Review of the Week: 28th August–3rd September 2003


A shift to a northerly blast and cooler weather reminded us all that we do actually reside off northwest Europe and not in the Mediterranean! However, the birding scene certainly moved into gear with a number of quality rarities typical of the early autumn period and a good scattering of scarce migrants.

Portland (Dorset) was clearly the place to be this week with two quality rarities and a number of scarcities. An Eastern Olivaceous Warbler was trapped in the observatory garden there mid-morning on the 31st and upon release remained elusive though it did show in the observatory quarry in the evening. With just over a dozen accepted records the last to be enjoyed en-masse on the mainland was one at Collieston (Aberdeenshire) from 13th-21st September 2000. There were also two August records last year, a lingering bird on Shetland and another at a private site in Essex.

Yellow-breasted Bunting: Portland, Dorset. Note the distinctive head pattern, wing bars and pinkish lower mandible - Chestnut Bunting could be excluded by the white tail-sides and prominent wing bars. (Photo: Alan Clewes) Yellow-breasted Bunting: Portland, Dorset. This delightful bunting is now being regularly recorded away from the Northern Isles. (Photo: Chris Parnell)

During the week a quartet of rarities nicely correlated with their 'anticipated' occurrence dates in Britain. Two Yellow-breasted Buntings were both found away from Shetland. One was on The Farnes (Northumberland) on 1st and another found at the 'place of the moment' Portland on the 3rd. The latter showed reasonably well at times during the day and constituted the third county record (Portland also accommodated birds in September 1977 and 1993). Previously a 'Shetland special' this species is increasingly being encountered elsewhere. A Booted Warbler was at West Runton (Norfolk) from 31st-2nd; surprisingly there are only three previously accepted records from the county, the last of which was in 1996, though another was reported in 2002. A juvenile Pallid Harrier was present on Unst (Shetland) from 2nd onwards and is now the third year running that Shetland has hosted a juvenile bird in early September - are they becoming that much more commoner nowadays, or are birders simply more aware? With the number of records in the past few years this is yet another species rapidly losing its 'mega' status in the eyes of birders. Also during the week two new Citrine Wagtails were found, with one at Tacumshin (Co. Wexford) from 3rd and another at Quendale (Shetland) the same day.

Booted Warbler: West Runton, Norfolk. Typically round-headed with the whitish supercilium extending to just behind the eye where it ends quite abruptly. (Photo: Alan Clewes) Booted Warbler: West Runton, Norfolk. Note the dark-looking crown-sides, dark tertials and greater coverts contrasting with the paler edges, medium-long primary-projection and square-ended tail with a whitish outer web to the outer tail feathers. (Photo: Dave Hawkins)

Booted Warbler: West Runton, Norfolk. Shortish bill; Syke's Warbler would typically exhibit a long, thin, straight and pointed bill (as well as shorter primary projection and longer tail, amongst other features). (Photo: Nigel Blake) Booted Warbler: West Runton, Norfolk. Rummaging about in the cover the tail and wings are nervously 'twitched' (Photo: Matthew Deans)

Elsewhere, three new Arctic Warblers included birds ringed at North Ronaldsay (Orkney) on 1st and 3rd and another at Wester Quarff (Shetland) on 2nd; at Kilnsea (E. Yorks) the elusive individual remained to the 31st. Greenish Warblers included one at Holme (Norfolk) from 31st-2nd, another heard near Cley (Norfolk) on the 1st and one at Church Norton (W. Sussex) on 29th. One was reported from Point of Ayr (Clwyd) to 28th and the Reculver (Kent) individual remained to the 30th.

Greenish Warbler: Reculver, Kent. Dark legs, plain lower mandible, shorter supercilium meeting at the bill-base and 'clean' cheeks quickly point the would-be finder away from an Arctic Warbler towards Greenish - even better still, hear the bird call! (Photo: Bill Baston)

Red-backed Shrike: Severn Beach, Glos. At least 14 widely scattered birds were noted during the week, nearly all in southern England. (Photo: Paul Bowerman) Rose-coloured Starling: Spurn, E. Yorks. Juveniles are distinctive with their short yellowish bill, dull greyish-brown plumage and contrastingly darker wings - pale Starlings can always be eliminated by their dark pointed bills. (Photo: PR Baker)

During the week around 60 Wrynecks were reported, along with at least 26 Ortolan Buntings, including at least 6 at Portland on 3rd and a notable find at Wormwood Scrubs (London) on the 2nd. Tawny Pipits were noted at St. Mary's (Scilly) on 28th and Durlston CP (Dorset) on 30th and a Hoopoe was at Porthgwarra (Cornwall) on 28th. Red-backed Shrikes totalled 14 birds, there were 6 Melodious Warblers and 9 Icterine Warblers, plus a double-figure tally of Common Rosefinches, nearly all of which were on the Northern Isles. The first juvenile Rose-coloured Starlings of the autumn arrived during the week, with one at Portland from 31st, and another at Spurn (E. Yorks) from the 3rd.

Wryneck: Wiveton Downs, Norfolk. Still a bogey bird for many, but when they show well it can be difficult to absorb the intricacy of their beautiful plumage. (Photo: Jerry O'Brien)

Seawatchers reported further Fea's Petrels with birds past Barns Ness (Lothian) on 28th and Brora (Highland) on 29th and a Wilson's Storm-petrel was noted from the Scilly pelagic on 28th. Bracing northerlies stirred up small numbers of Sabine's Gulls, Long-tailed Skuas and Cory's Shearwaters along the east coast. Off Glamorgan Balearic Shearwaters reached a whopping 250 past Port Eynon Point on the 3rd. A Gull-billed Tern was reported past St. Ives (Cornwall) on the 30th. Rare waders comprised: Long-billed Dowitcher at Rushean Bay (Galway) on 1st; Baird's Sandpiper on Foula (Shetland) on 1st; White-rumped Sandpiper at Tacumshin on 2nd; Semipalmated Sandpiper at Lurga Point (Co. Clare) on 30th; and a Lesser Yellowlegs at Loch of Tankerness (Orkney) from 3rd. Just under 30 Pectoral Sandpipers were present during the week, including 3 at Lady's Island and Tacumshin (Co. Wexford). Half-a-dozen Red-necked Phalaropes were reported and a handful of Grey Phalaropes included an adult at Holt Fen (Cambs) on 2nd. Black Kites included one over Portland on 30th, one over Barnes/Regent's Park (London) on 31st, one over Rye Harbour (E. Sussex) on 31st and one in-off the sea at Treen (Cornwall) on 3rd.

Pectoral Sandpiper: Sandwell Valley, W. Mids. The great autumn for this distinctive wader continues with just under 30 during the week. The long primary projection, pot-belly and abruptly demarcated breast are all pointers to a 'Pec'. (Photo: Ian Butler) Red-necked Phalarope: Holland Haven, Essex. Half-a-dozen were reported during the week, all in the south-east apart from a lingering bird in Devon. (Photo: David Coxon)

Dotterel: Kessingland, Suffolk. Often confiding, this juvenile was particularly so! (Photo: PW Frew) Curlew Sandpiper: Titchwell RSPB, Norfolk. Not as gaudy as a summer adult, juveniles are equally eye-catching; up to 22 were at Blacktoft Sands RSPB during the week. (Photo: Nigel Blake)

The cracking Snowy Owl remains on North Uist, whilst Red-footed Falcons were still present in Lincolnshire and Aberdeenshire, with the Cambridgeshire bird last seen on 30th. Just three Spotted Crakes included birds at Brough Haven (E. Yorks) on 28th, Chew Valley Lake on 2nd and one still present on Unst.

Snowy Owl: North Uist, Outer Hebs. This bird continues to show well to those prepared to make the journey. (Photo: Nigel Blake) Great White Egret: Powderham, Devon. This year's mobile glut of records will prove difficult to assess accurately for the true number involved. (Photo: Dave Stone)
Written by: Russell Slack