Review of the Week: 25th September-1st October 2003


A cracking week, with some superb eastern rarities, a couple of rare American thrushes, and lots of scarce migrants. The only problem for most of us was that the action was nearly all on the Northern Isles!

Sykes's Warbler: North Ronaldsay, Orkney. (Photo: Tony Disley) Sykes's Warbler: North Ronaldsay, Orkney. (Photo: Alan Clewes)

A Sykes's Warbler was trapped on North Ronaldsay (Orkney) on 29th and remained to the 1st. Breeding in Central Asia and wintering in Pakistan, India and Arabia, Sykes's has only recently been split from Booted Warbler and accorded 'full species' status and remains a mega rarity. But, as birders become increasingly aware of the identification features of for this subtle rarity then records may well become almost annual, especially as the criteria for separating some birds in the field are becoming clearer. There have been three previous British records: Fair Isle (Shetland) 29th-31st August 1959; Lerwick (Shetland) 22nd October-9th November 1993 and; Portland (Dorset) 1st July 2000. In 2002, one was also trapped on North Ronaldsay on 26th August 2002 and another was seen at Beachy Head (E. Sussex) on 31st August 2002 which, if accepted, will take the total number of records to 5.

A supporting cast of mouthwatering eastern vagrants also appeared on the Northern Isles during the week. A White's Thrush, surely one of the dream finds for most birders, was at Sumburgh (Shetland) on 28th. Found early afternoon this bird eventually flew into a window and was taken into care, but was later released and flew off without any apparent ill-effects. A Red-flanked Bluetail was on Fetlar (Shetland) on 28th; also increasingly regular in the past few years, this remains another species high on the 'want to find' list of many birders. On Scilly a Greenish Warbler of the form plumbeitarsus ('Two-barred Greenish Warbler') was identified on Bryher on 28th and was first reported on the 27th. 'Two-barred Greenish Warbler', the easternmost of the six forms of Greenish Warbler, breeds in southern Central and eastern Siberia, wintering from southern China to southern Thailand, and has occurred twice before in Britain: on Gugh (Scilly) in October 1987 and Wells (Norfolk) in October 1996. Although presently 'lumped' with Greenish, listers will have been keen to see this bird, just in case the taxonomic pendulum swings in their favour in the future.

Grey-cheeked Thrush: Foula, Shetland. (Photo: Tony Mainwood) Grey-cheeked Thrush: Foula, Shetland. (Photo: Tony Mainwood)

The appearance of two Nearctic thrushes might come as a bit of a surprise in the face of the onslaught from the east, but autumn in Britain and Ireland can present just that fusion of east meets west. A Grey-cheeked Thrush was trapped on Foula (Shetland) on 27th and remained to the 29th and a Swainson's Thrush was found at Sandwick, Unst (Shetland) also on 27th, remaining to the 30th. Not surprisingly, both of these species are southwest specialities, but a number have been detected on the Northern Isles; presumably more occur in suitable conditions but evade detection.

Western Bonelli's Warbler: Kilnsea, E. Yorks. (Photo: Alan Clewes) Paddyfield Warbler: Foula, Shetland. (Photo: Tony Mainwood)

A quality supporting cast of rarities filled binoculars (and occasionally mist nets) on the Northern Isles. A Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler was trapped at Skaw, Whalsay (Shetland) from 28th onwards. Paddyfield Warblers were on Barra (Outer Hebrides) from 26th-27th and another was trapped on Foula on 29th and remained to the 1st. Four Lanceolated Warblers included one on Fair Isle on 28th, with another on the 29th, one was an Sanday (Orkney) on 29th and another on Out Skerries from 30th-1st. Blyth's Reed Warblers are expected autumn vagrants nowadays and five occurred during the week with singles were trapped at: Barra on 26th; Foula from 28th-1st; Fair Isle on 28th, North Ronaldsay on 30th and; Isle of May on 1st. On Out Skerries a 1st-winter Isabelline Shrike was picked up dead on 1st and Olive-backed Pipits were there from 29th-30th and at Kergord (Shetland) on 2nd. A Yellow-breasted Bunting was at Sumburgh on 26th and a Red-headed Bunting/Black-headed Bunting was at Tory Island on 1st.

Booted Warbler: Tory Island, Donegal. (Photo: John Coveney) Arctic Warbler: Bloody Foreland, Donegal. (Photo: Tom Shevlin)

Species classed as rarities, but nowadays taking over the role of scarce migrants, were also in good supply. Booted Warblers were at Tory Island (Co. Donegal) on 27th and St. Agnes (Scilly) from 28th-1st, whilst Arctic Warblers were at Bloody Foreland (Co. Donegal) from 28th-30th and Fetlar on 1st, plus a Greenish Warbler was at Brotton (Cleveland) on 28th. Subalpine Warblers were on Unst on 28th and Bressay (Shetland) on 30th and Western Bonelli's Warblers were at Nanjizal (Cornwall) from 26th-28th and Spurn (E. Yorks) on 30th. The first Radde's Warblers of the autumn were at Spurn on 1st with another at Gibraltar Point (Lincs) also on 1st. On Fair Isle a Savi's Warbler showing characteristics of the eastern form fusca> was trapped on the 30th. The Northern Isles hosted at least 5 Arctic Redpolls, a Rustic Bunting was on Barra on 28th and a Woodchat Shrike was also there on the 1st. Finally, an Aquatic Warbler was trapped at Nanjizal on 27th with one reported on St. Mary's the same day.

It was a good week for rare terns. Whiskered Terns were at Bunduff Lake (Co. Sligo) from 25th-27th, with another at Dungeness RSPB (Kent) from 26th-27th. A Caspian Tern was seen off Newbiggin and Cambois (Northumberland) on 27th and a Gull-billed Tern was reported off Tingwall (Orkney). A Little Shearwater was reported past Grimston (E. Yorks) on 27th. Numbers of rare waders were declining, but an adult and juvenile Broad-billed Sandpiper were at South Ronaldsay (Orkney) on 29th. A handful of American Golden Plovers included watchable adults at Bishopthorpe (N. Yorks) and on the Eden Estuary (Fife) and a White-rumped Sandpiper was at Lady's Island Lake (Co. Wexford). Additional Lesser Yellowlegs were Co. Wexford, Co. Galway and Cornwall, plus the popular birds on St. Mary's and in Cleveland. Somewhat amazingly, an adult Glossy Ibis joined the immature bird on the Exe Estuary (Devon) – just how did they find each other?

Icterine Warbler: Spurn, E. Yorks. Three birds were seen, including this one at Spurn. (Photo: Mark Reeder) Red-breasted Flycatcher: Spurn, E. Yorks. Around 35 indivduals were noted. (Photo: Mark Reeder)

Yellow-browed Warbler: Sandwich Bay, Kent:. A notable influx during the week comprised at least 130 birds. (Photo: Andrew Lawson)

Scarce migrants featured highly. The most prominent arrival was of Yellow-browed Warblers, with over 130 reported, including at least 15 on Fair Isle on 30th. There were around 35 Barred Warblers, three Icterine Warblers, three Melodious Warblers and around 35 Red-breasted Flycatchers. There were at least 18 Richard's Pipits, two Tawny Pipits, a dozen Bluethroats, half-a-dozen Red-backed Shrikes and at least 25 Wrynecks. Around a dozen Ortolan Buntings were mostly in the southwest, there were half-a-dozen Little Buntings and just under 30 Common Rosefinches.

Ortolan Bunting: Sewardstone, Essex:. Around a dozen were noted. (Photo: Robin Edwards)

So, there you have it – a rarity-packed week, stacked to the roof with rares. Will the Isles of Scilly 'fight back' as we progress through October?

Grey Phalarope: Grafham Water, Cambs. This 1st-winter allowed typically close approach. (Photo: Nigel Blake) Buff-breasted Sandpiper: Northwick Warth, Glos. Of a handful during the week, this one was was just reward for a dedicated local patch watcher. (Photo: Gary Thoburn)
Written by: Russell Slack