Review of the Week: 27th November-2nd December 2009


The week at a glance:

This week's weather was dominated by polar air that brought the first significant frosts of the period. Warmer Atlantic air met the much colder air mass and produced the first snows of the season in Scotland and Northern England. Rainfall was again a prominent feature, but not to the destructive extent of late. In general, it was a rather changeable week with intervening mild periods, particularly in the south.

No astonishingly rare seabirds were found this week but it wouldn't have been for the lack of trying. Pacific Divers, naturally enough, remained big news and the popular moulting adult remained at Carnsew Basin (Cornwall), being reported on both the 26th and 27th. A further, probable, adult was seen all too briefly at Severn Beach (Gloucestershire) on the 27th before it flew southwest.

The most widely viewed British Brown Shrike of all time continued its extended residency at Staines Moor (Surrey) and has now been in its favoured area a total of 53 days. Wintering into the new year must now be considered a serious possibility. Who would have predicted that?

Brown Shrike
Brown Shrike, Staines Moor, Surrey (Photo: Dougie Preston)

Snow Geese were seen at three sites: singles were at Aberlady Bay (Lothian) on the 27th and Harford Bridges (Norfolk) on the 30th and four at Aldcliffe Marshes (Lancashire) on the 27th was the most distinctive count. Two 'Lesser Canada Geese' were on Tiree (Argyll) on the 27th and the medium-sized Canada Goose sp, now reported as a Richardson's Canada Goose, was still present at Lissadell (Co Sligo) to the 29th at least. At least seven Black Brants were up for grabs at eight sites and, where reports came supplied with an age component, all were adults.

Richardson's Canada Goose
Richardson's Canada Goose, Lissadell, Sligo (Photo: Paul Kelly)

What may be the same drake American Wigeon was at Kirk Loch (Dumfries and Galloway) on the 29th and Caerlaverock on the 2nd. Green-winged Teal were widespread with twelve sites holding single drakes and Caerlaverock hosting two on both the 27th and 30th. Ornithological cliché it may be, but one has to wonder how many females of this species get overlooked on an annual basis. Ring-necked Ducks were at three sites on the 26th, namely Chew Valley Lake (Somerset), Wroxham Broad (Norfolk) and Foxcote Reservoir (Buckinghamshire). The latter site also reported its bird again on the 29th and the former again on the 2nd. Ferruginous Ducks are rarely without admirers and five birds were available at some point during the last seven days: an unringed drake at Pugney's GP (West Yorkshire) on three dates, a drake at Chew Valley Lake (Somerset) also on three dates, a drake at Corbet Lough (Co. Down) on the 28th and 30th, a female at Old Hall Marshes (Essex) on the 27th and a drake at Dinton Pastures CP (Berkshire) on the 2nd. A drake Eider of the Nearctic race borealis was a quality find at Dornoch (Highland) on the 30th (and again on the 2nd), while the King Eider at Burghead (Moray), also a drake, remained to the 26th at least, usually to the east side of the headland. Two Surf Scoters played ball, a female/first-winter at Mumbles Head (Glamorgan) on the 26th and a female at Hough Bay, Tiree (Argyll) on the 28th.

American Wigeon
American Wigeon, Kirk Loch, Dumfries & Galloway (Photo: John Nadin)

Ferruginous Duck
Ferruginous Duck, Pugney's CP, West Yorkshire (Photo: Ray Thorneycroft)

Leach's Storm-petrels were a prominent feature of the week with an excellent 53 sites logging these often highly displaced waifs. The most notable counts were 582 at Chesil Beach (Dorset) on the 28th and an even more astonishing 600 past Chesil Cove by early afternoon on the 29th! Sadly many birds were exhausted and some didn't survive. A possible Swinhoe's Storm-petrel, or maybe a dark-rumped Leach's Storm-petrel, flew southeast into Carbis Bay, St. Ives (Cornwall), early in the afternoon on the 30th but, alas, nothing more was seen of it. Balearic Shearwaters were at 14 sites with the best count being 14 past Pendeen (Cornwall) on the 27th, but the sole report of a Great Shearwater involved, unfortunately, a bird found dead on Roonagh Beach (Co. Mayo) on the 29th.

Leach's Storm-petrel
Leach's Storm-petrel, Hill Head, Hampshire (Photo: Steve Copsey)

Leach's Storm-petrel
Leach's Storm-petrel, Keyhaven Marshes, Hampshire (Photo: Keith Simpson)

Cattle Egrets were at six sites, the best count being at least three in the Sharpham area of Walton Heath (Somerset) on the 27th, and Great White Egrets were represented by singles at eight sites.

Cattle Egret
Cattle Egret, Dungeness RSPB, Kent (Photo: Steve Ray)

Great White Egret
Great White Egret, Dungeness RSPB, Kent (Photo: David Campbell)

Two Glossy Ibis were again in the Denge Marsh area of Dungeness (Kent) on five dates up to the 2nd while a bird flew over Oare Marshes in the same county on the 1st; three were also at Catcott Lows (Somerset) for a couple of days. Spoonbills were distinctly evident with twelve sites gaining a visit. The largest reported flock was one of nine that flew over Middlebere (Dorset) toward Arne early in the morning of the 28th. They were refound later in the day roosting on Arne Spit. Other good counts included six at Islay Marsh (Devon) on the 27th.

Spoonbill, Abberton Reservoir, Essex (Photo: Ian M. Goodall)

Roxwell (Essex) produced the only Rough-legged Buzzard report, a bird over on the 29th.

A Spotted Crake haunted a roadside pond at the west dunes of Gibraltar Point (Lincolnshire) on the 28th and the most significant count of Common Crane was 21 at roost at Stubb Mill, Hickling (Norfolk) on the 29th.

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Common Crane
Common Crane, Hickling village, Norfolk (Photo: Kevin Du Rose)

Waders deserving mention include a juvenile American Golden Plover that shared Strangford Loch (Co. Down) with a thousand of its European counterparts on the 29th, and a juvenile Baird's Sandpiper at White Sands Bay, Barns Ness (Lothian) from 30th to 2nd at least. Predictably, the Lesser Yellowlegs continued to frequent Aberlady Bay (Lothian) between 26th and 2nd and another was at East Cottingwith (East Yorkshire) on the 27th. Four Spotted Sandpipers remained site-faithful to the 2nd: at Brook (Hampshire), Topsham and the Exe Estuary (Devon) and Abberton Reservoir (Essex). Killearn (Clyde) also hosted a bird between the 29th and 2nd. There were two Wilson's Phalaropes, single first-winters at Musselborough Lagoons (Lothian) on the 26th and Inch Island Lake (Co. Donegal) on the 1st and 2nd, but the sole Red-necked Phalarope of the week was the first-winter bird at Fairburn Ings (Lincolnshire) on 26th and 27th. Grey Phalaropes were at 25 sites with the most significant count being 28 past St. Ives (Cornwall) on the 29th.

Spotted Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper, Topsham, Devon (Photo: Colin Scott)

Baird's Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper, Barns Ness, Lothian (Photo: Jack Brodie)

Grey Phalarope
Grey Phalarope, Skern, Northam Burrows CP, Devon (Photo: Andrew Williams)

At least thirteen Pomarine Skuas were noted from ten sites and the best count consisted of three past Sheringham (Norfolk) on the 30th.

Pomarine Skua
Pomarine Skua, Beachley, Gloucestershire (Photo: Gary Thoburn)

An adult Laughing Gull flew south past Filey Brigg (North Yorkshire) on the 30th and its rarer cousin, a probable second-winter Franklin's Gull, flew south across Thames at Canvey Island (Essex) at 09:29 on the 29th. What must be the same bird was apparently identified as it followed a ship off Canvey Seafront on the 30th. A juvenile Sabine's Gull showed well at Porthloo, St. Mary's (Scillies) between the 26th and 1st, with others at Blackrock, Salthill (Co. Galway) on the 26th and an adult at Great Island (Co. Cork) on the 26th. Five Ring-billed Gulls were about including the adult remaining at Carsington Water (Derbyshire) to the 1st at least. Some twenty-four Caspian Gulls were logged from 17 sites and the more-than-regular adult American Herring Gull was at Galway Docks (Co Galway) to the 29th at least. Seven lucky locations attracted Iceland Gulls (the total number of birds being nine) and about eleven Glaucous Gulls were logged at ten sites. More problematic in terms of identification was the large juvenile gull showing some features associated with Glaucous-winged Gull at Drumcliff Bay, Lissadell (Co. Sligo) on the 29th. Will its parentage ever be resolved?

American Herring Gull
American Herring Gull, Galway, Galway (Photo: Tom Cuffe)

Ring-billed Gull
Ring-billed Gull, Nimmo's Pier, Galway (Photo: Tom Cuffe)

Iceland Gull
Iceland Gull, Loch na Keal, Mull, Argyll (Photo: Bryan Rains)

The attractive adult Forster's Tern was again at Nimmo's Pier (Co. Galway) on the 28th and 28 sites reported Little Auks, ten north past Spurn (East Yorkshire) on the 1st being the highlight.

Forster's Tern
Forster's Tern, Galway, Galway (Photo: Tom Cuffe)

A few notable passerines made the cut this week but the one that impressed most, a Crested Lark photographed at an undisclosed site in Wiltshire, was old news having been present on the 15th and 16th. Waxwings were scarce with the best being 23 over Beccles (Suffolk) on the 2nd. A possible female Desert Wheatear at a cliff-top car park at West Runton (Norfolk) on the 26th was only present briefly during the early afternoon before moving west. More definite quality was provided by an enormously late Blyth's Reed Warbler at Quendale (Shetland) on both the 29th and 30th. Two Siberian Chiffchaffs were at Broadsands (Devon) from 26th to 2nd, but the other two reports, from Aylburton Warth (Gloucestershire) on the 29th and Radipole Lake (Dorset) on the 1st, came with possible and probable caveats respectively. Two Yellow-browed Warblers put in an appearance and a possible Red-breasted Flycatcher was glimpsed briefly before vanishing into cover at Leaveden CP South, Abbots Langley (Hertfordshire) on the 26th. Fortunately, for the observer, a female/immature for eight minutes in a private garden at St. Leonard's on Sea (East Sussex) on the 28th was slightly more obliging.

The only Penduline Tit of the week was at Dungeness (Kent) from the 26th to 1st (one bird at least) then on the 2nd two ringed males were present; this is certainly one of the more reliable sites for this species in the country over the years. Great Grey Shrikes were at three venues and juvenile Rose-coloured Starlings were to be found at Forest Hill (Oxford) from the 28th to 30th and Pembroke Dock (Pembrokeshire) on the 29th and 1st. Up to two Serins graced Rainham Marshes (London) between the 15th and 2nd (a site which seemingly has an odd attraction for this species; remember the seven of last autumn?) and a possible Coues's Arctic Redpoll was at Bru, Lewis (Outer Hebrides) on the 29th with eight Greenland Redpolls. Unfortunately a possible Two-barred Crossbill seen at New Fancy View (Gloucestershire) with twelve Common Crossbill on the 1st proved harder to pin down though it would've been popular.

Penduline Tit
Penduline Tit, Dungeness RSPB, Kent (Photo: David Campbell)

Serin, Rainham, Greater London (Photo: Joe Stockwell)

Photo of the Week

Sparrowhawk, Llandrindod Wells, Powys (Photo: Kev Joynes)

Most bird photographers - and birders in general - spend a great deal of time 'hunting' birds, the thrill of the hunt and the gratification of a successful outcome generating much of the satisfaction we derive from these activities. A part of us therefore has something in common with other bird-hunters, and few would fail to be enthralled at the sight of a Sparrowhawk, Peregrine or Hobby pursuing its quarry. Kev Joynes' image of a Sparrowhawk deftly holding a freshly caught Goldfinch in one talon certainly compels us to admire the sheer ability of these supreme predators. At the same time, though, our humanity causes us to be repulsed by the brutality of the scene and to empathise with the unfortunate victim. Strong eye contact with both birds - especially the way the helpless finch looks straight at the viewer - strengthens the mixed emotions engendered. Foreground vegetation may offend the purist, but creates a 'sense of place' and gives a natural, authentic feel to the image.

Other notable photos

Rockhopper Penguin
Northern Rockhopper Penguin, Falkland Islands (Photo: Alan Henry)

Grey Phalarope
Grey Phalarope, Seaforth LWT (Permit only), Lancashire (Photo: Jim Almond)

Fieldfare, undisclosed site, Clwyd (Photo: Richard Steel)

Turnstone, Salthouse, Norfolk (Photo: Nigel Pye)

Red Grouse
Red Grouse, undisclosed site, Highland (Photo: Mark Hancox)

Knot, North Wirral, Cheshire (Photo: Steve Round)

Reed Bunting
Reed Bunting, Farmoor Reservoir, Oxfordshire (Photo: Roger Wyatt)

Bearded Tit
Bearded Tit, Far Ings NR, Lincolnshire (Photo: David Newby)

Robin, Hethersett, Norfolk (Photo: Nigel Pye)

Grey Heron
Grey Heron, Summer Leys LNR, Northamptonshire (Photo: Ben the plumber)

Ring-billed Gull
Ring-billed Gull, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex (Photo: Kevin Du Rose)

Pomarine Skua
Pomarine Skua, Beachley, Gloucestershire (Photo: Lewis Thomson)

Brambling, undisclosed site, Wiltshire (Photo: Mark Hancox)

Little Owl
Little Owl, undisclosed site, Leicestershire and Rutland (Photo: Paul Riddle)

Starling, Martin Mere WWT, Lancashire (Photo: Richard Fox)

Written by: Des McKenzie