Review of the Week: 24th–30th January


The week at a glance

After two bitterly cold weeks, a deep transatlantic weather system finally broke the routine of freezing weather over the weekend. On the plus side, temperatures rocketed from sub-zero to over 14°C by the latter half of the week. However, the adjustment in conditions also led to considerably more unsettled weather taking hold as heavy rain and gale-force winds battered the country, particularly the far north and west. But the switch-up failed to produce any dynamic birding and, a report of a Black-browed Albatross past Lahinch (Clare) on 30th aside, new rarities continued to prove extremely difficult to come by.

In West Sussex, the Red-breasted Goose remained with Dark-bellied Brents at Thorney Island to 29th at least, with a presumed escapee also in the county at Henfield on 26th and the Solway bird again at Loaningfoot (Dumf & Gall) on 30th. The Todd's Canada Goose was still at Caerlaverock (Dumf & Gall) with a second at Kirkbean on 24th and the Richardson's Canada Goose at Freiston Shore (Lincs) on 26th. An unsurprising geographical distribution of British Black Brants involved seven between Lincolnshire and Hampshire in addition to Irish birds in Clare and Wexford. The two white-morph Snow Geese continued on North Uist (Outer Hebrides) with the blue morph again in Lancashire at Upper Thurnham on 24th, and the Norfolk Ross's Goose of suspect origin still touring the east of the county.

The vast majority of scarce wildfowl concerned lingering birds, although a fine drake Ferruginous Duck was new in at Priory Country Park (Beds) from 27th. Drake Lesser Scaup remained in Cornwall and Somerset, while of the nine Ring-necked Ducks, new drakes were seen at Lough Leane (Kerry) and Roo Lough (Clare) and the triumvirate reappeared on St. Mary's (Scilly). The American Coot further extended its stay in Galway. Drake American Wigeon stayed put in Leitrim, Highland and Norfolk, although there were three new drake Green-winged Teal among the dozen reported: at Blashford Lakes (Hants) on 26th, Colyford Common (Devon) on 29th and Rutland Water on 30th. A gathering of up to 19 Smew at Dungeness (Kent) was the largest congregation reported this winter, while a drake Surf Scoter among 450 Scaup off The Wig (Dumf & Gall) on 26th was new; others continued off Waterford and Pembrokeshire. A White-billed Diver off Cara, South Ronaldsay (Orkney) on 29th is likely a returning bird.

Green-winged Teal
Green-winged Teal, Polemere, Shropshire (Photo: Philip John Parsons)

Ring-necked Duck
Ring-necked Duck, Lough Leane, Kerry (Photo: Fionn Moore)

Surf Scoter
Surf Scoter, Broad Haven, Pembrokeshire (Photo: Richard Stonier)

Considerable excitement in Northumberland concerned the arrival of the county's second Cattle Egret to Holy Island, identified on 26th and still there on 30th (although apparently present a few days previously) — the first was as long ago as 1986! A similar showing of Great White Egrets to recent weeks included several still in southeast Kent and Somerset, while Glossy Ibis lingered in Cork and Pembrokeshire respectively. Flocks of seven Cranes remained on Sheppey (Kent) and at Clifton Pits (Worcs) although there were no reports of the Tacumshin (Wexford) birds, where the juvenile Northern Harrier was seen again on 26th. Norfolk monopolized Rough-legged Buzzard reports: five seen included two at Haddiscoe Marshes.

Cattle Egret
Cattle Egret, Holy Island, Northumberland (Photo: Ron Hindhaugh)

Waders involved the Long-billed Dowitchers still at Lady's Island Lake (Wexford) and on the Gann Estuary (Pembrokeshire), while the Lesser Yellowlegs remained in Ernesettle Creek (Devon) throughout. A Grey Phalarope was off Claddagh Beach (Galway) on 29th.

One of the more exciting discoveries of the week was an adult Bonaparte's Gull in Princes Park, Eastbourne (E Sussex) on 27th. However, it would appear this is more of a rediscovery, given that there were a couple of brief reports from the same location back in early August 2012 — has the bird been visiting here, unnoticed, for five months? Either way, it appears to be a little more reliable this time round, having been seen again on 28th and 30th. The two adults in Glamorgan, on the Ogmore Estuary and in Cardiff Bay, both remained in residence, and the Antrim bird was again in Larne on 30th. The Forster's Tern was again off Kinvarra (Galway) on 27th but there was no sign of last week's first-winter in Wexford.

Bonaparte's Gull
Bonaparte's Gull, Eastbourne, East Sussex (Photo: Jake Gearty)

Thirteen Irish Ring-billed Gulls included three adults at Atlantic Pond (Cork) and twos still in Castletown Bearhaven (Cork) and Tralee (Kerry). An improved British showing involved half-a-dozen individuals including a new adult at Avonmouth (Somerset) on 24th and the returning adult again seen in Dingwall (Highland) — others were still in Cornwall, Hampshire, West Yorkshire and Shetland. Cambridgeshire's adult Kumlien's Gull was seen at Tanholt Pits on 26th, while Glaucous Gulls outnumbered Iceland Gulls almost 2:1. With storms predicted to batter us in to the coming week, perhaps we can expect a pulse of new arrivals in the near future.

Iceland Gull
Iceland Gull, Barmston, East Yorkshire (Photo: Chris Downes)

Last week's Hoopoe continued to perform well at times at Hamworthy (Dorset) to 28th at least. Passerines this week included a mobile Richard's Pipit in the Kilnsea (E Yorks) area and a probable male Common Rosefinch visiting feeders in a Broadstone (Dorset) garden on 28th–29th. Both the Black-bellied Dipper in Norfolk and the Desert Wheatear in Aberdeenshire remained in residence throughout the week, while the Pallas's Warbler was still in Berkshire on 28th and the Rose-coloured Starling in Devon on 29th. Great Grey Shrike numbers remained pitifully low with just eight reported, although two together at Therfield Heath (Herts) on 26th–27th was notable.

Hoopoe, Hamworthy, Dorset (Photo: Peter Moore)

Desert Wheatear
Desert Wheatear, Rattray Head, Aberdeenshire (Photo: Tim Marshall)

Pallas's Warbler
Pallas's Warbler, Moor Green Lakes, Berkshire (Photo: Gary Thoburn)

Rose-coloured Starling
Rose-coloured Starling, Exminster, Devon (Photo: Tony Hovell)

Photo of the Week

Water Rail
Water Rail, Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire (Photo: Rob Cross)

Last week, we reflected on how an image of Fieldfares fighting over food in the snow told the story of the UK's current cold weather from a land bird's perspective. This week, Rob Cross has added an alternative version, this time looking at the story through the eyes of an aquatic species. Low temperatures can literally transform the world of water birds, solidifying their whole environment and making it almost impossible to feed. Water Rails are experts at remaining hidden from view in reedbeds, but freezing conditions often see them driven out into the open in search of food. For bird photographers, this provides an excellent opportunity to capture these handsome birds in an uncluttered setting, enabling their distinctive form and features to be fully appreciated. With a uniform backdrop of sheet ice, Rob's portrait shot is a perfect example. Shallow depth-of-field draws attention to the rail's pin-sharp head and adds a sense of depth to the image. After noticing the red eye and bill, though, the eye can't help but wander around the lines of the bird's contorted yet characteristic pose. Some bird photographers are obsessed with recording their subjects sideways-on, field guide style, but tracing the elegant curves from this rail's feet or tail through the centre of the body, neck, head and bill illustrates how an image can be given another dimension.

Other notable images

Slavonian Grebe
Slavonian Grebe, Littlebrook Lake, Kent (Photo: Mick Southcott)

Kestrel, Wigan, Greater Manchester (Photo: Roy)

Sparrowhawk, Laurieston, Dumfries & Galloway (Photo: Chas Moonie)

Indian Roller
Indian Roller, India (Photo: Jineesh.M)

Black-bellied Dipper
Black-bellied Dipper, Thetford, Norfolk (Photo: Steve)

Pallas's Warbler
Pallas's Warbler, Moor Green Lakes, Berkshire (Photo: Ian Curran)

Chough, Great Orme, Conwy (Photo: Bob Garrett)

Firecrest, Swanbourne Lake, West Sussex (Photo: Leigh Prevost)

Blue Tit
Blue Tit, Leitholm, Borders (Photo: Ron McCombe)

Karoo Prinia
Karoo Prinia, South Africa (Photo: Charlie Fleming)

Pintail, Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire (Photo: Mr Clive Daelman)

Shoveler, London Wetland Centre WWT, Greater London (Photo: Tom Hines)

Fieldfare, Bramcote, Nottinghamshire (Photo: John Dickenson)