Review of the Week: 29th August-4th September 2002


Following brisk winds prior to the weekend, many parts of the country have been bathed in an Indian summer. Northwesterlies in the North Sea were followed by a high-pressure system, ideal for seabirds re-orientating themselves along the east coast and what was lacking in numbers was certainly made up for in quality. The high pressure remained settled for much of this week allowing small numbers of scarce migrants to be found along the coast.

Seawatching dominated proceedings this week. For the analysts, the probability of encountering a Fea's Petrel in the late August/early September slot was further enhanced by two more records. The second of the autumn was noted off Flamborough Head (East Yorks), and was later seen passing Whitburn (Durham). In Ireland, one was seen past Melmore Head (Donegal), and constitutes the third report from Irish waters this year. Even more amazing was a Wilson's Petrel seen 12 miles off Northumberland from a pelagic trip. There have been North Sea records from Denmark and Germany, but this is the first to be seen from the British side. This provides hope that perhaps they are 'out there' and a renewed vigour for pelagic trips off the east coast. More predictably, more Wilson's Petrels were seen past the Bridges of Ross and off Scilly. In the southwest, a fine tally of 695 Great Shearwaters were noted past Porthgwarra during an all-day seawatch. Sooty Shearwaters were seen in good numbers along the east coast and in Irish waters.

An adult female Chestnut Bunting on Fair Isle will provoke debate as to whether it managed to get here under its own steam. Most of the handful of records in Britain have been in spring and are of a suspicious origin. However this record ties in with a date more in keeping with a potential vagrant, but it is likely that more records will be required to give credibility to a pattern of natural vagrancy. Had it been aged as a 1st-winter then the pendulum might have swung a bit further too! Less contentious were the 2 Citrine Wagtails on the same island and 2 Booted Warblers in East Sussex. Much more debatable was the first Two-barred Crossbill to be found away from the Northern Isles, with one just to the west of Sheffield in South Yorkshire. Debate has raged all week, but consensus now appears to favour a male Two-barred Crossbill in moult, but this conundrum is still ongoing. A Little Swift in Cheshire was the fifth to be recorded in Britain and Ireland this year and is the first to ever be recorded in September, though there has been a single August record and three in November.

Most of our scarcer migrants have been evident in small numbers. At least 32 Barred Warblers have been reported, 13 Icterine Warblers, two Melodious Warblers and a single Marsh Warbler. Around 24 Wrynecks have enchanted their watchers and 20 Red-backed Shrikes have been well scattered with a couple of inland birds. A nice arrival of a dozen Ortolan Buntings predominated in the southwest, with 4 birds together in Cornwall. Common Rosefinches are still scarce with half a dozen birds, one of which one was in Pembrokeshire, whilst several Red-breasted Flycatchers proved elusive. A Tawny Pipit was in East Sussex and the first juvenile Rose-coloured Starling of the autumn was on Scilly. It is likely that the autumn will produce good numbers of juvenile Rosy Starlings following the record summer influx.

Small numbers of waders were noted during the week, with a Broad-billed Sandpiper in Lincolnshire, White-rumped Sandpipers in Norfolk and Scilly, Lesser Yellowlegs in Cornwall, Buff-breasted Sandpiper on Fair Isle, Long-billed Dowitcher in Aberdeenshire and a Red-necked Phalarope in West Sussex. In Cornwall a Gull-billed Tern proved mobile, but could be caught up with with persistence. The prospects look set for a stormy weekend, so west-coast seawatching may well be the order of the day; keep a close eye on the forecasts and wind direction to choose your spot!

Written by: Russell Slack