Review of the Week: 28th May-3rd June 2009


The week at a glance

The new week brought a change of month, the hottest day of the year so far, and more talking points than an MP's expenses claim and resignation letters combined. A fine array of typical late-May arrivals kept people on their toes — the best of the bunch got away, only to do the right thing later in the week as retrospective identification came to the fore again.

The adult Oriental Pratincole that appeared at Pagham Harbour in West Sussex on 28th was originally identified as a Collared Pratincole, and remained so for the duration of its two-day stay. Some fine photographs aided the reidentification, where many of the suite of characters needed to separate the two species were shown to perfection (in favour of Oriental of course). Fortunately for those ruing their luck after its slightly premature departure, the bird did what any obliging Pratincole seems to do, relocating on the final day of the review period to Dungeness (Kent). It appeared there during the late morning, giving people plenty of chance to wend their way to the southeast once more. To add to the tale, the bird was first seen on Otmoor in Oxfordshire the previous week, on 25th: observers there reported the bird as a Collared, but did mention to other local birders that it didn't seem to have any white on the trailing edge of the wing. Once accepted, this will become the sixth British record of this long-haul vagrant. The last was seen in Suffolk in September 1993 (a year that saw up to three birds appear in the country, including the popular long-staying bird in Norfolk from late May to mid-August).

Oriental Pratincole
Oriental Pratincole, Pagham Harbour LNR, West Sussex (Photo: Richard Ford)

Also in Kent, a Stilt Sandpiper made a brief appearance at Grove Ferry on the morning of 31st but quickly moved on with Ringed Plovers. This is the first record of the species in the county since the (presumed) returning bird of July 1990. Although the species is now pretty much annual in the UK and Ireland, there is still a sense of excitement when news of this rather charismatic American shorebird hits the headlines. Another bird which will almost always ensure an extra heartbeat or two is River Warbler, and one of these pleasingly chunky Locustellas arrived on Fair Isle (Shetland) on 31st. The Northern Isles' dominance in terms of the species continues: six of the last seven records have been on Shetland and Orkney (5–1 to Shetland actually) although the Orkney bird this time last year was the first truly twitchable bird for over a decade. A singing male Iberian Chiffchaff at South Glendale, South Uist (Outer Hebrides) on 31st was a terrific find (potentially only the second for Scotland). At the other end of Britain, a first-summer male Eastern Black-eared Wheatear (O. h. melanoleuca) was found on St. Agnes (Scilly) on the afternoon of 2nd, where it remained to the following day. Despite several claims in recent years, the most recently accepted bird was the early arrival in west Cornwall in March 2002, while the last occurrence on Scilly was another male of the eastern form seen on Tresco in May 1998. Records of both the eastern and western forms of Black-eared Wheatears have slumped dramatically in the past decade: there are just two accepted records so far in the 2000s (along with this bird) compared to 14 each for the 1980s and 1990s.

Black-eared Wheatear
Black-eared Wheatear, St. Agnes, Isles of Scilly (Photo: Robin Mawer)

And now for the P's.... In Norfolk, a putative Great Knot was seen on the mudflats of Breydon Water in the late afternoon and evening of 29th (and again in the very early morning of 30th). The finders of the bird were confident of the bird's identity it seems, but as the tide dropped and the bird moved further and further away, things got rather tricky. A raft of images (none of which confirm the identity) show something of a chameleon in terms of size and structure but, as interesting as they are, they actually add little to the identification debate. Opinions divided — it was a Great Knot, it was a Red Knot — and as good as original descriptions may be, the lack of a definitive image may hinder the bird's progress (and the images so far don't do it too many favours). In Dorset a probable pale-morph Eleonora's Falcon flew over a garden at Christchurch on the evening of 31st. In Devon, the presumed first-summer Western Sandpiper remained at Dawlish Warren until 29th.

Semipalmated/Western Sandpiper
Semipalmated/Western Sandpiper, Dawlish Warren NNR, Devon (Photo: James Packer)

On Shetland, the drake Wood Duck was still on the Loch of Spiggie until 28th at least, while the two summering Zitting Cisticolas remained at Port Soif on Guernsey until 31st. Lastly, belated news from the start of last month concerned a male Brown-headed Cowbird, seen and photographed in a garden at Belford (Northumberland) on 1st–2nd May. This record pre-dates the Fair Isle bird by a week (and, of course, there was the probable Cowbird seen in Norfolk on 7th, the day before the Shetland individual). Quite a mini-invasion!

After three weeks of consistent Pomarine Skua passage, this week saw just one report, of three birds together in Gott Bay, Tiree (Argyll) on 28th. There were only three Long-tailed Skuas this week as well: two were seen off the Tarbet to Uig ferry (Outer Hebrides) on 28th and one was seen off Orkney on 30th.

A Cattle Egret remained at Summer Leys (Northamptonshire) to 28th. Three Great White Egrets included the bird still at Saltholme Pools (Cleveland) to 28th, one in around the Norfolk Broads (at Heigham Sound and Hickling) from 30th–3rd and another flying west through Hampshire and Dorset on 1st. After last week's significant score of 60 or more, this week saw the number of Spoonbills fall to around half that number. Six birds remained at North Warren (Suffolk) to 28th, while another group of six was noted at Parkgate Marsh (Cheshire) on 30th. Groups of four were seen in Gwent and Dumfries & Galloway (will we see more Scottish-hatched youngsters this year?) Up to 11 Common Cranes were seen during the week, including two in Cheshire and Clwyd on 30th, one on Shetland on 30th (the bird, at Wats Ness on the mainland, may well have been around for 10 days or so). Another was in Ireland, at Blackditch (Co. Wicklow), also on 30th.

One of the most predictable (if still really rather rare) hot-weather late-spring/early-summer vagrants is Black Stork; the first of the year appeared over the National Wetlands Centre (Carmarthenshire) on 1st (with three probable Black Storks reported over Camborne in Cornwall on 2nd). Four Purple Herons were found this week, three of them appearing on 30th: the first was at Saltholme Pools (Cleveland), followed by birds at Hickling Broad (Norfolk) and Courtmacsherry (Co. Cork). Bird number four was seen at Minsmere (Suffolk) on 31st. In Cambridgeshire, the first-summer Squacco Heron remained at Wicken Fen until 2nd, showing from time to time. Singing male Spotted Crakes were noted on both South and North Uist (Outer Hebrides) this week, as well as in Dorset and Argyll. In Ireland, a Spotted Crake was at Ashton's Callows (Co. Tipperary), the first Irish record for nearly five years.

Purple Heron
Purple Heron, Saltholme Pools RSPB, Cleveland (Photo: Frank Golding)

Squacco Heron
Squacco Heron, Wicken Fen NT, Cambridgeshire (Photo: Tristan Reid)

A flock of six Canada Geese (of a larger form) at Scatness (Shetland) on 31st–1st invited the question as to just where they may have come from — could they have been genuine vagrants? Much the same must be said for the Red-breasted Goose at Loch of Strathbeg (Aberdeenshire) on 31st–2nd. Generally you wouldn't touch a late-spring one with a bargepole, but this site has such a good track record that it may just have half a chance. The drake Black Duck was seen again at Colliford Lake (Cornwall) on 1st–3rd and the drake Lesser Scaup continued to move between the lochs of mainland Shetland this week, still present on 2nd (back on the Loch of Benston). Over on the Outer Hebrides, the drake Ring-necked Duck remained on North Loch Eynort (South Uist) until 30th (the drake Green-winged Teal was also still on the Outer Hebrides this week, lingering at Loch Stiapavat, Lewis to 30th). The nearly summering drake Ferruginous Duck was at Chew Valley Lake (Somerset) early in the week while a drake American Wigeon was at Martin Mere (Lancashire) on 30th–1st (it was reported, as a "probable" on 27th). Off the coast of Aberdeenshire, two drake Surf Scoters were at Blackdog on 29th–30th, with one there to 2nd.

Red-breasted Goose
Red-breasted Goose, Loch of Strathbeg RSPB, Aberdeenshire (Photo: Ian sexton)

Lesser Scaup
Lesser Scaup, Loch of Houlland, Mainland, Shetland (Photo: Rik Addison)

Turning to raptors, the first thing that needs to be done is to clear up the two birds reported as Black Kites at Sandwich (Kent) last week which turned out to be Red Kites (a steady stream of which were noted again this week away from breeding areas). This week, up to six Black Kites were reported: on 31st one spent 20 minutes circling with three Red Kites over Havant (Hampshire) and may well have been the bird seen later at Blashford Lakes (and one was reported on 30th in the New Forest as well). A Black Kite was reported at Haughley Park (Suffolk) on 31st and on 1st singles were at Worthing (West Sussex), Exeter (Devon) while another continued to tour the far west of Cornwall, appearing over St. Buryan and Polgigga. On 2nd, a Black Kite was reported near Abingdon (Oxfordshire).

An adult female Red-footed Falcon was seen flying over Gosforth (Tyne & Wear) on 30th and a male was reported the following day in Kent, at Grove Ferry. Passage Honey Buzzards mustered some 15 or so individuals this week while a White-tailed Eagle lingered around Shetland to 2nd.

The soap opera of shorebird identification (it's not always easy!) has been in full flow this week. The Great Knot that was a Red Knot or was it a Great Knot after all? The Collared Pratincole that was an Oriental Pratincole that flew away; and then there was the Collared Pratincole that was actually a Black-winged Pratincole! Yes, the bird found south of Holme village (Norfolk) on 31st was originally identified as a Collared Pratincole before changing into a Black-winged later that day, but the bird had seemingly moved on before the correct call was made. Happily, the Pratincole reappeared on 1st, and remained to 3rd, occasionally showing well and taking in a trip or two to Titchwell as well. It is tempting (as is often the case) to think that this is a bird seen elsewhere in the country (the Kent bird pushing north presumably) but it may not always be the case. The 26th–31st May represent a remarkable six days which has seen all three species of Pratincole on the British List present somewhere in the country (albeit none of them on the same day and with no overlap either).

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Black-winged Pratincole
Black-winged Pratincole, Holme next the Sea, Norfolk (Photo: John Miller)

A Red-necked Phalarope was seen at two sites in Lincolnshire (Freiston and Frampton) on 28th, the bird settling at the latter site to the following day. Last week's female at Belvide Reservoir (Staffordshire) was joined by a second bird on 28th and a female was then at Eyebrook Reservoir (Leicestershire) on 30th.

Red-necked Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope, Freiston Shore RSPB, Lincolnshire (Photo: Trevor Gunby)

Shetland's second-summer Laughing Gull was seen at Sumburgh airport on 31st and was easily the gull of the week, although an adult summer on Coll (Argyll) on 2nd would run it close! Is the adult the Skomer and Marton Mere bird continuing its way north? There were still 10 Iceland Gulls around, while Glaucous Gulls struggled to five birds this week.

Glaucous Gull
Glaucous Gull, Nimmo's Pier, Galway (Photo: Tom Cuffe)

In Devon, the adult Gull-billed Tern was seen again around the Exe Estuary on 31st–1st (again at Bowling Green Marsh). Single Whiskered Terns lingered in West Yorkshire, at Fairburn Ings to 28th and Swillington Ings to 29th, while an adult White-winged Black Tern was a great find at Blanket Nook, Lough Swilly (Co. Donegal) on 1st. Also in the Republic, the summering (returning) Forster's Tern at Tacumshin (Co. Wexford) was seen again on 30th–31st.

Whiskered Tern
Whiskered Tern, Swillington Ings, West Yorkshire (Photo: Marcus Conway)

The long-staying (about to summer?) Pallid Swift appeared again at Seaforth (Merseyside) on 2nd, having last been reported there on 27th. An Alpine Swift flew over Barvas, Lewis (Outer Hebrides) on 30th and another was reported in Glasgow (Clyde) the following day. Two Red-rumped Swallows were seen on 31st, at Choseley (Norfolk) and on Cape Clear Island (Co. Cork). Another Red-rumped Swallow was at Portsdown Hill (Hampshire) on 2nd. Seven single Bee-eaters (none of them staying too long) were spread from Scilly to Orkney, with one seen on North Ronaldsay on 29th.

European Bee-eater
European Bee-eater, Gibraltar Point NNR, Lincolnshire (Photo: Russell Hayes)

A Wryneck was reported at Temple Guiting (Gloucestershire) on 31st. One or two Hoopoes were at large in Bedfordshire this week: one was seen at Biggleswade on 29th with it (or another) on the greens of Woburn golf course on 1st. A Short-toed Lark was on Bryher (Scilly) on 28th–29th and another was on Blakeney Point (Norfolk) on 29th–30th.

Only five Bluethroats were on offer this week, four of them on Scottish islands, three of them on 31st. A female was on Shapinsay (Orkney) and males were seen on North Uist (Outer Hebrides) and Whalsay (Shetland). The fourth bird of the week was a female on Fair Isle on 2nd and another female was found at Uwchmynydd (Gwynedd) on 3rd.

Five of the week's 13 Red-backed Shrikes were seen on Shetland, with other notable birds seen at Cemlyn Bay (Anglesey) and Dursey Island (Co. Cork), both on 31st, and on the Isle of Man on 2nd. Others were seen on Scilly, in Suffolk (two birds) and Kent. Four more Woodchat Shrikes arrived during the week, all of them one-day birds, the first of which was found at Middlebere (Dorset) on 28th. This was followed by singles at Marshaw (Lancashire) and Brandon Marsh (Warwickshire) on 29th and another at Gwenter (Cornwall) on 31st. A belated record of another Woodchat came from Bamburgh (Northumberland) on 25th May. Ten or eleven passage Golden Orioles were found this week; three of them were in Cornwall, three or four in Shetland, with singing males at Duckpool (Cornwall), Wickham Market (Suffolk) and near Lichfield (Staffordshire) being of particular note.

Woodchat Shrike
Woodchat Shrike, Gwenter, Cornwall (Photo: Steve Bury)

Golden Oriole
Golden Oriole, Baltasound, Unst, Shetland (Photo: Rik Addison)

Icterine Warblers nudged into double figures this week. Eleven birds were seen, seven of which were on Shetland; of these, three were on Unst, two of them at Norwick on 28th. Two birds were trapped and ringed in East Yorkshire this week (at Kilnsea on 31st and Buckton on 1st), a singing male was at Scarborough (North Yorkshire) on 31st and the same date saw an Icterine Warbler arrive on Cape Clear Island (Co. Cork). The only Melodious Warbler this week was a singing male at Land's End (Cornwall) on 30th. Two male Subalpine Warblers were on Shetland this week: last week's bird was still at Scatness to 28th and another was at Skaw (Unst) on 1st–3rd.

Icterine Warbler
Icterine Warbler, Quendale, Mainland, Shetland (Photo: Rik Addison)

Subalpine Warbler
Subalpine Warbler, Skaw, Unst, Shetland (Photo: Robbie Brookes)

Another rare warbler duo on Shetland this week was Great Reed Warbler: one was on Out Skerries from 28th–3rd and another was on Fair Isle (where it was trapped and ringed) on 30th. The singing male Savi's Warbler in the Lee Valley (Essex) was still singing to 30th (and showing infrequently). At least twelve Marsh Warblers were found during the week, including seven on Shetland on 31st (four of them on Fair Isle and two on Fetlar) with others on Orkney, in Angus, North and East Yorkshire and Suffolk.

A first-summer Rose-coloured Starling was seen at Tobermory, Mull (Argyll) on 29th. Dorset laid claim to all three of this week's Serin records. One was at West Bexington on 29th and was followed by singing males at Durlston CP and Portland on 31st, the latter bird in place to 1st. Four Common Rosefinches were noted, including singing males at Minsmere (Suffolk) and Ashleworth Ham (Gloucestershire), with others on North Ronaldsay and Fair Isle.

Photo of the Week

Common Redstart
Common Redstart, undisclosed site, Clwyd (Photo: Richard Steel)

Richard Steel's bird images are consistently of the highest quality. This week, Richard has uploaded some great shots of both male and female Common Redstarts. Our pick of these is a perfect portrait of a male bird on a log, highlighted against a diffuse green background. Ok, we don't use the phrase 'perfect portrait' lightly, but we're pretty good at spotting flaws even in Photos of the Week, yet struggled to find fault with this image. We particularly like the simple, balanced composition and the great lighting, colours and tones. The red and green tones complement each other beautifully and the head angle is absolutely spot on. Budding bird photographers looking for a model portrait shot to emulate need look no further.

Great Crested Grebe
Great Crested Grebe, Yarrow Valley CP, Lancashire (Photo: David Cookson)

Red Kite
Red Kite, Stokenchurch, Buckinghamshire (Photo: Neill Carden)

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon, undisclosed site, Guernsey (Photo: Steve Levrier)

Grasshopper Warbler
Grasshopper Warbler, Nuttery Bog, Cork (Photo: Sean Cronin)

Common Tern
Common Tern, Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk (Photo: Jon Evans)

Great Spotted Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker, Hanbury, Worcestershire (Photo: Mark Hancox)

European Bee-eater
European Bee-eater, Italy (Photo: Paolo Caretta)

Whiskered Tern
Whiskered Tern, Swillington Ings, West Yorkshire (Photo: Marcus Conway)

Wren, Claire Mare NR, Guernsey (Photo: Paul Hillion)

Purple Heron
Purple Heron, Spain (Photo: Sean Gray)

Turtle Dove
Turtle Dove, undisclosed site, Herefordshire (Photo: George Ewart)

Corncrake, Islay, Argyll (Photo: Amanda Hayes)

Oriental Pratincole
Oriental Pratincole, Pagham Harbour LNR, West Sussex (Photo: Richard Ford)

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

Puffin, Sumburgh, Mainland, Shetland (Photo: Robbie Brookes)

Grey Wagtail
Grey Wagtail, Bridges, Shropshire (Photo: Peter Walkden)

Written by: Mark Golley