP G)

The Barred Warbler at Portland, Dorset, seemed settled, so it was a surprise when it disappeared after its final showing on Boxing Day. A Dusky Warbler was a nice find at Chichester Gravel Pits, W Sussex, from 5th and a Pallas's Warbler was a brief visitor to Dungeness, Kent, on New Year's Day. Cornwall held four Yellow-browed Warblers and Devon three, with an eighth bird still on St Mary's, Scilly.

Yellow-browed Warbler
Yellow-browed Warbler, St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly (Photo: Joe Pender)

Three elusive Penduline Tits remained around the Topsham area of Devon throughout and were most regularly seen at Dart's Farm RSPB; another bird at Priory Country Park, Beds, on 28–30th was altogether more confiding before it suddenly flew off mid-morning on the latter date. Meanwhile, Bristol's Rose-coloured Starling was still around on 29th but, as yet, has not been reported in 2015.

Penduline Tit
Penduline Tit, Darts Farm RSPB, Devon (Photo: David Aitken)

Penduline Tit
Penduline Tit, Priory CP, Bedfordshire (Photo: Josh Jones)

Western Palearctic news

The Thayer's Gull returned to Xove, Galicia, on 28th for its eighth winter in the area, while other Spanish records included the nation's first Brown Shrike discovered at Deltebre, Catalonia, by a visiting British birder on 6th and the Pygmy Cormorant still at Aiguamolls de l'Empordà. In Italy the adult Grey-headed Gull continued to be seen in the large Black-headed Gull roost at Bisceglie, Puglia, whenever it was looked for, though it often requires a long wait to see. A juvenile Allen's Gallinule was a nice find at Oued Massa, Morocco, on 28th and was still there on New Year's Eve.

Adult Thayer's Gull, Galicia, March 2013 (Photo: Juan Sagardia)

Quite possibly of interest to British birders, a reliable Wallcreeper was found in Dinant, Belgium, on 30 December and, though quite mobile, is being seen daily there. This could easily be coupled with a visit for a confiding meena Oriental Turtle Dove in South Holland, found at Vlaardingen near Rotterdam on New Year's Day. The Long-legged Buzzard also remains nearby.

Oriental Turtle Dove
Oriental Turtle Dove, Netherlands (Photo: Paul Cools)

Both the Black-throated Accentor on Hailuoto and the Azure Tit in Kolari kept Finnish birders happy over the fortnight, while other notable records included Israel's seventh Great Shearwater off Jaffa on 6th and a Sooty Shearwater photographed in Poland on 4th — just the sixth national record.

Photo of the Week, 24–30 December

Stonechat, undisclosed site, Gloucestershire (Photo: Mike McKenzie)

This stunning winning shot proves once again that you don't need to crop a bird from corner to corner of the frame for a picture to have impact writes Steve Young, and it also proves that you don't need sunshine and fast shutter speeds to take a great digital image!

Mike McKenzie's POTW owes everything to composition, dull lighting and the frosty weather. Taken very early in the morning, when frost is always at its best, Mike had to use ISO1600 to even achieve 1/60th second shutter speed, combining his 600mm lens with a 1.4× converter and leaving the lens wide open.

Placing the bird on one side of the frame has also worked beautifully on this occasion and the whole image just says "winter". It's a perfect winning shot for the end of December; congratulations to Mike.

Other notable images

Barn Owl
Barn Owl, Ash Level, Kent (Photo: Chiddy)

Greenfinch, The Shunan, Mainland, Orkney (Photo: Alastair Forsyth)

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl, Orford, Suffolk (Photo: John Richardson)

Grey-headed Woodpecker
Grey-headed Woodpecker, Poland (Photo: Artur Stankiewicz)

Eastern Black Redstart
Eastern Black Redstart, St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly (Photo: Ashley Fisher)

Iceland Gull
Iceland Gull, North Shields, Northumberland (Photo: Jonathan Farooqi (Age 14))

Crested Tit
Crested Tit, Glenmore Forest Park, Highland (Photo: John Clark)

Goldfinch, undisclosed site, Norfolk (Photo: Matt Crosby)

Sparrowhawk, Roslin, Lothian (Photo: Dennis Morrison)

Green Woodpecker
Green Woodpecker, private site, Suffolk (Photo: Jamie MacArthur)

Marsh Harrier
Marsh Harrier, Far Ings NR, Lincolnshire (Photo: Mandy West)

Little Egret
Little Egret, Burnham Overy, Norfolk (Photo: Chris Cook)

Photo of the Week, 31 December–6 January

Tawny Owl
Tawny Owl, Ashton-in-Makerfield, Greater Manchester (Photo: Roy Rimmer)

Owls are one of the most popular subjects for our photographers writes Steve Young; species such as Tawny Owl are notoriously difficult to photograph in flight as, unlike Short-eared and Barn Owls, they are essentially nocturnal. To photograph a Tawny at night requires plenty of knowledge of a bird while the use of flash is a necessity.

Roy Rimmer has combined such knowledge superbly to achieve this stunning flying shot of a Tawny Owl heading, presumably, for its favourite perch; as Roy says: "When you are rewarded with a head-on shot like this, it's worth all of the months of planning, preparation and missed opportunities". That pioneer of owl photography Eric Hosking would, I think, have been proud of taking this shot.

Congratulations to Roy on the final POTW of 2014; soon we will be adjudicating on Photo of the Year when a panel of judges will vote for their favourite images of 2014.

Other notable images

Velvet Scoter
Velvet Scoter, Musselburgh, Lothian (Photo: S Gillies)

Brahminy Kite
Brahminy Kite, India (Photo: Sunny Joseph)

Tufted Duck
Tufted Duck, Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire (Photo: Nick Clayton)

Blue Tit
Blue Tit, undisclosed site, Norfolk (Photo: Matt Crosby)

Black Redstart
Black Redstart, Malta (Photo: Natalino Fenech)

Water Rail
Water Rail, Marsh Lane NR (PERMIT ONLY), West Midlands (Photo: Peter Walkden)

Turnstone, Felixstowe, Suffolk (Photo: John Richardson)

Sanderling, Titchwell RSPB, Norfolk (Photo: Neil Rendall)

Black-headed Gull
Black-headed Gull, Whitley Bay, Northumberland (Photo: Heiko Peters)

Bittern, Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk (Photo: Jon Evans)

Shore Lark
Shore Lark, Covehithe Broad, Suffolk (Photo: Jon Evans)