Review of the Week: 29th November-5th December 2007


The week at a glance

With the arrival of the final month of 2007 and minds firmly turning towards the Christmas and New Year period ahead, an impressive array of birds were still lining up to try and distract observers' attentions away from the inevitable shopping trips and end-of-year festivities that lie ahead. There were no sensational new finds this week, but following such a prolonged spell of outstanding rarities, it was a chance to draw breath and enjoy what was still on offer, and there was still plenty to choose from. In Cornwall, the returning adult Pacific Diver remained in Mount's Bay, near Penzance, until at least 29th. The moulting drake Barrow's Goldeneye that arrived back at Quoile Pondage (Co. Down) last week (for its third winter) was still drawing visitors over the weekend, and remained to 2nd at least. Staying in Ireland, the Buff-bellied Pipit found at Red Barn Strand, Youghal (Co. Cork), was still in situ to 2nd, then moved to Pilmore Strand on 4th. This bird was the fourth for County Cork this autumn, an incredible statistic considering how few records of this, rather subtle, species stood on the record books before this year. Birders visiting the Red Barn/Pilmore area hit something of a purple patch over weekend of 1st-2nd; more on what they discovered later! On the Isles of Scilly, both the autumn's Wilson's Snipe were together on Lower Moors, St. Mary's (Scilly), on 29th November-1st December, with Jack Snipe and Common Snipe there for good measure. A juvenile darkish-winged "Iceland-type" gull discovered at Dix Pit (Oxfordshire) on 5th was initially identified as a dark Kumlien's Gull, but photographs indicated some striking characteristics of Thayer's Gull (such as its uniform coloration and unmarked tail band). Arguably there are a few minor discrepancies (the scapular pattern, for instance, and whether it is truly dark enough to be an acceptable Thayer's Gull), but this bird is certainly the strongest candidate yet for an English first (following four accepted records in Ireland, and one in Northern Ireland). This striking individual will doubtless be the cause of much debate amongst larophiles for days to come...

Grey Phalarope, Abberton Reservoir, Essex (Photo: Peter Stronach)

An adult White-billed Diver was again off Fetlar (Shetland) on 3rd and seems set to remain for the winter. Stormy weather across the west coast produced a handful of interesting seabird reports over the 1st-2nd of the new month. Seven Balearic Shearwaters were noted, including three were seen off Peninnis Head, St. Mary's (Scilly), on 4th. Some 40 Pomarine Skuas were reported during the week, including seven past Kessingland (Suffolk) on 5th,while seven Leach's Storm Petrels were noted, including two past Turnberry Point (Ayrshire) on 1st, and two more from Milford-on-Sea (Hampshire) on 2nd. The only storm-driven Grey Phalarope was seen from St. Ives Island (Cornwall) on 3rd, while birds at Blyth (Northumberland) to 29th, and at Abberton Reservoir (Essex) until 5th remained popular. Little Auks have been in short supply, with fewer than 30 seen during the week.

Cattle Egret, Cross Lanes, Cornwall (Photo: Brian McGeough)

Cattle Egrets maintained their impressive presence through the week in the southwest of England, with between seven and eleven still to be found in Cornwall (including three near Sancreed on 30th and 5th, three near St. Buryan on 4th, with four at Siblyback Reservoir on 4th-5th). Up to half a dozen or more were still in Dorset, where at least four birds roosted at Radipole Lake RSPB on 29th. Whether birds from Dorset are drifting west, or birds at the tip of Cornwall have decamped a little further to the north, or there is even another wave of new arrivals is, currently, anyone's guess. Slightly further afield, a Cattle Egret at Pennington Flash (Greater Manchester) was an excellent find on 2nd. In Ireland two birds were reported from Castletown Bearhaven (Co. Cork) on 1st, with presumably the same two then being found at Red Barn Strand, Youghal (Co. Cork) on 3rd. The week's tally of Great White Egrets included one over Barrow-upon-Trent on 1st (a week or so after another report from Derbyshire), while familiar long-stayers remained in Hampshire (at Mockbeggar Lake), Lancashire (at Leighton Moss RSPB) and Lough Beg (Co. Derry). The second-winter Glossy Ibis continued to commute between Marshside RSPB and Warton Marsh (Lancashire) to 1st at least. A dozen Spoonbills continued their winter sojourn at Brownsea Island NT (Dorset) to 29th at least, with one at Dolydd Hafreu MWT (Powys) also being of note. Two more were noted in Dorset, and on Scilly, with singles in Devon and County Kerry. The always-popular Common Cranes in east Norfolk mustered a weekly maximum total of 25 at the Stubb Mill roost on 1st, while the single bird remained at Welney WWT (Norfolk) to 29th.

Red-breasted Goose, West Wittering, W Sussex (Photo: Paul F. Cook)

Lesser Scaup, Draycote Water, Warks (Photo: Steve Seal)

Lesser Scaup, Draycote Water, Warks (Photo: Steve Seal)

King Eiders, Girdle Ness, Aberdeenshire (Photo: T. Moodie)

Velvet Scoter, Leven, Fife (Photo: John Anderson)

Long-tailed Duck, Lerwick, Shetland (Photo: Brydon Thomason)

Two Ross's Geese remained in Norfolk during the early part of the week, with east Norfolk's bird being seen, once again, at Heigham Holmes on 29th, on which date the bird in the northern part of the county was seen at Saxlingham, with some 7,500 Pink-footed Geese. A Snow Goose was again seen near Halvergate (Norfolk) on 30th, but Scotland stole the show with three Snow Geese on 2nd. One was again at Kilrenny (Fife), with a blue/intermediate-phase adult at Loch of Skene (Aberdeenshire), and another blue bird at West Freugh airfield (Dumfries and Galloway), this bird still present on 3rd. The adult Red-breasted Goose seen in Hampshire last week moved along the coast to West Wittering (West Sussex) this week, present with around 1,200 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, and was remained from 30th November-4th December at least. The only interesting Canada Geese of the week were single Richardson's Canada Geese, accompanying Barnacle Geese at Ballyconnel (Co. Sligo) on 30th and Islay (Argyll) on 4th. Black Brants this week were noted from Hampshire, West Sussex, Kent, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk and Lincolnshire. These single birds were rather eclipsed by the belated report of four adults around Cockthorpe and Binham (Norfolk) on 28th (following on from the three birds there on 26th). The drake American Wigeon remained at Lissagriffin (Co. Cork) to 1st at least, with a drake Green-winged Teal there for good measure. New this week were Green-winged Teals at Neumann's Flash (Cheshire) on 30th, and at Rush Hills scrape, Hickling NWT (Norfolk) on 29th November-3rd December, while long-stayers were again noted on the Hayle Estuary (Cornwall), Woodhorn Flash (Northumberland), at Abbotsbury Swannery (Dorset) and again at Belfast Lough RSPB (Co. Antrim). The female Blue-winged Teal was still present at North Bull Island (Co. Dublin) on 1st. The week has been a poor one for Lesser Scaup with just two birds seen, both males: the popular first-winter drake was at Draycote Water (Warwickshire) from 28th November-5th December, while the adult drake was again on Inch Island Lake (Co. Donegal) on 2nd. Nine Ring-necked Ducks were reported during the week, four of which were in Ireland (in counties Louth, Sligo, Donegal and Cork). Of particular note were new arrivals at Monkmoor Pool SWT (Shropshire) on 1st and at College Reservoir (Cornwall) on 3rd-5th, both these birds being females. Other records this week came from Buckinghamshire, Somerset and North Uist. The female Ferruginous Duck reappeared at Theale gravel pit (Berkshire) on 3rd (after an absence of well over a week) and the drake remained on Corbet Lough (Co. Down) to 4th at least. Last week's review discussed the chances of when "a fourth northern goodie" might appear off the headland at Girdle Ness (Aberdeenshire). Well it wasn't too long - although it was a "repeat" species, as a first-winter drake King Eider joined last week's female on 1st, with both birds still present on 2nd, and the male still there on 5th. Repeat species or not, two King Eiders together anywhere is impressive. Just two Surf Scoters made the news this week, with the long-staying juvenile off Dawlish Warren (Devon) to at least 2nd, while last week's drake was again in the Bay of Kirkwall (Orkney) on 2nd.

White-tailed Eagle (with Common Buzzard), Quarley, Hants (Photo: Mike Galtry)

The colour-ringed (and hugely popular) White-tailed Eagle remained in the area around Quarley and Shipton Bellinger (Hampshire) until 5th. The youngster's colourful leg appendages indicated that it was likely to have been hatched in a nest in Finnish Lappland this year, although there is a chance that it may be of Swedish origin. Finland or Sweden? No matter, it's a truly wild bird! A Rough-legged Buzzard remained on the Isle of Sheppey (Kent) until at least 2nd, while a juvenile was seen the previous day at Deerness, on mainland Orkney.

The wintering first-winter Spotted Sandpiper remained at Lisvane Reservoir (Glamorgan) until at least 3rd, while the first-winter Long-billed Dowitcher at Bowling Green Marsh RSPB (Devon) was still present too, until at least the 5th. A probable first-winter Long-billed Dowitcher was seen at Belfast Lough RSPB (Co. Antrim) on 30th. Another wintering transatlantic wader/shorebird is the Lesser Yellowlegs at Montrose Basin (Angus), which remained throughout the week. The American Golden Plover was still at Slimbridge WWT (Gloucestershire) on 2nd-5th, while the Pectoral Sandpiper was again at Caerlaverock WWT (Dumfries and Galloway) to 30th. Rather more surprising were not one, but two, December Kentish Plovers. The bird at South Ford, South Uist (first seen on 10th November and a first record for the Western Isles) was still present on 3rd, while County Cork's current rarity hotspot, the area between Red Barn and Pilmore, near Youghal (already boasting Buff-bellied Pipit and two Cattle Egrets!) was home to the week's second "KP" - a ringed bird present on 2nd-5th. Prior to some excellent detective work and diligent field observation that proved German origins, this bird, a pale-legged and rather long-billed bird, raised the spectre of the possibilities of Snowy Plover (the American form of Kentish Plover) reaching the Western Palearctic. The general consensus is that, certainly at this time of year, Snowy and Kentish Plovers cannot be reliably separated but, given the paucity of records on the Eastern seaboard of the USA, the likelihood of a Snowy Plover reaching this side of the Atlantic is slim indeed (not even the rarity hounds on the Azores have encountered one for instance). No doubting the bird's rarity in Ireland though: this is the first there for 12 years, and the first in Cork for over two decades.

Glaucous Gull, Nuneaton, Warks (Photo: Dave Hutton)

Iceland Gull, Lerwick, Shetland (Photo: Brydon Thomason)

The two adult Bonaparte's Gulls in Scotland, at Fishtown of Usan (Angus) and Peterhead (Aberdeenshire) were both present to 2nd at least. Around 40 Glaucous Gulls were noted during the week, with the bird at Lowestoft (Suffolk) still proving popular, and present until 2nd at least. Midlands counties again fared well, but it was Burrafirth, on Unst (Shetland) that stole the prize this week, with five birds (two adults and three juveniles) present there on 2nd. Still in shorter supply than their bulky northern cousins, some 15 Iceland Gulls were noted over the course of the week, with two juveniles at Stanwick gravel pits (Northamptonshire) on 30th being of note. The lingering juvenile at the small tip at Edgefield (Norfolk) remained a popular choice, and was present to 3rd at least. Two other juveniles were reported in Norfolk during the week (at Titchwell RSPB on 30th and at Holkham Bay on 1st). The second-winter Kumlien's Gull was again at Rossaveal (Co. Galway) on 2nd (nearly two months after it was last recorded there). Some 30 Caspian Gulls were seen this week, with two "threes" noted - at the London Wetlands Centre WWT on 2nd, and at Hollowell Reservoir (Northamptonshire) on the same date. Eleven adult Ring-billed Gulls included four in County Cork on 30th, with a new individual at Fishguard (Pembrokeshire) on 1st-3rd at least. A first-winter Ring-billed Gull was found on the Hayle Estuary (Cornwall) on 4th, and two birds, an adult and a second-winter, were at Nimmo's Pier (Co. Galway) also on 4th. The inland roosting adult at Carsington Water (Derbyshire) was present until at least 30th. The Sabine's Gull remained around Cobh (Co. Cork) to 3rd at least and the Forster's Tern was still at Cruisetown Strand (Co. Louth) until 5th.

Richard's Pipit, Tacumshin, Wexford (Photo: Owen Foley)

Short-toed Lark, Long Nanny, Northumbs (Photo: David Dack)

Lapland Bunting, Salthouse, Norfolk (Photo: Ray Purser)

The Short-toed Lark at Long Nanny (Northumberland) was still to be found with Twite out on the saltings until 4th. The two handsome Desert Wheatears that arrived last week were still both present into December - the first-winter male at Horsey (Norfolk) remaining to 5th, and the first-winter male at Burniston (North Yorkshire) was still present to 5th as well. A Richard's Pipit was again at Tacumshin (Co. Wexford) from 30th November-2nd December.

Waxwing, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire (Photo: CJ)

Well over 300 Waxwings were seen during the week, with up to 83 present around Aberdeen on 4th. A flock of 55 was in Edinburgh on 1st, 45 were seen at Rathmore Park, Dublin on 4th and a flock of 40 were in Washington (Northumberland) on 2nd.

Lingering Yellow-browed Warblers were at Countess Wear (Devon) on 29th, at the London Wetlands Centre WWT on 1st, on St. Mary's (Scilly) on 2nd and at Boscathnoe Reservoir, near Penzance (Cornwall) on 4th. Few other passerines of note were reported this week, and it falls to Great Grey Shrike to round off this week's review. At least a dozen birds remained around the country, with records from Clyde to the north, Norfolk to the east, Powys to the west and Hampshire to the south.

Photo of the Week

Barn Owl, undisclosed site, Norfolk (Photo: Nigel Pye)

Conventional photographic advice is to 'keep the sun at your back'. It is true that this gives good colour saturation and minimises exposure problems, but it can result in flat images. Shooting towards the sun, with 'rim lighting' on your subject, can yield wonderfully atmospheric shots that really stand out. With his perfectly composed portrait of a Barn Owl, Nigel Pye shows the power of this technique. The warm backlighting - transmitted right through the owl's wing - complements the cool front lighting to beautiful effect.

Other notable photos

Nuthatch, undisclosed site, Cheshire (Photo: Richard Steel)

Desert Wheatear, Horsey, Norfolk (Photo: Nigel Pye)

Water Pipit, Extremadura, Spain (Photo: Steve Fletcher)

Fieldfare, Summer Leys LNR, Northants (Photo: Richard Bedford)

Avocet, Marshside RSPB, Lancs (photo: Sue Tranter)

Mute Swan, Venus Pool, Shrops (Photo: Jim Almond)

Purple Sandpiper, Penzance, Cornwall (Photo: Brian McGeough)

Little Grebe, Moore NR, Cheshire (Photo: Steve Oakes)

Coal Tit, Rufford CP, Notts (Photo: Matt Latham)

Whooper Swan, Hogganfield Loch, Clyde (Photo: Fraser Simpson)

Bittern, Potteric Carr YWT, S Yorks (Photo: Brian Irvine)

Many of the images that appear in our weekly reviews can be purchased from the photographers, some of whom have their own websites:

John Anderson: http://www.pbase.com/crail_birder
Bill Aspin: http://billaspinsnatureblog.blogspot.com
Mike Atkinson: http://mikeatkinson.net
Richard Bedford: http://www.richardbedford.co.uk
Steve Blain: http://www.steveblain.co.uk
Will Bowell: http://www.wanderingbirders.com
Paul Bowerman: http://www.severnsidebirds.co.uk
Paul Bowyer: http://www.birdlist.co.uk
Graham Catley: http://pewit.blogspot.com/
Mark Caunt: http://www.AngusBirding.com
Dean Eades: http://www.birdmad.com
Andrew Easton: http://home.clara.net/ammodytes/
Graham Eaton: http://www.eatonphotography.co.uk
Stuart Elsom: http://www.stuartelsom.co.uk
Steve Evans: http://www.isabelline.co.uk
Katie Fuller: http://bogbumper.blogspot.com
Ian Fulton: http://www.pbase.com/ianfulton
Sean Gray: http://www.grayimages.co.uk
David Hatton: http://www.kowapower.com
Josh Jones: http://www.wanderingbirders.com
Paul and Andrea Kelly: http://www.irishbirdimages.com/
Matt Latham: http://www.mattlathamphotography.com
Micky Maher: http://www.aardfoto.co.uk/
John Malloy: http://mysite.wanadoo-members.co.uk/johnmalloy
Brian Mcgeough: http://www.brianmcgeough.com/
Tony Mills: http://www.notjustbirds.com
Jerry O'Brien: http://www.BirdsofBerkshire.co.uk
Mark Newsome: http://www.durhambirdclub.org/
James Packer: http://www.somersetbirder.co.uk
Mike Pennington: http://www.nature.shetland.co.uk
Ken Plows: http://www.kenswildlifepics.co.uk
Ray Purser: http://www.pbase.com/02purser
Marc Read: http://www.marcread-pix.com
Tristan Reid: http://www.atricillaimages.co.uk/
Steve Round: http://stevenround-birdphotography.com
Craig Shaw: http://craigsukbirdpictures.bravehost.com/
Tom Shevlin: http://wildlifesnaps.com/
Peter Simpson: http://www.blueskybirds.co.uk
Matt Slaymaker: http://www.mattslaymaker.co.uk
Oliver Smart: http://www.smartimages.co.uk
George Spraggs: http://www.bird-watching.co.uk
Richard Steel: http://wildlifephotographic.bblogspot.com/
Richard Stonier: http://www.birdsonline.co.uk
Stephen Tomlinson: http://stevesbirding.blogspot.com
Sue Tranter: http://www.suesbirdphotos.co.uk/
Damian Waters: http://www.drumimages.co.uk
Steve Williams: http://www.hilbrebirdobs.co.uk
Simon Wilson: http://www.bakewellbirder.co.uk/
Chris Wormwell: http://www.iombirding.co.uk
Dylan Wrathall: http://www.planetthanet.org
Written by: Mark Golley