Review of the Week: 30 May-4 June 2023


As May ticked into June, continuing high pressure made for a largely settled week, with unbroken blue skies and warm temperatures the order of the day for many areas – but, if you were an east-coast birder, the biting north-easterly wind continued to keep temperatures below par and resulted in some particularly cool and grey days. Unusually, for this stage in the year, it proved one of the best weeks of the spring for general passage, with a strong push of Black Terns in the final days of May and also a significant upturn in the number of waders such as Sanderling being reported.

The week was also packed with new rare discoveries, the most popular of which concerned a Great Snipe at Spurn, East Yorkshire, from 31st. Favouring a large puddle at Clubley's Field, the bird could be watched comfortably as it went about its business feeding out in the open – particularly unusual for this typically elusive species. Lingering for four days, it is the observatory's sixth record as well as the second in spring, following one on 28-29 May 1989.

Great Snipe, Spurn YWT, East Yorkshire (Matthew Mellor).

A male Amur Wagtail on Foula, Shetland, on 3rd is just the second of this attractive Far Eastern subspecies of White Wagtail for Britain, following a male at Seaham, Durham, on 5-6 April 2005. It is the only form to show both black upperparts and a clean white face and throat in summer plumage. Other identifying features include white flanks and wings, plus a small, isolated black 'breastplate' surrounded by white. It is just the fourth for the Western Palearctic, with others noted in Norway in November 2008 and Finland in November-December 2015.

Amur Wagtail, Foula, Shetland (Geoff Atherton).

Until last year's long stayer at Bempton Cliffs RSPB, East Yorkshire, Red-tailed Shrike was a highly desirable bird in Britain. Nevertheless, a female at West Rise Marsh, East Sussex, on 30th proved quite a surprise, with this county first attracting plenty of interest during its one-day stay. With only adults and some second-calendar-years thought to be safely separable from the closely related Isabelline Shrike, the bulk of records are assigned to the either/or category – if accepted, this latest bird will become just the ninth on record.

Red-tailed Shrike, West Rise Marsh, East Sussex (Harvey Shelley).

The breeding-plumaged American Black Tern returned to Long Nanny, Northumberland, from 2nd – three weeks later than in 2022. Tips on how to identify this tricky taxon in its summer dress can be found here. Its reappearance coincided with easily the best Black Tern passage of the spring, and probably the best spring movement since 2019 at least, in the final days of May. This movement is particularly late by British standards, but an incessant north-easterly airflow has been stretching right down to Iberia and North Africa for much of May, presumably delaying large numbers of these marsh terns from undertaking their spring migrations.

Well over 100 sites registered the species during the six days of this review period. Notable counts included 21 at Pennington Flash, Greater Manchester, on 1st, with several sites scoring numbers into the teens. It was almost a surprise that more White-winged Terns weren't found: one moved from Grafham Water, Cambridgeshire, to nearby Paxton Pits with a small group of Black Terns on 2nd, while another was reported from the ferry between Ullapool, Highland, and Stornoway, Lewis, on 4th.

American Black Tern, Long Nanny, Northumberland (Ted Smith).

Ventnor, Isle of Wight, hosts one of the most unique seawatching locations around – it all takes place from the lucky homeowner's bedroom window! On 31st, a possible albatross species flew east. Elsewhere, Sabine's Gulls were off Aberdeenshire and Shetland, with a Long-tailed Skua off Mull, Argyll. Two White-billed Divers were off Sumburgh, Mainland Shetland.

There aren't many better-looking birds than a spring Rustic Bunting, with a gorgeous male singing on Fair Isle from 30th. Another was sound recorded as it flew south over Spurn, East Yorkshire, on 31st – identified later that day from a sonogram. The wonders of modern technology, it isn't all too long ago that it would have gone down as the 'one that got away'.

Rustic Bunting, Fair Isle, Shetland (Georgia Platt).

The popular adult male Common Rosefinch continued at Kendal, Cumbria, with a steady procession of birders and photographers paying a visit. Happily, this allowed the full ring combination to be read – 'ARN5741' – matching a bird ringed as a first-summer on Fair Isle on 13 June 2022. One has to wonder where it has been in the interim. Other rosefinches were in Devon, Lincolnshire, Northumberland and Isle of Man.

Common Rosefinch, Kendal, Cumbria (Ian Bollen).

Bardsey Island, Gwynedd, hosted its second Nearctic sparrow of the spring, with a fine White-throated Sparrow singing in the observatory garden on 4th. Much like May's Song Sparrow, it is the island's second record, with the last occurring some 56 years ago, in October-November 1967. Bardsey also boasted its first subalpine warbler since 2020 – a singing male Eastern Subalpine Warbler on 30th – after a run of 13 in a 10-year period. Another Eastern Subalpine was at Sumburgh, Mainland Shetland, on 2nd, while a Western Subalpine remained on Fair Isle for a second week.

White-throated Sparrow, Bardsey Island, Gwynedd (Edward Betteridge).

Eastern Subalpine Warbler, Bardsey Island, Gwynedd (Edward Betteridge).

Four Blyth's Reed Warblers made an appearance in Scotland, including one on the mainland – at Invergowrie, Angus and Dundee, on 2nd. Others were on Barra, Outer Hebrides, Mainland Shetland and Papa Westray, Orkney. Surprisingly, records of Blyth's Reed now outnumber records of Marsh Warbler on the latter island, with four records of Blyth's compared to just three of Marsh! In England, seven Marsh Warblers on the east coast between Norfolk and East Yorkshire included two singing just a short distance apart at Chapel Six Marshes, Lincolnshire. Others were in Derbyshire, Fife and Shetland, with further unconfirmed reports of Marsh or Blyth's Reed Warblers in the Isles of Scilly and Aberdeenshire.

Blyth's Reed Warbler, Papa Westray, Orkney (David Roche).

Marsh Warbler, Chapel Six Marshes, Lincolnshire (Tim Melling).

Great Reed Warblers belted out their croaky refrains at Pensthorpe Waterfowl Park, Norfolk, Stodmarsh NNR, Kent, and Langford, Nottinghamshire, with one trapped and ringed on Calf of Man, Isle of Man. Spurn, East Yorkshire, bagged the first Greenish Warbler of the spring on 3rd, which was quickly followed by one at The Naze, Essex, the following day. Four Icterine Warblers were split two apiece between Scottish islands and Spurn, East Yorkshire.

Greenish Warbler (top) and Icterine Warbler (bottom), Spurn YWT, East Yorkshire (Neill Hunt).

Although there's no sign of a major influx happening this summer, four Rosy Starlings arrived on the east coast – at Chelmsford, Essex; Aylsham, Norfolk; Felixstowe, Suffolk; and in Kent – with further birds in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. European Bee-eaters reached Pembrokeshire and North Uist, Outer Hebrides, with three more in Kent. A couple of European Serins were in Cornwall, with others in Lincolnshire, Cleveland and East Yorkshire, and a Red-breasted Flycatcher was trapped and ringed on North Ronaldsay, Orkney. Other totals involved two Hoopoes, three Bluethroats, six Grey-headed Wagtails, 14 Golden Orioles and 20 Red-backed Shrikes. On 30th, a Richard's Pipit flew north over Constantine, Cornwall, and Greater Short-toed Larks were at Dale Airfield, Pembrokeshire, and Great Saltee Island, Co Wexford. One or two Red-rumped Swallows in Shetland involved birds on Mainland and Unst.

Golden Oriole, Bardsey Island, Gwynedd (Edward Betteridge).

Red-backed Shrike, Kelling Heath, Norfolk (Nick Clayton).

A female Red-footed Falcon at Attenborough NR from 3rd was yet another welcome treat for Nottinghamshire birders after a bumper spring in the county. The adult male Snowy Owl remained on Fair Isle, with male Montagu's Harriers over Bourne, Lincolnshire, and Dersingham Bog, Norfolk, and Black Kites seen over two sites in Cornwall. Might the Yellow-billed Kite still reside somewhere undetected in the county?

Red-footed Falcon, Attenborough NR, Nottinghamshire (Paul Buxton).

American Golden Plovers involved a second-calendar-year bird at Montrose Basin, Angus and Dundee, and a breeding-plumaged adult on Whalsay, Shetland. The first White-rumped Sandpiper of the year was on Bann Estuary, Co Londonderry, on 2-3rd, while Pectoral Sandpipers were at four sites. A displaying Broad-billed Sandpiper was back on Mainland Shetland from 4th; one at Inland Sea, Anglesey, from 31-2nd was an excellent record for North Wales. A Red-necked Phalarope paid a visit to Freiston Shore RSPB, Lincolnshire, at the end of May, Norfolk's wide-ranging Long-billed Dowitcher was again at Titchwell RSPB on 31st, and Temminck's Stint had another good week, with as many as 11 noted. New Black-winged Stilts included birds in Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, North Yorkshire, Suffolk and – most notably – two at Killimer, Co Clare. Two probables calling over a Crathie, Aberdeenshire, garden after dark on 31st would have proved an exceptional record if confirmed.

Black-winged Stilt, Blue House Farm EWT, Essex (Ian Plume).

Temminck's Stint, North Point Pools, Norfolk (Steven Carey).

The North Yorkshire Squacco Heron relocated to the outskirts of York at Bank Island on 1st – becoming the first for the York recording area – before relocating again to North Duffield Carrs that afternoon. Another flew along the River Frome at Wool, Dorset, on 30th. Black-crowned Night Herons continue to be unearthed, with new birds comprising two in Ceredigion and singletons in Cornwall, Dorset, East Sussex, Cheshire and Co Antrim. Otherwise, Purple Herons were in Suffolk, North Yorkshire and Co Wexford, White Storks were in Cornwall, Somerset and Cambridgeshire, and a singing male Spotted Crake provided brief views at Wigan Flashes, Manchester, on 1-2nd. Five Glossy Ibis over Anchorsholme, Lancashire, on 3rd was the week's largest flock.

Squacco Heron, North Duffield Carrs, North Yorkshire (Bethan Clyne).

Ferruginous Duck remained at Hickling Broad, Norfolk, Colwick CP, Nottinghamshire, and Potteric Carr, South Yorkshire, while Ring-necked Duck were at four sites. The drake King Eider lingered on Ythan Estuary, Aberdeenshire, with a Surf Scoter still off North Ronaldsay, Orkney, on 30th. A drake Green-winged Teal at Middleton Lakes RSPB, Staffordshire, on 30-31st moved a short distance to Ladywalk NR, Warwickshire, from 1st. Four American Wigeon were in northern Scotland and the American Black Duck was still in Co Mayo. In the Outer Hebrides, the Taiga Bean Goose at Loch Stiapavat, Lewis, remained into June.

King Eider, Ythan Estuary, Aberdeenshire (Ron Macdonald).


Western Palearctic

A trio of birds skirting the Channel coast in northern France were sure to have had British birders on edge, with a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater at Kerludu on 3rd perhaps the most exciting. The last twitchable bird in Britain was as far back as 1989, when one spent three days at Great Cowden, East Yorkshire. Egyptian Vulture hasn't yet proved twitchable but after records in 2021 and 2022, is another on the cards in the near future? A first-summer flew over Dinan on 30th, while a Bearded Vulture at Granville on 2nd was also of significance.

Elsewhere in France, a Western Reef Heron was on the Mediterranean coast at Vauvert, with another Blue-cheeked Bee-eater near Toulon on 30th. On Île de Noirmoutier the Elegant Tern count increased to two, with the regular adult male joined by one of its offspring from 2021. The American Herring Gull remained at Gueltas into June. In the Channel Islands, the Iberian Wagtail remained at St Ouen's Pond, Jersey, until 31st.

Baikal Teal, Røst, Nordland (Steve Baines).

A male Red-tailed Shrike at Landsort, Öja, is Sweden's third record. A drake Baikal Teal was on Røst, Norway, and, in Iceland, a White-winged Tern was at Sandgerði and a first-summer Bonaparte's Gull visited Jökulsárlón. Additonal news saw an Alpine Accentor at Houten, The Netherlands, on 31-1st, while a Cinereous Vulture overflew Montroeul-Au-Bois, Belgium, on 3rd and Italy's third American Golden Plover was at Diaccia Botrona.

The Ancient Murrelet at Huelva, Spain, continued to prove a popular draw, with an American Black Duck back at Bergondo. Two Snow Geese were on Pico, Azores. A pair of Yellow-throated Sparrows is holding territory at Hula Valley, Israel, for the second year in a row, hinting at a potential range expansion.


Written by: Sam Viles