Review of the Week: 28th September-5th October 2001


The events of the past week have provided a fusion of east meets west, despite persistent south and south-westerly winds, and provide further proof, as if it were required, that at this time of year the islands that we live on provide a junction for birds from any part of the compass. Many of the more interesting rarities were remnants of the events of last week when a major arrival of rare Siberian vagrants occurred, whilst this week has seen a switch to quick-moving Atlantic depressions, delivering Monarch butterflies and a small number of American passerines and waders to our shores. However, to see many of the quality birds during this week, flexibility and a quick response have been essential, whilst some have simply been inaccessible for all but the hardy and determined.

Rarity of the week is a shared honour between three species; one American and two Siberian. A Grey Catbird was found at South Stack RSPB, Anglesey, yesterday. It is still present today, but has been giving the nations keenest listers the runaround and since its initial observation it has briefly been seen a few times. This is only the second record of this American species to grace Britain, though there are two records from Germany and another on the Channel Islands. In 1998 one present on the QEII was found soon after leaving New York and stayed on board to Southampton, but it declined to leave the ship, continuing its journey through to Malta where it had clearly grown tired of its luxurious accommodation and disembarked.

Much more exciting for many will have been the 1st-winter male Siberian Blue Robin on Orkney, which chose a dyke next to North Ronaldsay airfield in which to reside for the day on the 2nd. Found early in the day, the prompt release of news allowed a number of birders to make the somewhat precarious journey to the island in private charter planes; sadly for many more (and the charter plane pilots!) it was not present the following day. This was only the fourth record of this sought-after Sibe for the Western Palearctic and followed two records last October in Spain and in Suffolk, which were the first since a bird on the Channel Islands in 1975.

Belated news involves a bird initially identified as a Red-backed Shrike on Bryher from the 24th-28th September, but fortunately the bird was photographed and it now appears that the bird in question was in fact a 1st-winter Brown Shrike. If accepted this will be only the 4th European record. Brown Shrike and Siberian Blue Robin are both classic examples of reverse migrants arriving in western Europe, these birds correlating nicely with the mass arrival of more typical eastern species over the last few weeks.

Given the exciting events of the last week, there have been more fantastic sightings, many of which are quality birds in their own right, but somewhat overshadowed by the three 'blockers'. From the east, an Isabelline Shrike has been present at Dungeness for most of the week and an Eye-browed Thrush made landfall on St. Kilda on the 1st and 2nd. A Pechora Pipit was on Fair Isle on the 4th and a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler was the second on the mainland this autumn, with one in Northumberland on the 29th. Also a Blackpoll Warbler was seen on St Agnes on the 1st. Not to be outdone, on the waders front a Sociable Plover has been present in East Sussex for much of the week. From the Mediterranean region a Pallid Swift graced Fair Isle for 30 minutes on the 2nd, adding yet another autumn record to the tally for this species - how many are missed in spring due to identification problems?

As would be expected in the weather conditions, American vagrants feature highly. A Swainson's Thrush was reported in Gwynedd on the 2nd, whilst Yellow-rumped Warblers were on Cape Clear on the 2nd and the Great Blaskett Islands on the 4th, on which date a Red-eyed Vireo was found by birders looking for the Grey Catbird at South Stack RSPB.

The week has not just been about rarities. A fantastic number of Grey Phalaropes have been recorded along the west coast, with a number penetrating inland, whilst a total of 135 past Tresco on the 1st with many more on the sea will probably be the largest number ever documented. A number of juvenile Rose-coloured Starlings have arrived on the southern coast, with one reaching Lincolnshire, and these look set to swell the exceptional numbers of adults recorded during the late summer. Elsewhere, a Rough-legged Buzzard on the Isles of Scilly might not have raised too many eyebrows with the exception of the early date, but could this individual have started its travels on the other side of the Atlantic?

Written by: Russell Slack, BirdGuides