Review of the Week: 29 August-3 September 2023


The transition into September is always a welcome feeling in the world of birding, with a blast of easterlies or some fast-moving Atlantic systems high on birder's wishlists up and down the country. Late August saw a major displacement of American Cliff Swallows into north-east North America, with an absolute minimum of 21 subsequently reported from Iceland, so should we dare to dream that the influx might reach us, too? Temperature anomalies across much of the North Atlantic Ocean remained well above historic averages, including in the waters off Britain and Ireland. It seems we should be prepared for another protracted seabird season.

This said, the reporting week's highlight was arguably something a bit smaller, skulking and stripy, in the form of a juvenile Aquatic Warbler at Landguard NR, Suffolk, on 29 August. Aquatic Warbler is the claimant of some unfortunate titles, being both Europe's only globally threatened and its rarest migratory passerine. With this in mind it's hardly surprising that this species has undergone a change in status in Britain, with the handful of annual records we get nowadays typically resulting from birds trapped and ringed. But the Landguard bird showed sporadically throughout the afternoon and evening, making it the first twitchable record since a bird at Lytchett Fields RSPB, Dorset, in 2016. Huge congratulations to the finder. 

Aquatic Warbler, Landguard NR, Suffolk (Jonathan Farooqi).

Scilly's long-staying Red-footed Booby was reported daily on Bishop Rock Lighthouse, although occasional spells of negative news interspersed, seemingly early morning or early afternoon depending on the tide state. Daily boats are still meeting any twitchers still wanting to catch up with this rare sulid, and thanks should again be given to St Mary's Boatmen's Association and Scilly Pelagics for their efforts.

Red-footed Booby, Scilly pelagic, Isles of Scilly (Miles Cluff).

Scilly bid adieu to its Brown Booby, after a couple of unconfirmed reports on 29 August. An adult was reported north past Eyemouth, Borders, on 1 September, before a confirmed adult was picked up off Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire, for 30 minutes on 3rd. At the time of writing the latter has been relocated further north off Filey and Humnanby Gap, with current thinking being it's a different adult to the Scilly bird. At least two different Scopoli's Shearwaters were photographed off Scilly again this week, with two more candidates awaiting scrutiny: one from the Bishop Rock boat trip on 30 August and one on the Scillonian III morning crossing on 1 September. 

The adult meena Oriental Turtle Dove was recorded on South Uist, Outer Hebrides, on three dates within the week. 

Oriental Turtle Dove, Boisdale, S Uist, Outer Hebrides (Patrick Safford).

In Ireland, the first-summer Greater Sand Plover remained at The Cull, Co Wexford, throughout. The Double-crested Cormorant was also reported again from Doon Lough, Co Leitrim, on 1 September for good measure.

Lothian's drake Stejneger's Scoter proved reliable most mornings off Musselburgh, where the second-summer drake King Eider and at least one Surf Scoter remained present. Both Blue-winged Teal were reported sporadically between Tophill Low NR and Watton NR, East Yorkshire, while the drake American Wigeon was still at Lough Beg on 29 August.

Blue-winged Teal, Tophill Low NR, East Yorkshire (Lee Johnson).

It's also worth noting that four Ferruginous Duck reportedly escaped from a wildfowl collection adjacent to Dernford Reservoir, Cambridgeshire, early in the week. An intriguing female Spatula hybrid was also noted at Middleton Lakes RSPB, Staffordshire, on 2 September, bearing resemblance to a Northern Shoveler × Garganey hybrid, though an open wing photo would be needed to rule out other parentage.

South-west England and Ireland continue to boast exceptional numbers of large shearwaters, with Cornwall seemingly stepping up the game again on 3 September. Seawatchers at Lizard Point logged an incredible c 20,000 large shearwaters past by mid-morning, though light conditions soon hampered efforts to identify most (1,000 Cory's Shearwaters and a smaller number of Great Shearwaters were confirmed before this). The same morning, some 10,000 large shearwaters were also recorded past Chynhalls Point in less than two hours, again with a similar ratio of Cory's to Greats noted in closer birds. Birds were easier to identify at Porthgwarra, with 4,187 Great Shearwaters and 2,954 Cory's Shearwaters identified past the same morning. As the season progresses and with sea temperatures still above average, perhaps a repeat of last year's late push of Great Shearwaters is on the cards – if so, potentially another South Polar Skua might follow them up? 

Cory's Shearwater (front centre), Manx Shearwater (back left) and Great Shearwater (back right), Scillonian crossing, Cornwall (John Mahon).

Cory's Shearwater, Western Rocks, Isles of Scilly (M J Bond).

Long-tailed Skua passage continued, largely concentrated along the east coast, but birds were also noted off Hoylake, Cheshire, Berry Head, Devon, and Minehead, Somerset. As the season progresses, it's not long before the first juvenile Pomarine Skuas will also begin to make their way south. Sabine's Gulls were recorded past 12 sites, and Leach's Storm Petrels past three. Wilson's Storm Petrel records continue to wane, with one or two reported on Scilly pelagics up till the end of August, and a single reported past Annagh Head, Co Mayo, on 3 September.

Sabine's Gull, South Gare, Cleveland (Paul Harris).

September saw the start of a small arrival of Nearctic waders, with two first-winter Wilson's Phalaropes headlining. One was at Tacumshin, Co Wexford, from 1st and another at Dunnet Bay, Caithness, on 3rd. A Semipalmated Sandpiper was also at Tacumshin from 1st, with another 'Semi' at Muckross Estuary, Co Cork. It's been another slow season for Buff-breasted Sandpipers so far, but eight sites reported birds this week, with American Golden Plovers at five and Pectoral Sandpipers at 15. The adult Lesser Yellowlegs was relocated at Montrose Basin, Angus and Dundee, this week, and both long-staying Long-billed Dowitchers remained. 

Wilson's Phalarope, Tacumshin, Wexford (Tom Shevlin).

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Davidstow Airfield, Cornwall (Mark Worden).

Pectoral Sandpiper, Tophill Low NR, East Yorkshire (Lee Johnson).

The Black-winged Pratincole was reported from both Inch Island Lake and Blanket Nook, Co Donegal, again over the weekend. A new juvenile Black-winged Stilt was a notable find at Lisselan, Co Waterford, on 31 August, and the family party remained at Wombwell Ings RSPB, South Yorkshire, until 30 August. Only two juvenile Red-necked Phalaropes were on offer, and none of the four Eurasian Dotterels proved twitchable. Temminck's Stints were reported from three sites, including two at Brancaster, Norfolk, on 2nd, but only the juvenile at Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire, on 3rd hung around. The juvenile Eurasian Stone-curlew remained at Cliffe Pools RSPB, Kent, throughout. 

Lincolnshire's juvenile Black Stork has gone to ground again, with just two reports from Frampton Marsh RSPB on 30th. It's been a lean early autumn period for Spotted Crake thus far, and just one bird was reported this week: a juvenile showing well at Ogston Reservoir, Derbyshire. A Corncrake was at Welwick, East Yorkshire, on 30th.

Spotted Crake, Ogston Reservoir, Derbyshire (Mary Wilde).

Another week went by with the second-winter Forster's Tern still present and correct, commuting between Arne RSPB and Brownsea Island NT, Dorset. A Caspian Tern flew west past Sheringham, Norfolk, on 29th and later the same day one flew north-west over Woodhall Spa Airfield LWT, Lincolnshire. An equally brief Gull-billed Tern flew east along the Thames at Grays, Essex, on 2nd. Cornwall's apparent second-summer Azores Gull was last reported from the Sennen area on 31 August. Four Bonaparte's Gulls lingered into the week, including three in Ireland and the usual adult at Oare Marshes NR, Kent. 

A juvenile Pallid Harrier was tracked over the Isle of May and north across the Firth of Forth to Crail on 2nd, while a ringtail was at Boddam, Shetland, on 3rd. A Black Kite was reported over Dungeness RSPB, Kent, on 3rd. Some 24 sites reported European Honey Buzzards over.

On Scilly, first-winter Woodchat Shrikes were reported from both St Agnes and St Mary's, and another was at Gibraltar Point NNR, Lincolnshire, on 3rd. Perhaps surprisingly, the latter was the first Lincolnshire record in 10 years, which also hailed from ‘Gib'. Red-backed Shrikes saw a reduction in reports with 12 on offer. Wrynecks were well scattered across southern England, otherwise one was in Northumberland, and singles in Wales and Ireland, plus three in Scotland. Four Hoopoes made the BirdGuides sightings page, including two on Orkney and one in Ireland.

Red-backed Shrike, Mill Hill, West Sussex (Nick Truby).

Two juvenile Rosy Starlings were new in on 3 September, with singles at Land's End, Cornwall, and Lundy, Devon. Shetland's smart pink bird was still being reported until 1st. The Greater Short-toed Lark remained at Dale Airfield, Pembrokeshire. 

Rosy Starling, West Burra, Shetland (Alan Curry).

A first-calendar-year Thrush Nightingale trapped and ringed at Nanjizal Valley on 3 Septmeber was a new addition to the Cornish list. A Bluethroat was at Alkborough Flats, Lincolnshire, the same day and was an addition to the reserve's burgeoning site list. 

Fair Isle hosted its first Booted Warbler of the year on 30 August, a three Western Bonelli's Warblers were found, though no accessible. One was reported briefly at Holkham Pines, Norfolk, on 31st, in a similar fashion to one on St Mary's, Scilly, on 3rd. Another was on Lundy, Devon, the same day. 

Booted Warbler, Fair Isle, Shetland (Alex Penn).

A Melodious Warbler was a great find on Tory Island, Co Donegal, on 2nd; otherwise, birds were scattered in the more expected region of south-west England, including one on Lundy, Devon. An Icterine Warbler was ringed at Nanjizal Valley, Cornwall, on 29th with two more on the east coast. Greenish Warblers were split across four sites, including one on board a boat 190 km off Aberdeen, where it was said to have landed on the observer's foot! A small arrival of Barred Warblers including an impressive seven on Fair Isle on 1 September, with a few also on North Ronaldsay. Several other sites across the Northern Isles reported birds, and away from there birds were at Spurn YWT and two sites in Norfolk. Blyth's Reed Warblers were trapped and ringed at Fife Ness and Fair Isle on 2nd. A Marsh Warbler was trapped and ringed at Nanjizal Valley, Cornwall, on 3rd.

A mobile Ortolan Bunting was present at Kynance Cove, Cornwall, from 30-2nd at least, while Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire, added it to the site list on 3rd when a brief bird was along the Severn foreshore. Light easterlies saw Common Rosefinches arrive at five ‘usual' sites, with 11 birds split between them.

Barred Warbler, Fair Isle, Shetland (Alex Penn).


Western Palearctic

The aforementioned influx of American Cliff Swallows certainly lived up to expectation in Iceland. Prior to this arrival, the country had only had three records of five birds, so that a minimum of 21 birds that arrived across the south of the country was truly astonishing. Four were also photographed on the deck of a ship off the southern Icelandic coast, with this vessel due to arrive in Belfast on 5 September. The influx also saw an American Barn Swallow at Garðskagi on 31 August, and another Swallow was with a flock of American Cliff Swallows over Keflavík. 

American Cliff Swallow, Keflavík, Suðurnes (Þorfinnur Sigurgeirsson).

In Norway, an adult meena Oriental Turtle Dove was picked up dead following a window collision at Ekkerøy on 1 September. 

Yet another European record of Yellow-billed Kite emerged, with one logged south over Antikythera on 31 August, which would be the first record for Greece if accepted/.

In France, a South Polar Skua was photographed from a boat off Finistère on 3 September. A Brown Booby flew past Charente-Maritime on 29 August. Lesser Spotted Eagles were reported over Centre-Val de Loire on 31st and Aube on 3rd.

There were two intriguing reports of Sudan Golden Sparrow in mainland Iberia, first a male was present in Gibraltar from 10-16 July. A male was also reported in Andalucia on 28th. Whether these are genuine vagrants is anyone's guess, but for now treating them as ship-assisted or escapes feels more appropriate. Late news was received of a House Bunting in off the sea just outside of Tarifa on 24 August. A South Polar Skua flew past Estaca de Bares on 30 August, and a Brown Booby passed there following day. Another South Polar Skua was noted in Portugal, passing Cabo Raso on 2 September. 

A showy Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was on Tenerife on 26 August, representing the first record for the Canary Islands, and the sixth record for Spain overall. In the Azores, a Least Sandpiper was on Terceira on 30 August, where a Semipalmated Plover lingered.

Written by: Dan Owen

Dan Owen is a Cheshire-based birder with a keen interest in ringing and wildfowl. He works for the BirdGuides news team. Follow him on Twitter: @_danielowen