Review of the Week: 27 November-3 December 2023


It was the official start of winter this week which, rather appropriately, saw much of Britain and Ireland treated to a cold snap that included some hard frosts and, in places, a covering of snow. The birding scene was the quietest it had been for some time and it was a week better suited to spending time indoors and putting up the Christmas decorations while nursing a cup of hot chocolate. Despite this, several top-drawer rarities lingered and there was a new Nearctic mega in Cornwall.

It was a smart adult White-crowned Sparrow in Cornwall that proved the best find of the week. This species has seen a sharp upturn in records in recent years, and this current bird now constitutes the fourth occurrence of this stripy sparrow this year. It is also the first record for Cornwall, so was well received by county birders. Dark lores and a large, pinkish bill identify it as a bird belonging to the nominate leucophrys subspecies, the most common form breeding from Newfoundland and Labrador across to the Northwest Territories.

White-crowned Sparrow (left) with House Sparrow, Rosudgeon, Cornwall (Nick Watmough).

It would seem Scilly's Cape May Warbler has found Bryher to its liking, with the bird making it into December. Cape May Warblers are typically firmly in their Caribbean wintering grounds by mid-November, so, provided the weather doesn't take a turn for the worst, is it set to overwinter?

Cape May Warbler, Bryher, Isles of Scilly (Nick Watmough).

Flamborough's star attraction, the first-winter male Red-headed Bunting, put in a few more shifts and showed on several occasions on 28-29 November. It's starting to show its signature colour scheme, and will no doubt spark a second wave of interest if it continues to hang around to moult even further.

Red-headed Bunting, Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire (Brett Richards).

The adult drake Canvasback continued to prove reliable at Abberton Reservoir, though you would think there is a good chance that it will hang around for much of the winter period. Devon continued to hold the lion's share of Lesser Scaup this week, with four sites holding 10 birds, including an impressive five at Lower Tamar Lake and up to four still at Slapton Ley. The long-staying drake commuted between The Skern and Torridge Estuary with the Eurasian Wigeon flock. It's a quieter winter for Ring-necked Duck than in recent years, although 20 sites reported birds.

Canvasback, Abberton Reservoir, Essex (Neil Bramwell).

Ireland's drake White-winged Scoter resurfaced in Brandon Bay, Co Kerry, on 1 December. Six new Surf Scoter were on offer, supplementing four long-staying birds. Nine Green-winged Teal were well spread between Orkney and Cornwall, though none were reported in Ireland. All six American Wigeon on the news page were lingering birds, with four in Scotland, one in England and one in Ireland. Drake Ferruginous Duck remained in Norfolk and Nottinghamshire, and a new possible juvenile was reported at Cotswold Water Park, Gloucestershire, on 30 November. 

Ring-necked Duck, Glasgow, Clyde (Glyn Sellors).

Three Richardson's Cackling Geese involved two lingering birds on Islay and another at Ballygilgan NR, Co Sligo. A Todd's Canada Goose was with Barnacle Geese at Old Anthorn, Cumbria. Three Red-breasted Geese were up for grabs, including the lingering juvenile in Essex and adult in Northumberland. A new adult arrived at Banks Marsh, Lancashire, on 2 December with a large flock of Pink-footed Geese. Dublin's Grey-bellied Brant was relocated at Blackrock on 27 November. Four Black Brant were reported. Taiga Bean Geese have made it back to Norfolk for another winter, with two at Buckenham Marshes RSPB from 25th. Up to 160 birds also remained on the Slamanann Plateau – hopefully, further winter weather from the east will shift more birds over the North Sea. Ireland welcomed at least nine Bewick's Swans at three sites on 2 December, sadly a decent total for contemporary times.

Red-breasted Goose, Banks Marsh, Lancashire (Pete Kinsella).

An adult Azores Gull joined the melee at Killybegs, Co Donegal, on 2 December, and is thought to be the same bird present in Co Mayo since February 2022. A new adult Bonaparte's Gull at in Mannin Bay, Co Galway, from 2 December. The week's sole Kumlien's Gull was a juvenile coming to bread at Dundalk, Co Louth. It was a poor week for Iceland Gull reports, with birds at just four sites, while Glaucous Gulls had a moderately better showing with 12 sites logging birds. It was also another subpar week for Ring-billed Gulls, with just two reports, one of which was a new adult on the Mullet Peninsula, Co Mayo. 

Kumlien's Gull, Dundalk, Louth (Fergal Stanley).

A flock of Great Shearwaters remained off St Mary's, Scilly, on 27th. Five White-billed Divers were logged past Papa Westray, Orkney, on 1 December, with the only other report being one off Vaila, Shetland, on 30 November.

Glossy Ibis are now a regular fixture of the news page across much of England, though remain rare further north. This made one overflying Donmouth, Aberdeenshire, on 28 November worthy of a mention. A further 22 sites reported birds.

All three Lesser Yellowlegs made it into another reporting week, with birds in East Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Suffolk. Dorset's juvenile American Golden Plover was last reported on 29 November and the juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher lingered at Cuckmere Haven, East Sussex. Somerset's regular Kentish Plover was again reported off Burnham-on-Sea on 29th. Two Grey Phalaropes included one at King George V Reservoir, London, from 28-29 November. 

Grey Phalarope, King George V Reservoir (permit only), London (Chris Farthing).

Eleonora's Falcon isn't a species that springs to mind on a cool November day, so the message of a possible dark morph at Myroe Levels, Co Londonderry, was a surprise. At the time of writing the bird's identity hasn't been confirmed due to the quality of views. A hybrid falcon would seem a more likely option perhaps, or even an odd Peregrine Falcon, though Eleonora's hasn't been ruled out as a formality. The bird was last reported on 30 November. A new Pallid Harrier was discovered at Llanrhidian Marsh, Glamorgan, on 30 November and reported again on 2 December. The regular second-winter female was last reported at Warham Greens, Norfolk, on 1st.

Waxwings continued their march southwards, with birds reported in Hampshire, West Sussex and Kent – leaving just Wiltshire, Dorset, Worcestershire and Surrey awaiting their first sightings of 2023. In total, 640 reports were published on the news page during the week, an increase from last week. Four sites in both Ireland and Northern Ireland reported birds, with a flock also on the Isle of Man. 

Waxwing, Musselburgh, Lothian (Glyn Sellors).

Suffolk's returning male Eastern Yellow Wagtail was joined by an apparent first-winter from 30 November. The Richard's Pipit returned to Huntspill, Somerset, on 3 December after a two-week hiatus. An Isabelline Wheatear was a new find at Swyre Head, Dorset, on 2 December though unfortunately proved to be a one-day bird. The decent (by modern standards) showing of Shore Larks continued with birds at six sites, including one reported at Carsington Water, Derbyshire, on 29 November. Frampton Marsh RSPB scored its second-ever record and the regular Norfolk flock levelled out at 13 birds.

The apparent first-winter Central Asian Lesser Whitethroat remained at Landguard NR, Suffolk, until 30 November. Dawlish Warren NNR scored its first Pallas's Warbler on 27 November, and another was at Elmley NNR, Kent, on 3 December. A Barred Warbler in a garden in Easington, East Yorkshire, on 28 November was a decent late autumn find.

An unseasonal Wryneck was at Seaford Head, East Sussex, on 28 November. All four of the week's Great Grey Shrikes concerned new birds, including birds at Ramsley Moor, Derbyshire, and Black Down NT, West Sussex. 

Great Grey Shrike, Ramsley Reservoir/Leash Fen, Derbyshire (Tom Hines).

A Coues's Arctic Redpoll was at Baltasound, Unst, on 1 December, with a possible at Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire, on 29 November proving a brief visitor. A probable Arctic Redpoll was at Fontburn Reservoir, Northumberland, on 3rd, along with at least seven Mealy Redpolls. Overall, Mealy Redpolls were reported from 21 sites, with many now inland. This taxon is surely overlooked at the moment and must be widespread across these isles; it's well worth checking any local Lesser Redpoll flocks in the coming weeks. 

Mealy Redpoll, Loch Leven, Perth & Kinross (George Dunbar).


Western Palearctic

A first-winter male Chestnut Bunting frequenting a garden at Fronhausen was a great find in Austria, the country's first record if accepted and the 14th for the Western Palearctic. 

Denmark recorded its third Pacific Diver, with a juvenile showing well off Hantsholm from 2nd. Poland's fourth Blyth's Pipit was discovered at Pruszewiec on 26th. A showy Lesser Yellowlegs in Ukraine on 3 December was the first national record.

For some good news, the first-calendar-year South Polar Skua originally picked up exhausted on Jersey on 6 November was successfully rehabilitated and later released at Corbiere on 30 November. Could it cross into British waters over the next few weeks?

South Polar Skua, Corbiere, Jersey (Romano Da Costa).

A second-winter Forster's Tern in Finistère, France, on 28 November is likely to be a returning bird. Otherwise, the adult Cream-coloured Courser continued at Hyères. 

The Great Blue Heron remained on Terceira, Azores, and an American Coot was new in. An adult Brown Booby was on Faial.

The long-staying male Sudan Golden Sparrow lingered on Gran Canaria. 

Three Red-billed Queleas were still mingling with Common Waxbills at Mindelo on 30 November, where 25 Sudan Golden Sparrows remained. The White-faced Whistling Duck lengthened its stay on Sal, and the Grey-headed Gull remained on Boa Vista.


Written by: Dan Owen

Dan Owen is a Cheshire-based birder with a keen interest in ringing and wildfowl. He works for the BirdGuides news team. Follow him on Twitter: @_danielowen