Review of the Week: 29 August-4 September


While it was hardly as though the phone was ringing off the hook with new rarities, and promising forecasts for the east coast were a bit of a let-down, there was enough going on this week to keep the summer doldrums a distant memory. The week's standout moment came when an Iduna warbler popped up by the famous dry stone wall at Porthgwarra, Cornwall, on 30th and went on to divide opinion for the rest of the day. Was it was 'just' a Booted Warbler, or the much rarer Sykes's? Fortunately, the bird showed well enough to allow clear photographs to be taken, confirming suspicions that it was indeed Britain's first gettable Sykes's Warbler since 2013. The species has built itself a reputation through its 19 previous records as a generally awkward species to twitch and this potential 20th record will not do much to redeem it; to the frustration of many still after a Sykes's in Britain, it cleared off overnight.

Sykes's Warbler, Porthgwarra, Cornwall (Michael McKee).

Burrowes Pit at Dungeness RSPB, Kent, continued to host the juvenile American Black Tern to 30th. Having stuck around for 10 days, this distinctive bird has provided many an opportunity to get familiar with this alluring taxon alongside our familiar nominate Black Terns. Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincs, held two other old favourites into the review period, with its Long-billed Dowitcher seeing the entire week through and the Stilt Sandpiper hanging around till 3rd. The latter was found on walkabouts from the reserve on 4th, when it was seen from a boat on the River Witham south-east of Boston. Unidentified dowitchers were seen flying past Hornsea and Spurn, both East Yorks, on 29th and 31st respectively, perhaps involving the same elusive individual.

Long-billed Dowitcher and Stilt Sandpiper, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire (Oliver Woodman).

Long-billed Dowitcher, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire (Mark Rayment).

Terek Sandpiper isn't exactly the sort of thing one expects to encounter as a fly-over, but one was photographed as it bombed over Dungeness RSPB, Kent, on 31st, calling as it went. Despite the best efforts of local birders checking likely spots nearby, it couldn't be pinned down again. A pristine and confiding juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper was discovered at Cuckmere Haven, East Sussex, on 4th. Further west, a Lesser Yellowlegs was a fleeting affair at Middlebere, Dorset, on 29th, but could still be lurking somewhere in the muddy maze of Poole Harbour.

Semipalmated Sandpiper, Cuckmere Haven, East Sussex (Matt Eade).

The week saw a small arrival of Buff-breasted Sandpipers, starting with a record of two past Donmouth, Aberdeens, on 29th. Others were on Tiree, Argyll, and at Baleshare on North Uist, Outer Hebrides, from 1-2nd then the North Uist bird was joined by a new arrival the next day. Last week's bird on North Ronaldsay, Orkney, lingered to 4th. Tiree also held its moulting adult American Golden Plover to 2nd.

In Lothian, the scrapes at Musselburgh Lagoons attracted a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper from 2-4th and the only other Pec of the week was in Polbathic Creek at St. German's, Cornwall, on 3rd. Temminck's Stints arrived on 31st at Blacktoft Sands RSPB, East Yorks, and at Martin Mere WWT, Lancs, the latter staying till 3rd. A juvenile based itself at Titchfield Haven NNR, Hants, from 2-4th. Six Red-necked Phalaropes included one-dayers at Gibraltar Point NNR, Lincs, on 29th and at Staines Reservoirs, Surrey, on 31st. Juveniles spent 31-4th at Blacktoft Sands RSPB, East Yorks, and 30-4th on the freshmarsh at Titchwell RSPB, Norfolk. A popular juvenile refuelled at Vange Marsh RSPB, Essex, from 1-4th and Hornsea, East Yorks, enjoyed a fly-by on the evening of 4th. Cley, Norfolk, had a juvenile Grey Phalarope shoot past offshore on 3rd.

Red-necked Phalarope, Titchwell RSPB, Norfolk (David Griffiths).

The second Aquatic Warbler of the autumn to be fitted with a BTO ring was netted at Nanjizal Valley, Cornwall, on 29th as the window of opportunity for this species begins to quietly close. A Western Bonelli's Warbler was found at Berry Head, Devon, on 29th and Outer Skerries, Shetland, attracted the first Booted Warbler of the autumn on 31st. Shetland boasted two Arctic Warblers: at Culsetter from 31-3rd and at Sellafirth, Yell, on 3rd. Local birders appreciated a two-day Greenish Warbler in the scrub at East Chevington NWT, Northumberland, from 1st, while two different individuals were on Fair Isle during the week.

Aquatic Warbler, Nanjizal Valley, Cornwall (Peter Roseveare).

Arctic Warbler, Sellafirth, Yell, Shetland (Simon Pinder).

Greenish Warbler, East Chevington NWT, Northumberland (Frank Golding).

More than two thirds of the 30 or so Barred Warblers this week were concentrated on the Northern Isles, mainly Shetland, though an individual trapped and ringed at Rutland Water was not surprisingly a first for Leicestershire and Rutland. Icterine Warblers were in relatively short supply, with nine logged, though three of these were at Spurn, East Yorks, on the 29th, with a further individual in their recording area the next day. One at Weybourne Camp, Norfolk, on 30th was the only other bird away from Shetland and Orkney. Melodious Warblers were of course scattered quite differently, with two on the Isles of Scilly, two in Pembrokshire and another on Hook Head, Co Waterford, on 3rd creating a westerly bias. Birds at St. Abb's Head, Borders, and at Melby, Shetland, on 3rd were significantly further north than usual. Just one Marsh Warbler was reported this week, this being in the bird observatory garden on Fair Isle from 29-1st.

Melodious Warbler, Melby, Mainland, Shetland (Rory Tallack).

Six Citrine Wagtails was a healthy total, though three of these were flyovers: at Culsetter, Shetland, on 31st and over Botallack, Cornwall, and Beesands, Devon, on 4th. The Great Pool on Tresco, Scilly, drew one in on 2nd before quickly giving it up to Lower Moors on neighbouring St. Mary's from 3-4th, where it become the second attracted to the pools there this autumn. Other first-winters were at Spurn on 31st and at Buckenham Marshes RSPB, Norfolk, on 2nd. When once Tawny Pipits would have been at least as numerous as these Citrine Wagtails, a total of three this week was respectable by current standards. Singletons were at Landguard NR, Suffolk, on 30th and Soar, Devon, on 31st, followed by another at Peninnis Head on St Mary's, Scilly, on 3rd.

Citrine Wagtail, Spurn YWT, East Yorkshire (Simon Spavin).

Lingering adult Rosy Starlings were on Lewis and St Kilda, both Outer Hebrides, to 3rd with another still on Tiree, Argyll, to 4th. Two juveniles were at Skewjack, Cornwall, on 3rd while the Devon bird floated around Beesands and Torcross all week and another turned up at Severn Beach on the evening on 1st.

Rosy Starling, Torcross, Devon (Paul Roberts).

Common Rosefinches were largely restricted to Orkney and Shetland, boasting a combined total of at least 20, while the only other four were along the east coast between Isle of May, Fife, and Spurn. The total of around 25 Ortolan Buntings was achieved in part by the efforts of nocturnal migration recorders, further reshaping our understanding of the species' night-time movements. Four calling birds were picked up during the week from one device in Weymouth, Dorset, as well as two over Thorncombe Street, Surrey, and another over Cambridge. Popular diurnal birds included braces at Rame Head, Cornwall, from 31-2nd and Portland, Dorset, from 3-4th, as well as Spurn on 2nd. Lapland Buntings remained thin on the ground for the time being, with one by the Axe Estuary, Somerset, on 1st and one or two on Fair Isle.

Ortolan Bunting, Portland, Dorset (Paul Ward).

Adding some colour to the week's news page were Red-rumped Swallows on St Mary's, Scilly, on 31st and at Caer Caradoc, Shropshire, on 1st. Golden Orioles turned up at Purton, Glos, on 1st and on Lundy, Devon, on 4th. Four Hoopoes included one at IBM Lake in Cosham, Hants, on 1st and another on St Mary's, Scilly, on 3rd. The remaining two were in Wales, with birds at Worms Head, Glamorgan, on 2nd and at New Quay, Ceredigion, on 4th.

The first Red-breasted Flycatchers of the autumn included a male on Fair Isle on 1st and a first-winter at Pendeen, Cornwall, on 4th. A young Woodchat Shrike performed nicely at The Warren at Spurn on 29th but proved to be a one-day wonder. The first-winter Red-backed Shrike lingering in the 'Pub Scrub' at Wanstead Flats throughout was the most observed bird of the week's eight. Six of the others were scattered along the east coast, from Colne Point, Essex to Whitburn Coastal Park, Co Durham, while Fair Isle had chipped in with one. Wrynecks were noticeably heaped into the south, not only on the coast but with inland birders picking up a good handful. Other than two on Fair Isle, one at Cley, Norfolk, on 4th was the northern-most of the week's 43 birds.

Red-backed Shrike, Wanstead, London (Josh Jones).

Wryneck, Winterton Dunes NNR, Norfolk (Drew Lyness).

After a tantalising report of a ghostly male Pallid Harrier quartering fields near Tattingstone, Suffolk, on 3rd, a more co-operative juvenile toured the marshes between Parkgate and Denhall Quay, Cheshire, on 4th. Montagu's Harrier reports just managed to keep up, with the regular female returning to Blacktoft Sands RSPB, East Yorks, from 31-4th and a juvenile at Alkborough Flats, Lincs, on 2nd. A Red-footed Falcon was reported on Sanday, Orkney, on 29th and at least 15 migrant European Honey Buzzards included three sailing over Nanjizal Valley, Cornwall, on 31st and three over Luccombe Down, Isle of Wight, on 1st. The current Snowy Owl in residence on St Kilda was confirmed as still present on 3rd and a vague report emerged from Cunningsburgh, Shetland, early in the week.

Pallid Harrier, Parkgate Marsh/Gayton Sands RSPB, Cheshire (Steven D'Cruze).

An adult Franklin's Gull was a gripping find at Loch Stiapavat on Lewis, Outer Hebrides, on 31st, where it spent the evening in adjacent fields. Hilbre Island, Cheshire, enjoyed its adult Bonaparte's Gull to 29th and one at Long Rock on Dunmoran Strand, Co Sligo, was new-in from 30-2nd. Ring-billed Gulls were noted at Blackrock, Co Louth, on 1st and in Doorly Park, Co Sligo, on 2nd. Two adult Sabine's Gulls loafed among terns and other gulls on the sand at Horse Shoe Point, Lincs, on the evening on 29th and another was all too brief at Bellmoor Lake, Notts, on 4th. One was at Dunmoran Strand on 3rd and seawatch records came on 30th from Porthgwarra, Cornwall, and Flamborough Head, East Yorks, then Cemlyn Bay, Anglesey, and Kilcummin Head, Co Mayo, on 3rd and Spurn on 4th. The adult Forster's Tern regularly returned to Soldier's Point, Co Louth, to 2nd.

Bonaparte's Gull, Aughris Head, Sligo (Seamus Feeney).

Sabine's Gull, North Cotes, Lincolnshire (Ian Shepherd).

This review period brought a tangible feeling that the seabird season was settling down, though this may be partly down to the reduced number of pelagic trips running. Trips into Co Cork waters turned up single Wilson's Storm Petrels on 1st and 2nd, the first bird being seen alongside the week's peak count of four Great Shearwaters. A handful of Greats continued to reward seawatchers in Cornwall and western Ireland but numbers were much reduced and Cory's Shearwaters were even scarcer, with just eight seen off Cornwall.

Great Shearwater, Scilly pelagic, Isles of Scilly (Joe Pender).

Eight Spotted Crakes included well-twitched birds seeing the week out at Willen Lake, Bucks, and Otter Estuary, Devon, where a second bird materialised. The Gibraltar Point NNR, Lincs, bird finally departed after 31st but birds at Eton Wick, Bucks, and Blacktoft Sands RSPB, East Yorks, stayed throughout, the bird at Rodley NR, West Yorks, stuck it out to 2nd and one was seen crossing the road at Clifford Hill GPs, Northants, on 29th. A Corncrake at Kilnsea, East Yorks, wasn't as streetwise, being picked up as a traffic fatality on 1st. Other migrant Corncrakes were on Fair Isle on 31st and flushed at Kynance Cove, Cornwall, on 2nd.

Spotted Crake, Otter Estuary NR, Devon (Chris Townend).


The long-staying Purple Heron at Littlesea in Poole Harbour, Dorset, was last seen on 31st. On this day, the bird at Cliffe Pools RSPB, Kent, resurfaced and a new juvenile was seen at Swalecliffe, also Kent. A juvenile at Abberton Reservoir, Essex, on 1-2nd might have been one of the Kent birds and others were seen at Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk, on 3rd and over Gorleston-on Sea and Cley, both Norfolk, on 29th and 31st respectively. Impressive numbers of Western Cattle Egrets included 40+ at Catcott Lows, Somerset.

In Highland, Strontian's adult drake American Black Duck stood proudly among his mixed progeny as he was checked upon on 30th. Shetland's adult female Hooded Merganser stayed put on Pullars Loch, Sound, to 3rd. An eclipse drake King Eider bobbed on the waves off Hilton of Delnies, Moray and Nairn, on 4th. Surf Scoter did their thing off Blackdog, Aberdeens, on 29th, off Inny Strand, Co Kerry, on 30th and in Lunan Bay, Angus, on 30th. The pure Ferruginous Duck at Abberton Reservoir, Essex, was on offer all week and the regular controversial drake returned to its captive White-headed Duck friends at Washington WWT, Co Durham, on 1st, the first time it's been reported since early July. A drake Ring-necked Duck turned up at Devoran, Cornwall, on 30th before apparently relocating to Stithians Reservoir on 1st. Another drake was picked out at Loch of Skene, Aberdeens, 31-1st.

Hooded Merganser, Lerwick, Mainland, Shetland (Elliot Montieth).

Ferruginous Duck, Abberton Reservoir, Essex (Paul Chamberlain).


Western Palearctic

Iceland's Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a first-summer female, easily held its place as the region's star bird and could be easily found feeding at Apavatn throughout the review period. A Brown Booby took a ride on a boat 30 nautical miles off Camariñas, Galicia, on 29th. Reported for the first time since late April, the Pied Crow at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria was still frequenting the harbour on 1st. A Rüppell's Vulture cruised over Cazalla Bird Observatory in Tarifa, Andalucia, on 3rd. Romania's third-ever Green Warbler was trapped and ringed at Grindul Chituc near Vadu, Constanta, on 3rd.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Apavatn, Suðurland (Alex Máni Guðríðarson).

Written by: M and R Boyd