As the remnants of Storm Nigel fizzled out to the north of our islands, what is perhaps the best-ever autumn in British and Irish birding for rarities churned out even more mouth-watering goodies, from the east as well as the west. Both quality and quantity were the order of the week, with the appearance of two American passerine species so far unrecorded this autumn, alongside new individuals of 10 species already on the books for autumn 2023. Meanwhile, there were some enviable finds from the east, vying for the headlines alongside a suite of rare waders and seabirds.
With no previous records in Ireland and only two in Britain, the discovery of a first-winter male Cape May Warbler on Achill Island, Co Mayo, stood out as the most significant find of the week. Initially located on 29th, it was still gleaming from fuchsia at Corrymore on Sunday to the delight of all who made the journey to enjoy it.
At risk of losing its 'mythical' status, but with no threat to its desirability and power to thrill, the second Blackburnian Warbler of the year had birders on Shetland hot-footing it to Geosetter on the Mainland when it was discovered mid-morning on 26th. Showing brilliantly into the evening, pretty much everyone on Shetland at the time managed to share in this most thrilling of American warblers, but there was no sign the next morning.
Incredibly, Bardsey Island, Gwynedd, pulled in its third — and the year's fourth — Black-and-white Warbler in the space of a week when a first-winter male was trapped and ringed by the bird observatory team on 27th. The bird remained elusive in the observatory garden till at least late afternoon on 1st, leaving birders hoping for a successful sailing across the next day.
An American Yellow Warbler, the second in Britain this autumn, appeared on Tiree on 30th. The first-winter male was still present the next day, poised to represent the first record for Argyll and the sixth for Scotland. One wonders what else this hallowed western isle might deliver later in the autumn.
Fetlar, Shetland, hosted the fifth Tennessee Warbler of the autumn for Britain and Ireland on 29th, albeit briefly. Two of the previous birds were seen into this week, with the Barra bird staying to 25th and the individual in Inishbofin, Co Galway, to 26th. There must be many hoping there will be a sixth, and that it will be somewhere easier to get to than all the others in this incredible run of records.
In Pembrokeshire, the well-twitched Bay-breasted Warbler on Ramsey Island completed a six-day stay as it was last seen on 25th, with the Canada Warbler at St Govan's Head taking its leave at the same time. The Magnolia Warbler at St Govan’s hung on an extra day, while the Glamorgan individual was on offer till 29th. On Scilly, birders enjoyed the first-winter female Northern Parula till 29th.
The American warblers were backed up by a fine array of other Nearctic passerines. With just 12 previous records in Britain and Ireland, and eight years since the last in Scotland, a Veery discovered at Lunna on Mainland Shetland was a top-tier highlight of the last week of September. This sought-after Catharus thrush gave stunning views in sycamores behind the kirk from 29th to the week's end. It is early in the autumn for rare thrushes, but there was also a report of an American Robin at Caerthillian Cove, Cornwall, on 29th.
A Baltimore Oriole rewarded searches of Dursey Island, Co Cork, on 29th, where it consorted with Greenfinches. This follows others that arrived in Co Galway and Co Antrim the previous week, these staying till 25th and 26th respectively.
On the Isles of Scilly, a brief Bobolink welcomed in the week on St Agnes on 25th, followed by the appearance of one near the airport on St Mary's on 29th. The latter was joined by a second bird on 30th and 1st, the first time two have been seen together in Britain and Ireland.
The 'only' new American Cliff Swallows of the week moved over Dungarvan town centre, Co Waterford, on 26th with other hirundines, and north over Lundy, Devon, on 29th. Another re-appeared at Lough Clubir, Co Cork, on 25th. There was no shortage of Red-eyed Vireos, though, with a total of 17 logged. Bempton Cliffs RSPB, East Yorkshire, and Calf of Man were the most unusual locations, though six on Barra (including a 'flock' of three) was an outstanding event for the Outer Hebrides.
Analysis of photographs and observation timings on St Kilda, Outer Hebrides, revealed that a total of four different American Buff-bellied Pipits had been on the island over the past ten days. At least two of these were seen there during the week. Skokholm, Pembrokeshire, held onto its Alder Flycatcher till 29th.
Lundy also struck gold this week with a Yellow-breasted Bunting found drinking from a puddle on the afternoon of 25th. It flew towards the airport but birders took a punt on it still be around the next day. Unfortunately, this challenging species wasn't going to give itself up so easily.
A small but pleasing selection of other passerines from the east included a few crowd-pleasers. Particularly popular were the Eastern Olivaceous Warbler at Long Nab, North Yorkshire, from 26-28th and a fine first-winter Lesser Grey Shrike on the top of Caradon Hill, Cornwall, from 26th to the week’s end. Those quick off the mark were able to enjoy a one-day Isabelline Wheatear at Southwold, Suffolk, on 26th.
Mainland Shetland turned up a River Warbler at Brae on 1st and Rustic Buntings at Cunningsburgh and Wester Quarff. The latter also hosted an unidentified subalpine warbler sp on 1st. The northernmost Shetland isle of Unst delivered an obliging Eastern Yellow Wagtail from 26-30th.
Anglesey enjoyed its first Red-throated Pipit at South Stack on 1st, a flyover confirmed after the event from a sound recording. The Iberian Chiffchaff lingered in its chosen garden at Mizen Head, Co Cork, all week.
Shetland had two Arctic Warblers, one each of Radde's Warbler and Greenish Warbler, and three lingering Blyth's Reed Warblers over the course of the week and many birders diverted to see the Bluethroat still on the dung heap and Citrine Wagtail on nearby lawn at Sound, Mainland, all week. Another Bluethroat was on North Ronaldsay, Orkney. Just two Greater Short-toed Larks were put out: one at Scatness, Shetland, and another on St Agnes, Scilly. Lundy, Devon, scored an Ortolan Bunting on 30th, the same day as a Richard's Pipit on Fair Isle.
A Red-flanked Bluetail was found in Dyfnant Forest, Powys, on 29th. A total of 15 Red-breasted Flycatchers was recorded, including four in Ireland. Rosy Starlings comprised a bird around Lizard village, Cornwall, two on Rousay, Orkney, and another on Cape Clear, Co Cork.
Red-backed Shrikes were thin on the ground, with most of the review period's five birds hanging on from last week. Marazion, Cornwall, held on to its first-winter Woodchat Shrike throughout. All of the week's 18 Common Rosefinches were in expected coastal locations and islands, while Shetland and Orkney had the monopoly on the 19 Little Buntings reported. An Olive-backed Pipit was on Foula, Shetland.
A European Bee-eater was reported at Hauxley, Northumberland, on 29th. Hoopoes lingered at Aldingham, Cumbria, and Marazion, Cornwall, with others reported at Crows-an-War and Lockengate, both also Cornwall.
Headlining the wader arrivals this week was an adult Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at Blacktoft Sands RSPB, East Yorkshire, which was discovered on 25th and afforded patient birders two more fleeting appearances over the next two days. A second individual, a juvenile, was found on North Uist, Outer Hebrides, on 1st. A Wilson's Phalarope at the still-hot North Point Pools from 28th to the week's end was much easier and gave Norfolk birders their first opportunity for the species in the county since 2013.
North Bay on South Uist attracted a juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper from 26-30th, where it was joined by a Baird's Sandpiper for its last two days. The Baird's on Tiree, Argyll, remained all week and another juvenile put in a brief appearance at Goswick, Northumberland, on 1st.
In Co Wicklow, there was a Long-billed Dowitcher at Buckroney from 29-30th, while long-stayers remained in Co Cork, Norfolk and Orkney. Spotted Sandpipers lingered on the Isle of May, Fife, till 27th and Howth Head, Co Dublin, to 1st.
As many as 20 American Golden Plovers, a mix of adults and juveniles, were scattered from Cornwall to Shetland, with a further three in Ireland, but the species was was trumped by a total of 30 Pectoral Sandpipers.
White-rumped Sandpipers were at Frampton Marsh RSPB all week, lingering on, and at Myroe Levels, Co Londonderry on 27th. New Lesser Yellowlegs appeared at Buckroney, Co Wicklow, Rosslare Backstrand, Co Wexford, and on Lewis, Outer Hebrides. Others extended their stays at Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire, Gann Estuary, Pembrokeshire, and Rosscarbery, Co Cork.
A juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Gibraltar Point, Lincolnshire, stood out as the most out-of-place individual out of the 10 logged. Steart WWT, Somerset, had a juvenile Temminck's Stint on 30-1st. A scattering of 15 Eurasian Dotterel included braces on Scilly and in Gwynedd, while a flyover at Sanderstead was an excellent London record. Red-necked Phalaropes were on offer in Anglesey, Hampshire and Kent.
The third South Polar Skua of the autumn for Scilly, and the whole of Britain and Ireland, was encountered on a pelagic 10km north of St Martin’s on 30th. Another boat-based mega came in the form of a Black-browed Albatross from the ferry heading out from Plymouth to Santander on 26th.
Seawatching efforts at Pendeen, Cornwall, on 29th paid off with a Barolo Shearwater. Brown Boobies appeared off Eyemouth, Borders, on 25th and 30th, Bridges of Ross, Co Clare, on 26th and Granton, Lothian, on 28th.
The Double-crested Cormorant first seen at Doon Lough, Co Leitrim, in February 2022 returned to its favourite posts on 28th, giving birders an extra opportunity to catch up with the species on this side of the Atlantic, the bird likely to spend the winter.
Ever-faithful to its roost at Arne RSPB, the second-winter Forster'sTern continued its residence in Poole Harbour all week. An Azores Gull was reported at Blennverville, Co Kerry, on 27th. The Co Mayo adult returned to Annagh Marsh from 30th. The previous day, the adult Bonaparte's Gull at Kinnegar Shore, Co Down, made another appearance.
A second-winter Ring-billed Gull flew over West Gernish on South Uist, Outer Hebrides, on 29th. Co Waterford enjoyed an adult White-winged Tern off Dungarvan from 26-30th. At the Farne Islands, Northumberland, a White-billed Diver moved south offshore on 29th. A Spotted Crake was flushed at Quendale, Mainland Shetland, on 28th.
Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire, continued to host the juvenile Black Stork all week.
There was an intriguing report of a heard-only Black-crowned Night Heron at Radley GPs, Oxfordshire, on 28th. The juvenile Purple Heron continued at Marazion Marsh, Cornwall, and another spent 29th at Grafham Water, Cambridgeshire.
The best new wildfowl on offer were drake Ferruginous Ducks at Stanford Pit, Bedfordshire, and Feltwell, Norfolk, both on 1st, with another still at Draycote Water, Warwickshire, to 29th, and Red-breasted Geese between Budle Bay and Fenham, Northumberland, from 27-1st (amazingly the county's first since the 1800s!) and at Nairn on 30th.
Co Mayo's American Black Duck was still in resident at Cross Lough on 1st. At least two of the East Yorkshire Blue-winged Teal remained, with one at Watton NR on 27th followed by two again at neighbouring Tophill Low NR from 29-1st. In Lothian, the drake King Eider was still floating around off Musselburgh, Lothian, till at least 30th.
The adult drake American Wigeon was a reliable fixture at Kilnsea, East Yorkshire, all week. Ring-necked Ducks included a drake on South Uist, the long-staying female at Lisvane Reservoirs, Glamorgan, and a report of a another drake in Powys. Eight Surf Scoters included a female-type on Corbally Road Reservoir, Co Antrim.
Two Northern Harriers were identified this week, with juveniles ranging around The Mullet, Co Mayo, from 25th and The Lizard, Cornwall, from 28th, both remaining to the end of the week. Three sightings of Pallid Harrier in Shetland between 28th and 1st might have involved the same bird, and others flew through North Point Pools, Norfolk, on 25th and Sanday, Orkney, on 1st. The Essex bird roamed Wallasea Island RSPB all week.
A Black Kite was reported over the M4 near Severn Beach on 25th and a juvenile Montagu's Harrier was encountered in the somewhat random locaiton of Bilboa, Co Carlow, on 26th. The juvenile Red-footed Falcon showed well till 29th at Eglingham, Northumberland, followed on 30th by a report of a male over Durham city.
A Mourning Warbler, the first for Western Palearctic, headlined the Azores scene during its stay on Corvo from 25-29th, first identified as a Connecticut Warbler. A glut of other American passerines on the archipelago during the week included the likes of Philadelphia Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo, Wilson's Warbler, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Ovenbird, six Black-and-white Warblers and two American Yellow Warblers. A juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron was another mighty find on 30-1st on Flores.
Six American Cliff Swallows toured the suburbs of Reykjavík on 26th, with another two, at Keflavík, Suðurnes. Iceland also bagged a Tennessee Warbler.
In the Basque Country, news of a Belted Kingfisher along the Río Lea at Lekeito for its third day emerged on 27th, the bird remaining all week. On Alderney, a male Amur Wagtail appeared on the beach at Longis Bay on 29th.
In France, the Sudan Golden Sparrow remained in Finistère at Île de Sein on 30th. Ouessant Island boasted an American Yellow Warbler on 1st, along with the lingering Semipalmated Plover and American Buff-bellied Pipit. In Hérault, an Upland Sandpiper appeared briefly in a stubble field at Capestang on the morning of 1st.