It was another mixed bag on the weather front, with a bout of strong wind and rain mid-week. Getting February off to a flier was a Sociable Lapwing with Northern Lapwings on Fal Estuary, Cornwall, from 1st – though there are murmurings of it having been suppressed in the local area since November. This once near-annual vagrant is now a mega-rarity in Britain, with the drop off in records tallying with the large population decline of this critically endangered species in recent years.
Their extreme rarity has led some to postulate that it might be the same bird from the winter of 2020-21 returning. That bird, a first-winter, was present in south-west Cornwall between November 2020 and February 2021 before relocating to West Sedgemoor RSPB, Somerset, for much of March. Prior to this occurrence, there had been a 12-year gap in sightings. Of the 47 accepted British and Irish records, three hail from Cornwall – additional first-winters at Hayle Estuary in October 1978 and Davidstow Airfield in October 1987.
The reoccurrence of the adult drake Baikal Teal at Greylake RSPB, Somerset, from 30th made for the second act of a belting double winter warmer in the south-west. Thousands of wintering Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal and Northern Pintail helped create quite a spectacle alongside the mega Siberian waif – not least when a drake Green-winged Teal was found from 27th, providing a real 'east meets west' situation.
Norfolk birding was headlined by the continuing Black Scoter in Holkham Bay. This county first is an extreme rarity in southern parts of the North Sea, with this becoming the first record south of Northumberland. The adult drake White-winged Scoter was again off Inch, Co Kerry, in the close company of two first-winter drake scoter perhaps best described as either Velvet or White-winged. It will be quite the turn-up for the books if either proves to be White-winged – birds wintering in Cos Kerry and Galway are only the second and third Irish records. Surf Scoter were split two apiece between Britain and Ireland.
Essex has become the latest county to enjoy a bumper arrival of Lesser Scaup, with four (three drakes and a female) found at Abberton Reservoir on 4th, though the popular Canvasback at the same site was only recorded on 31st. These joined a further 10 across Britain. Co Roscommon, meanwhile, boasted a rare Irish Ferruginous Duck at Callow Lough on 29th. Four more continued in Britain. Otherwise, 28 Ring-necked Ducks included bumper flocks of five at Rostaff Turlough, Co Mayo, and four at Shapwick Heath, Somerset. Additional totals comprised five American Wigeon, 20 Green-winged Teal and 47 Smew, plus two White-billed Divers off Shetland.
Notably, two Cackling Geese were in the vicinity of Lunt Meadows, Lancashire, on 3rd, with one accompanying Pink-footed Geese north of the reserve while the long-stayer hung out with the site's feral Canada Geese. Controversially, it is only the first that is likely to be accepted as a wild vagrant, with a previous occurrence with Canada Geese in neighbouring Manchester two years ago relegated to Category E (an escape from captivity).
Two Red-breasted Geese put on a show in Norfolk this week, with the continuing first-winter on the north coast joined by an adult near King's Lynn from 1st. Two – an adult and first-winter – were present in the county back in November, making this a likely refind. A Black Brant was in East Yorkshire and three Snow Geese were in Scotland, with a blue morph of unknown origin in north Wales. The discovery of seven Tundra Bean Geese at Low Marishes, North Yorkshire, was notable in a poor winter for the species.
A brief Double-crested Cormorant visited Slade, Co Wexford, on 1st before a prompt disappearing act. Unfortunately, this potential Irish fourth wouldn't be photographed. Likewise, a probable Brünnich's Guillemot photographed on the sea off Scarborough, North Yorkshire, the following day would evade confirmation.
Distant guillemot type off south bay drifting out to sea late morning on the falling tide, Scarborough pic.twitter.com/d6Ep9VdRno— ben ward (@benwardbirds) February 2, 2024
An eclectic gull roost at St Clements Isle, Cornwall, late on 4th comprised a possible first-winter American Herring Gull, two Azores Gulls (a third-winter and first-winter), adult Iceland and Kumlien's Gulls, Glaucous Gull and three Caspian Gulls! Blurry phone photographs taken in Exeter, Devon, on 1st look to be a close match for a Franklin's Gull, though there would be no further sign by the end of the week. A new first-winter Ring-billed Gull was on Berneray, Outer Hebrides, with long-staying adults still in Cornwall, Clyde, Co Louth and Co Kerry. Tallies of 24 Glaucous and 36 Iceland Gulls included five Kumlien's Gulls.
An altogether better week for Rough-legged Buzzard saw a new bird found in the Lincolnshire Wolds near Ruckland on 3rd. The same day saw a second join the lingering juvenile at Glaisdale Moor, North Yorkshire, with both hunting together in the same scope view! Three Pallid Harriers remained at their respective spots and a returning unringed adult White Stork was at Smithy Fen, Cambridgeshire, from 29th, while Glossy Ibis visited 15 sites.
Cover crops in Kent and Dorset produced two new Little Buntings – birds at West Morden, Dorset, and Godmersham, Kent. The East Yorkshire Black-throated Thrush lasted into February, with a European Serin at Sandwich Bay, Kent and a Eurasian Penduline Tit again at Lough Beg, Co Cork. Four Great Grey Shrikes lingered and Shore Larks were in four counties. Waxwing remained widespread into February; the streets of Britain will have to put up with the metallic trills for a while yet.
Carlton Marshes, Suffolk, played host to a new Long-billed Dowitcher with Black-tailed Godwits on 2nd, with East Sussex's wintering example still at Cuckmere Haven. The Somerset Kentish Plover was noted on three dates, with a Lesser Yellowlegs still in Lincolnshire and a Grey Phalarope still at Longhaugh Point, Clyde.
February 2023 saw the remarkable discovery of multiple Black-capped Petrels off the coast of Santo Antão, Cape Verde, among rafts of breeding Fea's Petrels. Is Black-capped Petrel breeding in the Western Palearctic? One was again logged off Ponta do Sol, Santo Antão, on 3rd, giving the theory even more merit and hinting it might not be a one-off event. The archipelago's hot streak continued with a Yellow-billed Egret at Barragem de Poilão, Santiago, and the lingering Lesser Moorhen still at Santa Maria, Sal. Yellow-billed Egret was only split from Intermediate Egret – resident across southern and eastern Asia – in September, in a three-way split that also saw Plumed Egret of Australasia given species status.
Two Olive-backed Pipits at Ioannina became the first Greek record, with just the second White-billed Diver for Croatia off Posedarje. Elsewhere, an American Robin was photographed in a Keflavík, Iceland, garden on 2nd, a Green Heron continued in the Azores and the suburban Red-billed Tropicbird on Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, continued to attract a crowd.