It's official: October 2001 was the warmest on record by a long way. Neatly defined seasons seem to be a thing of the past; it's the 1st November and the trees are still full of leaves. Is this proof of global warming or a short-term blip?
Bird-wise it has been a quiet week, punctuated only by a few 5-star rarities and some excellent visible migration counts. A male Siberian Rubythroat was picked up dead on Shetland on the 25th. If accepted, it will be only the third British record. This species is surely on the 'most wanted' list of the majority of birders and the previous record in Dorset in 1997 was present for just one October afternoon, successfully eluding the majority of the birding fraternity. With species such as this at this time of year, age is one of the key criteria against which to assess the 'likely origin' of the record. It is generally accepted that most Siberian vagrants occurring in north-western Europe undertake a reverse migration, so instead of heading south-east to their wintering quarters they head north-west; these comprise first-winter birds. Records of adult Siberian vagrants at this time of year are extremely rare and the origin of such birds could be considered debatable, given that it could be assumed that such birds have, at least once in their lives, undertaken a successful migration to their wintering quarters, so they should not really be susceptible to reverse migration! For some species it is also important to assess the race, as well as the age, involved. This is why sometimes birds that have been correctly identified, appeared to originate from the 'right area' and turned up in a migration hot-spot, do not find their way onto the national totals because the probability of escape outweighs the probability of natural occurrence. These are some of the difficulties faced by assessors of rare birds.
Elsewhere, the rarities were well spread. The Isles of Scilly yielded both Chimney Swift and Cliff Swallow during the week, whilst a Bobolink was an excellent find in East Yorkshire for the afternoon of the 27th. A Roller was a superb record for Skokholm on the 26th and an Isabelline Shrike was a cracking inland find in Gloucestershire, though neither were accessible for more than a handful of observers. A first-winter Whiskered Tern in Buckinghamshire, and later Bedfordshire, on the 30th and 31st was a nice late find and a Yellow-breasted Bunting frequented Bressay on the 26th. A Harlequin Duck was reported on a seawatch in Argyll and the Snowy Owl remained in the Felixstowe Docks complex for the week. Gone are the days when a late Swift was just that, and of the Swift sp. reported during the week, one lingered long enough to be identified as another Pallid Swift, this time at Dungeness on the 31st.
The prospects for the foreseeable future look less than exciting, but at this time of year anything is possible, anywhere.