Review of the Week: 24th-30th April 2003


A great week with winds coming from a southerly direction. There were some fantastic birds and a colourful splash of Red-rumped Swallows. Migrants are still arriving, though Portland Bird observatory (Dorset) reported its lowest April ringing total since 1992. In contrast observers in many areas are reporting their earliest Swifts. Bird of the week was an easy call, though there were some excellent runners-up.

A Red-throated Flycatcher was seen and then caught at Flamborough Head (E. Yorks) on 26th April. The Red-throated Flycatcher, often referred to as Taiga Flycatcher, is the eastern counterpart of Red-breasted Flycatcher. It breeds from eastern Russia eastwards to the Far East and winters in southern China, southeast India and southeast Asia. At present, a number of authors propose that it should be regarded as a separate species, but the BOU currently regards it as a subspecies. Long awaited in Britain there have been previous European records in Sweden in October 1998, with another in Denmark in 2002. Being a ‘sibe’ it would therefore seem unlikely that the first British record would be of one in late April. However, it is probable this 1st-year male first arrived in western Europe last autumn. Close scrutiny of late autumn Red-breasted Flycatchers will no doubt lead to more Red-throated Flycatchers being picked up in the coming years, but what a nice way to open its account with British birders by being a lovely male! Obligingly it remained until the 29th, and frequently showed exceptionally well.

Red-throated Flycatcher, Flamborough Head (Pete Wragg Red-throated Flycatcher, Flamborough Head (Steve Blain)

A Little Swift over St. Mary’s (Scilly) on 28th, was yet another addition to the increasing number of spring records for this former mega rarity. They are now almost becoming an expected spring overshoot with records annually since 1997 (with the exception of 1999). The major feature of the week was an arrival of Red-rumped Swallows with at least 24 reported, including two together in Cheshire and 1, then 2, then 3, then 4, at Gibraltar Point (Lincs) on 29th and early on 30th. Although still an official rarity, this is one of a growing number of species that might be better considered regular scarce migrants, but it is a rarity that inland birders have an equal chance of finding as many local patch birders found out this week. Associated with this arrival have been at least 9 Alpine Swifts, another species better considered a scarce migrant, including an obliging bird in Suffolk commuting between Minsmere and its roost site at Sizewell. One of the most mobile of birds, collectable birds are rare and prove deservedly popular. A supporting cast included a report of a Crag Martin in West Sussex, Tawny Pipits in Cork and Norfolk, Savi’s Warblers on Scilly and Devon, and a Bee-eater in West Sussex. A male Little Bunting at Sennen (Cornwall) and Richard’s Pipits on Scilly part of the regular spring records for both species.

Alpine Swift, Minsmere (Sean Nixon Red-throated Flycatcher, Flamborough Head (Mark Reeder)

Not all of the action was in the skies or in the bushes. A Marsh Sandpiper in Kent (where else) was perhaps last weeks bird from Suffolk. A Lesser Yellowlegs lingered in South Yorkshire from 27th onwards, a spotty Spotted Sandpiper was in Derbyshire from 30th and a Kentish Plover was in West Sussex. An adult Laughing Gull was seen briefly in Angus and a Purple Heron proved popular in Notts, with others in Scilly and Devon. Quail were reported from Notts and Cambs, a handful of Golden Orioles have brightened up many a day from Pembrokeshire to Suffolk. Overhead, a number of Black Kites were reported, including well tracked birds in Norfolk and Suffolk. Small numbers of Pomarine Skuas have been seen along the English Channel, but Bowness-on-Solway and other sites on the Solway (Cumbs) have been the ‘place’ for the last few days, with double-figure counts on a number of days. Finally, a diver survey off Lewis (Outer Hebs) located no less than 7 White-billed Divers.

Lesser Yellowlegs, Thorne Moors (Richard Popplewell Lesser Yellowlegs, Thorne Moors (Mark Reeder)

Written by: Russell Slack