Last weekend saw exceptionally strong winds batter southern Britain, and a repeat of the 1987 gales was in the mind of many. However, the low pressure tracked high across the Atlantic from a more westerly direction and many observers were left watching flotsam scurry across their local body of water rather than a diverse array of wrecked seabirds!
A Grey-cheeked Thrush on St. Agnes continued the Nearctic theme of last week and will be seen as the saviour of a poor autumn for these famous islands. After a few false starts with this species this autumn, a lingering individual will have come as a welcome relief to many new listers. With three birds were found, including two on St. Agnes. There have been just three records since, with two on Orkney and a dead bird in Cornwall.
The islands also hosted their first record of Blyth's Reed Warbler, on St. Mary's. This is yet another individual to be found and identified without the aid of a mist net. Are the clouds of confusion finally lifting as finders become more assured of their convictions? Also on the islands was a Dark-throated Thrush (with another in Kent), Red-rumped Swallow (with two more in Norfolk), Melodious Warbler and two Serins (with one on Cape Clear and another at Portland). Other highlights in the southwest included an inland Surf Scoter, and a Western Bonelli's Warbler at Land's End. The controversial Acrocephalus warbler in Cornwall continued to bemuse, bewilder and educate. This bird highlighted that no matter how far along the identification spectrum we have travelled there will sometimes be a bird that makes us take a step backwards and realise that not everything drops into neat little boxes! Likewise, the orange-billed tern was still present in Dingle Harbour, with the majority vote leaning towards an Elegant Tern. In Norfolk a possible Pallid Swift was reported, and as befits the recent upsurge in records for this subtle vagrant, all swifts deserve more than a second, third and fourth look at this time of year. In East Yorkshire the adult White-throated Sparrow continued to entertain visitors to Flamborough Head, but was elusive at times.
Scarce migrants were, well, scarce! There were three Richard's Pipits, two Pallas's Warblers, a handful of Yellow-browed Warblers, four Barred Warblers, three Wrynecks, three Red-backed Shrikes, two Red-breasted Flycatchers and two Little Buntings. There were four American Golden Plovers reported during the week, plus a Long-billed Dowitcher in Londonderry (with another again in Carmarthen) and a number of rarities continued their extended stays at several sites. These included the Pacific Golden Plover on the Outer Hebrides, Glossy Ibis in Devon and Shetland, Lesser Yellowlegs in Hertfordshire (to 28th) and White-winged Black Tern in Norfolk. Of the rare ducks, long-stayers included Redhead, Lesser Scaup and Black Duck (with two reported in Cornwall) and the King Eider returned to Fife.
The storms over the weekend produced at least nine inland Grey Phalaropes with a further 27 coastal birds. There were just over 25 Leach's Petrels, most of which were pushed along the eastern edge of the Irish Sea, whilst further south just over 20 European Storm-petrels were noted from a number of southern and western watchpoints. At least 14 Sabine's Gulls occurred, with smaller numbers of Balearic and Sooty Shearwaters and skuas. Inland birders had a quiet time of it despite the raging storms, though a number of displaced Little Gulls and Kittiwakes brightened up a number of waters.