Review of the Week: 29 April-6 May 2024


The review period produced something of a mixed bag of weather, including easterly and south-easterly winds over the Early May Bank Holiday weekend, which stretched back across Europe towards the Mediterranean coast. Such conditions are prime for drift migrant action along the east coast of England and Scotland and avian riches were soon delivered – though few would have expected the mega alert to sound from landlocked Buckinghamshire  …

That's what happened on Sunday afternoon, when a botanist searching Pitstone Quarry for rare plants came across something even more unexpected when he stumbled upon the county's first Alpine Accentor. With the locale less than an hour from the London outskirts, a major twitch was hastily underway, despite many disbelieving faces across Buckinghamshire and further afield. This sensational record is the first modern-day occurrence in a landlocked county, though there are a handful of inland pre-1900 records, including one shot in Ettington, Warwickshire.

Unfortunately there was no sign of the bird the following day, though with some 60% of records relating to one-day birds this is unsurprising. Recent weeks have seen records from both Belgium and the Netherlands, perhaps making the record slightly less unexpected than at first glance.

Alpine Accentor, Pitstone Quarry, Buckinghamshire (Matthew Mellor).

Map of Category A Alpine Accentor records, with the Buckinghamshire bird in blue (OrniStats).

Prompting an even bigger, if slightly less panicked, twitch over the bank holiday weekend was a first-summer male Collared Flycatcher at Kilnsea on 3-4th. Despite becoming a near-annual visitor to Northern Isles (including one on Fair Isle the previous day), the species has been an exceptionally tricky customer to catch up with in mainland Britain in recent years, leading a steady procession of birders to head to the East Yorkshire coast during its two-day stint. The Spurn recording area also produced the previous individual to be seen on the mainland, a female in May 2019. It is the fourth for the recording area, following a first-winter in August-September 2010 and another male in May 2013.

Collared Flycatcher, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire (John Hewitt).

A first-summer male Siberian or Amur Stonechat at Flamborough Head from 2-4th completed a fine Yorkshire double and offered a rare chance to see a breeding-plumaged male in Britain. Unfortunately, the species pair are pretty much inseparable in such plumage, with only the extremes of both safely identifiable without genetics. Thankfully, a faecal sample was secured during its stay, which should help to identify it beyond doubt.

Siberian/Amur Stonechat, Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire (Craig Thomas).

The aforementioned south-easterly winds delivered in style on Fair Isle, Shetland, on 2nd, producing fall conditions that will go down in the annuls of island legend. Totals for the day scarcely seem believable in the modern day: 81 Pied Flycatchers, 28 Spotted Flycatchers, 64 Common Redstarts, 54 Lesser Whitethroats, 14 Wrynecks, 13 Ring Ouzels, six Icterine Warblers, four Black Redstarts, two Red-backed Shrikes, two Red-spotted Bluethroats, Common Rosefinch and the biggest prize of all – a stunning male Collared Flycatcher. Friday's totals were equally mesmerising, with 409 Northern Wheatears, 95 Pied Flycatchers, 83 Common Redstarts, 51 Spotted Flycatchers, 33 Whinchats, 10 Wood Warblers, six Red-backed Shrikes and four Red-spotted Bluethroats.

Collared Flycatcher, Fair Isle, Shetland (Jonnie Fisk).

Fair Isle records were shattered in the process: 54 Lesser Whitethroats is an all-time high count for the island, while totals of Common Redstart, Whinchat and Pied Flycatcher were the largest since 1996. New earliest dates were set for Icterine Warbler and Red-backed Shrike, and the Collared Flycatcher was the 11th island record (and ninth in spring), with the species now recorded four years in a row.

Wood Warbler, Fair Isle, Shetland (Jonnie Fisk).

Icterine Warbler, Northdale, Unst, Shetland (Robbie Brookes).

News from the Northern Isles as a whole included a conservative estimate of 35 Wrynecks, with another eight in mainland Britain. An elusive Thrush Nightingale on Whalsay, Shetland, from 4th took three days to provide clinching views. Red-spotted Bluethroats in Shetland and Orkney tallied in double figures, with birds further south at Tynemouth, Northumberland, and Isle of May, Fife. North Ronaldsay, Orkney, hosted a Little Bunting, a Woodchat Shrike was on Foula, Shetland, and Red-backed Shrikes numbered 17. A Coues's Arctic Redpoll was at Halligarth, Unst, on 6th.

Red-backed Shrike, Pool of Virkie, Mainland, Shetland (Theo de Clermont).

Red-spotted Bluethroat, Tynemouth, Northumberland (Jack Bucknall).

Initial views of a striking male Citrine Wagtail at Holland Haven CP, Essex, on 2nd saw it broadcast as the black-backed Central Asian calcarata subspecies, which has never previously been recorded in Britain. Unfortunately, this was disproven by improved photographs and video footage later on, which showed a bird with a grey mantle. A probable Iberian Wagtail was at Glascoe Dubh, Isle of Man, with an Ashy-headed Wagtail on Rathlin Island, Co Antrim. Grey-headed Wagtail numbered five, plus a likely Blue-headed × Grey-headed Wagtail intergrade at Carlton Marshes, Suffolk.

Citrine Wagtail, Holland Haven CP, Essex (Jonathan Price).

A singing Savi's Warbler was an excellent find in a small reedbed in the middle of nowhere in rural Co Louth from 2nd and was a county first to boot. One at Middleton Lakes RSPB, Staffordshire, on 1st was a one-day visitor, with another continuing in East Yorkshire. North-west England hosted at least two Iberian Chiffchaffs, with confirmed songsters at Meols, Cheshire, and Roddlesworth Reservoirs, Lancashire, plus a further possible at Leasowe, Cheshire. The first-summer male Eastern Subalpine Warbler remained popular at Holme NOA, Norfolk, throughout 29th. A male subalpine warbler at Silecroft, Cumbria, on 5th wasn't identified to species level.

Savi's Warbler, Stonetown, Louth (Brian McCloskey).

Eastern Subalpine Warbler, Holme NOA, Norfolk (Ted Smith).

The White-spotted Bluethroat continued to hold territory at Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire and a male Ortolan Bunting at Hornsea Mere, East Yorkshire, on 6th was briefly twitchable, while four Greater Short-toed Larks was a bountiful showing. One inland at King George V Reservoir, London, was especially notable, with others in Lincolnshire, Anglesey and Scilly. A Shore Lark was at South Shields, Durham, on 30th. Other news comprised a Rosy Starling on the Isle of Man, Red-breasted Flycatcher in Fife, four European Serins, up to 16 European Bee-eaters and 14 Golden Orioles as far north as Northumberland, while 11 Hoopoes included a notable two together in a garden on Lewis, Outer Hebrides, on 30th. Eight Woodchat Shrikes were in England and Red-backed Shrikes were in Aberdeenshire and Borders. A surprise Great Grey Shrike visited Hatfield Moors, South Yorkshire, on 29th. Alpine Swifts flew over London and Devon.

Red-breasted Flycatcher, Kilminning, Fife (Michael Southcott).

Golden Oriole, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly (Rik Addison).

Woodchat Shrike, Rainham Marshes RSPB, London (Richard Bonser).

By modern standards, the presence of six Montagu's Harriers constituted a notable event. Birds lingered in Scilly and at Greylake RSPB, Somerset, with brief individuals in Norfolk, East Yorkshire (two) and Co Wexford. Pallid Harriers in Anglesey and Gloucestershire both related to new finds, while Red-footed Falcons in Cornwall and Norfolk were both males. Confirmed Black Kites were in Carmarthen, Kent and Greater Manchester, and at least two Rough-legged Buzzards graced the Spurn, East Yorkshire, recording area during the week.

Black-crowned Night Herons were in Scilly, Warwickshire and North Yorkshire, with 13 Purple Herons reported.

Purple Heron, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly (Rik Addison).

An Elegant Tern was with Sandwich Terns on Achill Island, Co Mayo, on 30-1st. This, the eighth Irish record, seems likely to relate to the returning bird seen in Co Galway in 2022 and 2023. In the Outer Hebrides, two Gull-billed Terns remained reliable near Orosay, South Uist, throughout the week, with one paying a visit to Loch Paible, North Uist, on 1st. Another made a brief appearance at Ythan Estuary, Aberdeenshire, on 6th. The Forster's Tern was again in and around Poole Harbour, Dorset, with a White-winged Tern in Northumberland and a Whiskered Tern in Kent.

Elegant Tern (centre) with Sandwich Terns, Sruhill Lough, Achill Island, Mayo (Micheal O'Briain).

A gull photographed distantly off Goldcliff Point, Gwent, on 26th was touted by some as a potential Kelp Gull, although ruling out a Lesser Black-backed Gull from the distant views and photographs was not possible. The returning bird in Cambridgeshire is the only previous British record of this species. Three of four Bonaparte's Gulls were new arrivals and the summering Ring-billed Gull was still in Perth and Kinross. White wingers included a Kumlien's Gull in Co Kerry. Early Long-tailed Skua passage in the Outer Hebrides saw two head north-east over South Uist on 6th.

Shorebird interest peaked with a first-summer American Golden Plover at Buckenham Marshes RSPB, Norfolk, on 4-5th. Elsewhere were three Black-winged Stilts, a reported Kentish Plover in East Sussex and two Pectoral SandpipersEurasian Dotterel were at a pitiful eight sites and only nine Temminck's Stints could be mustered. Four Lesser Yellowlegs included a new bird at Old Hall Marshes RSPB, Essex, and Long-billed Dowitchers remained in Norfolk and Co Wexford.

Black-winged Stilt, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire (Matthew Mellor).

Lesser Yellowlegs, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire (Matthew Mellor).

Mobile Aythya flocks brought Lesser Scaup to Ripple GP, Worcestershire, and St Aidan's RSPB, West Yorkshire, although both were one-day birds. Others lingered in Cheshire, Perth and Kinross and Co Donegal. Other interesting wildfowl included two Ferruginous Duck, seven Green-winged Teal, seven Ring-necked Duck and six Surf Scoter, plus a late Smew at Belhaven Bay, Lothian. Also unexpected was a Bewick's Swan on the Suffolk coast. Several White-billed Divers remained at their Scottish staging sites, with birds reported from Aberdeenshire, Moray and Nairn, Outer Hebrides and Shetland.

Surf Scoter (centre) with Common Scoter, Walberswick, Suffolk (Paul Coombes).

In Lancashire, the intriguing discovery of six Snow Geese at Leighton Moss RSPB, Lancashire, on 5th was followed by a flock of 10 (one blue morph and nine white morphs) at Lytham St Annes later that afternoon. While it appears highly improbable that these relate to a lost, wild flock, just where did they come from? One likely source is the feral Oxfordshire flock, which constitutes a mix of blue- and white-morph birds. A count from Farmoor Reservoir earlier this week totalled 68 birds, although counts over the winter reached 100. Another white morph was with Greylag Geese on Anglesey. Two Red-breasted Geese clung on in East Anglia and Black Brant were in Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire.

Red-breasted Goose (right) with Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire (Philip Butson).


Western Palearctic

Recent discussions about the provenance of ship-assisted birds (see Birdwatch 383: 22-26) were reignited this week by the surprise discovery of no fewer than four Grey Catbirds onboard the cruise ship Oasis of the Seas off the Azores on 28th, accompanied by a Northern Parula, while Palm and Cape May Warblers had been recorded onboard west of WP waters. Three catbirds remained onboard into waters off the Algarve, Portugal, with at least one later noted while docked at both Cádiz and Málaga, Spain.

A stunning find in the east of the region was the Bateleur over Udabno, Georgia, on 1st – the country's second after one last May and the most northerly bird on record. An immature Yellow-billed Stork was at Eilat, Israel.

Bateleur, Udabno, Georgia (Lenn van de Zande).

In Italy, two Pied Crows found on Lampedusa, Sicily, later relocated north to Linosa. Appearing credible candidates for genuine vagrancy, the species is currently absent from the Italian list. Slovakia recorded its first Isabelline Wheatear on 28th, with the Intermediate Egret remaining in Extremadura, Spain, until 29th at least.

News from Denmark concerned a Sandhill Crane and Steppe Eagle at Skagen and a Stejneger's Scoter and Black Scoter past Utlängan. A notable find in Belgium saw a subadult Lesser Spotted Eagle circle over Maaseik on 1st. Amusingly, although it was only observed from the Dutch side of the border, it never crossed into Dutch airspace!


Written by: Sam Viles