The four-day Easter weekend coincided with the start of spring migration proper, providing plenty of impetus for birders to get out and about in the field. As transpired, it was a fast-paced period full of plenty of riveting action – and no fewer than six breaking mega alerts.
The entertaining start to spring continued with a significant arrival of Black-crowned Night and Purple Herons from mid-week. Black-crowned Night Heron in particular enjoyed a bumper influx: one of the largest ever seen across Britain and Ireland. Birds reached all corners of the two nations, including the far northern extremities of Lewis and Unst. Three kept close company near Iford, Dorset, with another trio on Cape Clear, Co Cork. Most popular of all were two showing at close range along the River Calder near Ossett, West Yorkshire. The species has only been proven to have bred in Britain on one previous occasion – in Somerset in 2017 – but, considering the number of birds currently present across the country, must stand a more-than-reasonable chance of adding to that total this year.
Purple Herons, meanwhile, sported a decent arrival of their own, including nine between Devon and Scilly. Other British records were in Hampshire, West Sussex and – further north – Gwynedd. Four more were in Ireland – two in Co Cork and singles in Cos Kerry and Wexford. Even more surprising than the 'purple patch' was an American Bittern flushed alongside a Purple Heron at Lough Gill, Co Kerry, on 8th! Amazingly, it was the heron that was the county first, the bittern predated by records from 1901 and 1925.
It was a remarkable week for Black-winged Stilts too. Ireland in particular enjoyed a spectacular run, with as many as 20 individuals between Co Clare and Co Wexford, including flocks of six at Ventry, Co Kerry, and five on Cape Clear, Co Cork. All of Britain's birds were present in Cornwall, with 12 birds across five sites.
The Kent coast hosts the majority of Britain's Short-toed Treecreeper records, being ideally located at the closest point to the European mainland for this Near Continental overshoot. The 'Garden of England' added two to its tally this week, with one at South Foreland on 7th tailed by one at Bockhill a day later. Also coming in twos was Eurasian Scops Owl, with one flushed from a ringing pole at the unrivalled Nanjizal Valley, Cornwall, on 4th followed by one recorded singing at Mizen Head, Co Cork, that evening.
Unsurprisingly, the Isles of Scilly were another epicentre of overshoot action, peaking with a Tawny Pipit on St Mary's on 9th and the year's first two Wrynecks. The islands hosted a bumper four Woodchat Shrikes – three of those on St Mary's alone – with wider arrival comprising four in Cornwall and one at Ardfield, Co Cork. Hoopoes, meanwhile, were at 23 sites as far north as Lothian.
European Serin was another species enjoying a decent spread, with one at Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire, the most northerly. The rest were in more-expected southern and south-eastern locales, with no fewer than 12 spread along the coast between Cornwall and Essex. Bluethroats included a male White-spotted at Blakeney Point, Norfolk, with others at Cley Marshes, Weybourne and Winterton Dunes. Another notable find comprised a Western Bonelli's Warbler at Ringstead Bay, Dorset.
Further north, a singing male Savi's Warbler at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB, Cheshire, on 10th was the county's first since a one-day bird in 1994. Hertfordshire birders were treated to a Eurasian Penduline Tit at Rye Meads RSPB on 4th, with one still at Dungeness RSPB, Kent, the previous day.
Great find by whoever found this afternoons Savi’s Warbler at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB. 10 minutes from home but couldn’t get there until this evening. County tick for me. Volume right up - it’s faint! pic.twitter.com/OcZuq7gKSM— Phil Woollen (@PhilWoollen) April 10, 2023
An Eastern Yellow Wagtail lingered in Suffolk, Richard's Pipits continued in Kent and Scilly, and a new Shore Lark was at Dunnet Bay, Caithness, with others still hanging on in Norfolk and East Yorkshire. Southern England continued to host a trio of Great Grey Shrikes and small numbers of Waxwing clung on, with birds in Highland, Moray and Co Antrim.
Otherwise, a Little Bunting remained at Metherell, Cornwall, until 6th at least, while a Greenland Redpoll was trapped and ringed at Hoylake, Cheshire, on 8th. In Kent, a Hume's Leaf Warbler continued near Sandgate; a surprise Yellow-browed Warbler sang at Ardoone, Co Mayo, on 8th.
Alpine Swifts continued to roam the skies over Britain and Ireland. Birds were logged over some 37 sites during the review period, including birds inland over Bolton, Greater Manchester, and Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, and a high count of three over Delgany, Co Wicklow. Common Swifts began to arrive back in small numbers too, with brief Red-rumped Swallows over Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire (on 5th), and North Foreland, Kent (on 10th).
It is a testament to the action-packed nature of the review period that a British Forster's Tern appears so far down this list, yet the discovery of a first-winter at Sutton Bingham Reservoir, Somerset, on 6th. Britain's last record was as far back as 2016 – and Somerset's only other record as long ago as 1987 – making it a well-appreciated treat indeed before its departure that evening. Perhaps even more notable still was its inland location, the first such occurrence in Britain. One rare tern deserves another: a Gull-billed Tern was at South Huish Marsh, Devon, from 7th.
The first Little Tern of the year was logged off Hilbre Island, Cheshire, on 8th, the same day a Finnish-ringed Baltic Gull was on the beach at West Bexington, Dorset. An apparent third-winter Azores Gull on St Mary's, Scilly, came right out of left field and Bonaparte's Gulls were at Hayle Estuary, Cornwall, and Teign Estuary, Devon. The weekend also produced an early push of Arctic Terns to keep inland patchers entertained, accompanied by smaller numbers of Little Gulls. Otherwise, the Highland American Herring Gull and Aberdeenshire Ross's Gull both remained, a Ring-billed Gull was on Benbecula, Outer Hebrides, and Kumlien's Gulls were at four locations.
The Double-crested Cormorant was again at Doon Lough, Co Leitrim, on 9th. It can't be long until it moults into its delightful breeding plumage, gaining small tufts of feathers behind each eye. White-billed Diver numbers in the Outer Moray Firth continued to build: three off Roseisle, Moray, four off Cullen, Moray, and at least two off Portsoy, Aberdeenshire. One more was off Lewis, Outer Hebrides.
Fife birders were stunned by a Eurasian Stone-curlew at Anstruther on 10th, a Scottish mega in every sense. An adult Lesser Yellowlegs in Devon was another smart find, present on the Otter Estuary from 6th. The first Pectoral Sandpiper of the year was at Dundalk, Co Louth, Eurasian Dotterels were in Norfolk and Clyde, and Long-billed Dowitchers lingered in Norfolk, Cheshire and Orkney. A Grey Phalarope flew past Boulmer, Northumberland.
White Storks were reported from 14 sites, although there was no sign of the Dutch-ringed example this week. Of these, unringed birds in Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Kent were most notable – including a new bird at Worth Marsh, Kent. Wandering Common Cranes reached as far west as Ceredigion and Devon, while Glossy Ibises were again at nine sites.
East Anglia boasted a flurry of Rough-legged Buzzard reports, with confirmed examples over Suffolk on 4th and 7th followed by a report from Kelling, Norfolk, on 8th. Two more were again in the Northern Isles. On 5th, reported Black Kites were in Cornwall, Kent and East Sussex; a possible female Lesser Kestrel roamed St Mary's, Scilly. Also attracting attention on the Isles of Scilly throughout the week was the young female Montagu's Harrier, which spent most of its time on St Agnes and Gugh.
A trio of Ferruginous Duck surprised in Warwickshire on 3rd: a pair at Brandon Marsh and a singleton at Draycote Water. Another was at Hickling Broad, Norfolk. On 10th, a drake Hooded Merganser of unknown origin was cavorting with Goosanders on the River Kent through Kendal, Cumbria, and Kent's second Lesser Scaup – a dapper drake – was enjoyed at Worth Marsh, Kent. Others were still in Oxfordshire, Somerset, Clyde and Outer Hebrides (two). Ring-necked Duck remained widespread.
After a slow start to the spring for the species, Garganey arrived in numbers from Tuesday onwards. The bulk were spread across southern and central England, with birds recorded at approximately 140 sites in total – although just two of those were in Ireland. Elsewhere, an American Wigeon persisted in Mainland Orkney, Green-winged Teal were at seven sites, and the American Black Duck was still in Co Mayo.
Golspie, Highland, hosted a drake Northern Eider and an immature drake King Eider was still off Port Seton, Lothian, though the bird off Redcar, Cleveland, wasn't recorded after 4th. Eleven Surf Scoter were split between six counties and the White-winged Scoter was still off Musselburgh, Lothian.
It has been a strong start to the Large Tortoiseshell butterfly season in 2023, with further evidence that the species appears to be breeding here sporadically. Imago have already been reported from 16 sites since the first on 25 March, with noticeable clusters in Sussex on the Isle of Wight. Surrey's Camberwell Beauty remained at Wisley until 4th, meanwhile, with another at Blackheath, Suffolk, on 9th.
In the eastern Mediterranean, the third Dusky Warbler for Greece was on Rhodes, Turkey's fourth Shikra was at Mardin and one or two Diederik Cuckoos were in Cyprus. Other Cypriot treats for visiting birders – it has felt like a significant portion of the British birding community has visited at some point this spring – included a Menetries's Warbler at Paralimni, Bar-tailed Lark at Cape Greco, Hume's Leaf Warbler still at Paphos and a Mourning Wheatear at Mandria.
Action in Spain comprised a lingering Sora at El Astillero, Elegant Tern at El Pinet and a new Semipalmated Plover at Punta del Hidalgo, Tenerife. Portuguese birders were treated to a Hudsonian Whimbrel at Setúbal on 8th and a Trumpeter Finch near Vila do Bispo from 9th, while a nice Moroccan double act saw a Lesser Yellowlegs and Bonaparte's Gull at Souss-Massa National Park.
Norway had a decent week, peaking with a surprise immature Bearded Vulture over Tengesdal on 2nd and then Gurskøy on 5th – likely the furthest north the species has ever roamed. Other news concerned a Baikal Teal, Black-throated Thrush, Oriental Turtle Dove and American Herring Gull. Both the Baltimore Oriole and Siberian Rubythroat remained in Sweden, with a Stejneger's Scoter off Mellbystrand. In Denmark, meanwhile, a French satellite-tagged Bonelli's Eagle made an appearance from 4th, before heading north and reaching Skagen on 7th – the country's fourth in as many years. Brits will be hoping the Black-winged Pratincole at Hejlsminde on 6th headed west.
La Tour du Valat in southern France was the beneficiary of the nation's third Eastern Bonelli's Warbler from 3-5th. Elsewhere, a Lesser Flamingo was still in the Camargue and an American Herring Gull was again at Gueltas. A Baikal Teal, Griffon Vulture and Pygmy Cormorant were in The Netherlands. The fifth Dartford Warbler for Germany was on Heligoland and a Black Scoter was off Heidkate, with Austria's sixth Isabelline Wheatear near Leitzersdorf. A Lithuanian surprise comprised the country's first Sandhill Crane at Prienai on 7th.