Review of the Week: 30 October-5 November 2023


Storm Ciarán, the third named storm of the year, brought widespread damage and flooding to southern areas of Britain and Ireland, with southern areas particularly badly hit. Wind gusts reached an insane 160 km/h, ripping rooftops of buildings and washing cars into the sea.

Such inclement conditions undoubtedly played havoc with the nation's seabirds. Leach's Storm Petrels were widespread between Cornwall and Suffolk, with south-east England in particular enjoying some record-breaking totals. Numerous sites boasted double digits during the storm's passing on 2nd. Two sites reached three figures: Seaford, East Sussex, tallied 115, though best of all was Dungeness NNR, Kent, with a massive 203, which were joined by 84 European Storm Petrels. South-east seawatchers were also treated to smaller numbers of Sabine's Gulls and Grey Phalaropes. Storm-wrecked European Shags were at several sites across the Midlands.

Leach's Storm Petrel, Lee-on-the-Solent, Hampshire (Lee Fuller).

Grey Phalarope, Cairnbulg, Aberdeenshire (David Capon).

Up north, a Brünnich's Guillemot made headlines off St Abbs Head, Borders, on 3rd, when it became the county's first record. Little Auks were recorded in the North Sea as far south as Suffolk, with ones and twos also off Devon and Cornwall. Three White-billed Divers were in Scotland.

Brünnich's Guillemot, St Abbs Head NNR, Borders (Dennis Morrison).

The adult female Brown Booby of recent weeks made a surprise reappearance in Cleveland and North Yorkshire on 2nd before again disappearing. Incredibly, four Cory's Shearwater were recorded in November, with two of these off St Abbs Head, Borders, and counts of Great Shearwater off Cornwall again reached three figures. A strong candidate for an American Black Tern spent 4th at Newhaven, East Sussex, with an unseasonal White-winged Tern was at Ballin Lough, Co Cork, the following day. Four adult Bonaparte's Gulls were sighted.

After spending most of October out of view of birders at Stodmarsh NNR, Kent, the young Solitary Sandpiper provided some excellent views this week, as rising water levels meant the best-remaining foraging area was right in front of Reedbed Hide. Spending much of its time at close quarters alongside a Green Sandpiper, this allowed some of the more subtle identification features to be intrinsically examined – namely the smaller size, bolder eyering and more attenuated rear end of Solitary Sandpiper.

Solitary Sandpiper (left) and Green Sandpiper, Stodmarsh NNR, Kent (Gareth Foreman).

Solitary Sandpiper, Stodmarsh NNR, Kent (Shaun Ferguson).

A juvenile Spotted Sandpiper at Jerry's Point, Dorset, on 5th is the first in England this autumn. One in Co Kerry lasted until 30th and a Baird's Sandpiper at Clonakilty, Co Cork, remained into November. A mobile Lesser Yellowlegs was again in Essex, with another still in Lincolnshire, and three Long-billed Dowitchers – all juveniles – remained. American Golden Plover was divided into five in Ireland, two in England and singles in Scotland and Wales. Inland, a Grey Phalarope was at Marsh Lane, West Midlands, while a late Eurasian Dotterel clung on in Cornwall. In Somerset, the German-ringed Kentish Plover returned to Steart from 3rd.

Spotted Sandpiper, Jerry's Point, Dorset (Mark Wright).

If deemed to be wild, a Ridgway's Cackling Goose with Barnacle Geese at Budle Bay, Northumberland, on 31st will become the first accepted record of this Alaskan subspecies for Britain. It will face a tricky ride with the records committees, however, being by far the most widespread subspecies in captivity. All previous records, including those with Barnacle Geese, have been considered likely escapes. Three Richardson's Cackling Geese were split between Islay, Argyll (two), and Ballygilgan, Co Sligo.

Ridgway's Cackling Goose (centre) with Barnacle Geese, Budle Bay, Northumberland (Ross Ahmed).

Red-breasted Goose is another species that is popular with aviculturalists and records are always speckled with doubt, despite wild vagrants being near-annual visitors to Britain. A juvenile in the company of Dark-bellied Brent Geese is perhaps as good as it gets from a vagrancy perspective, meaning one at Warham Greens, Norfolk, from 4th will undoubtedly prove popular as the winter progresses. A new adult was near Nairn, Moray and Nairn, from 30th and others remained in Northumberland and Argyll.

Snow Geese and Black Brant numbered three apiece and a Taiga Bean Goose was with Pink-feet near Colt Crag Reservoir, Northumberland.

A dapper drake Blue-winged Teal provided distant views at Berry Fen, Cambridgeshire, on 5th. East Yorkshire retained its long-staying individual and Green-winged Teal were at seven sites. An American Wigeon at Cors Ddyga RSPB, Anglesey, on 2nd – one of nine in Britain and Ireland – was of the stunning 'Storm Wigeon' variety. This refers to a small number of drakes that have white cheeks and throat instead of the typical brownish-grey.

Pembrokeshire's first Lesser Scaup at Bosherston Lily Ponds on 31-1st was one of 12 across Britain and Ireland. On 1st, a female Ferruginous Duck flew south past Landguard, Suffolk, with birds found in Dorset and Cambridgeshire the previous day, though the last is considered of suspect origin. Another hung on at Inch Island Lake, Co Donegal. A total 15 Ring-necked Duck included three drakes in close company at Carrowmore Lake, Co Mayo. A young drake King Eider persisted off Lewis, Outer Hebrides, and Surf Scoter numbered five. The adult Pacific Diver was still at Crookhaven, Co Cork, throughout.

Ferruginous Duck, Radipole Lake RSPB, Dorset (John Wall).

As many as five Pallid Swifts were in Norfolk, with another over Benacre, Suffolk, and two more in Scotland – at Dumfries, Dumfries and Galloway, and Westray, Orkney. Other Common or Pallid Swifts not identified to species were over 12 sites.

Pallid Swift, Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire (Colin Bradshaw).

Bitterly cold gusts, the changing of the clocks and middling conditions for migration meant the end of October truly felt like the beginning of winter, yet it wasn't too late for a small run of Siberian arrivals. A female Siberian Rubythroat at Hametoun on Foula, Shetland, on 30-31st means that the village has now hosted two of Britain's 19 records. On 5th, an Eastern Yellow Wagtail at Rattray Head became the first for Aberdeenshire; also starring in the county was a Red-flanked Bluetail in a city centre cemetery. The meena Oriental Turtle Dove departed North Ronaldsay, Orkney, after 30th, with the Grey-cheeked Thrush still on St Mary's, Scilly, until 4th at least.

Red-flanked Bluetail, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire (Tim Marshall).

Two classic late autumn warblers – Pallas's, Dusky – were also represented. Five Pallas's Warblers included noteworthy examples in Cheshire, Clwyd and Co Donegal, and Dusky Warblers were at 10 sites. The Two-barred Warbler was last noted at Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire, on 30th. A Barred Warbler at Beeding Hill, West Sussex, was one of four recorded and a Yellow-browed Warbler garnered attention from Bedfordshire birders at Blunham.

Pallas's Warbler, Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire (Darren Chapman).

Two-barred Warbler, Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire (Ian Bollen).

A rare case of DNA results being received with the bird still in situ saw the species identification of the Red-headed Bunting confirmed on Friday, meaning listers just need to wait for the provenance approval of the records committees before they can ink it on in pen.

Red-headed Bunting, Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire (Darren Chapman).

Other late migrants included an Olive-backed Pipit on Fair Isle, first-winter Red-throated Pipits at Climping, West Sussex, and North Ronaldsay, Orkney, Red-breasted Flycatcher still in Scilly, and a Bluethroat on Mainland Shetland. These were joined by a couple of European Serins, Wryneck in Pembrokeshire, a Cornish Rosy Starling, and up to six Hoopoes.

Hoopoe, Bardney village, Lincolnshire (Nick Clayton).

A notable report of a Continental Coal Tit came from a Hoylake, Cheshire, garden and Northern Bullfinches were recorded as far south as Spurn, East Yorkshire. Five Northern Treecreepers were reported and a Black-bellied Dipper was on Unst, Shetland. Arctic Redpolls consisted of five Coues's (four in Shetland and one at St Cyrus, Aberdeenshire), a single Hornemann's and two not identified to subspecies.

Northern Bullfinch, Fair Isle, Shetland (Alex Penn).

Shore Larks were at eight sites, six Little Buntings were recorded and a Richard's Pipit visited Rum, Highland. Eight of nine Great Grey Shrikes were new finds. The mass Waxwing incursion shows no time of stopping anytime soon. Flocks in excess of 500 were at Elgin, Moray and Nairn, and Inverness, Highland, while birds continue to arrive in Wales, south-west England and western Ireland.

Waxwing, North Shields, Northumberland (Frank Golding).

A juvenile Northern Harrier at Portmore Lough RSPB, Co Antrim, on 31-1st is the first record for Northern Ireland. The species is much more regular south of the border, where one remained in the vicinity of North Slob, Co Wexford. Two Pallid Harriers in Norfolk include a second-winter female back at Warham Greens back for the second winter in succession. Rough-legged Buzzards were at four sites.

Rough-legged Buzzard, Stone Creek, East Yorkshire (Colin Pumfrett).

A Purple Heron at Whelford Pools, Gloucestershire, continued to attract attention and one in Cornwall hung on for another week. Squacco Herons remained in Cornwall and Somerset, while an unexpected Spotted Crake record concerned one sound recorded over Comberton, Cambridgeshire, on 31st.

Purple Heron, Whelford, Gloucestershire (Green Bunion).


Western Palearctic

Sparking a major twitch in Denmark in the wake of Storm Ciarán was an adult female Brown Booby at Rømødæmningen on 4th, though it would unfortunately be found dead that evening. The Northern Harrier at Frøstrup continued to impress and three Blyth's Pipits were in the Nordic countries, including one trapped and ringed at Skagen, Denmark. Two Caspian Stonechats were in Norway – the fifth and sixth national records. An apparent female Amur Wagtail at Svensksundsviken was the best in Sweden, where two Oriental Turtle Doves were also noted.

In the Netherlands, the Yellow-browed Bunting lasted until 31st, a Blyth's Pipit was at Meijendel and the Eastern Black Redstart performed throughout. Two Ross's Geese persisted in Belgium, while a Brown Booby flew south past La Coupe, Jersey, on 31st. The first American Buff-bellied Pipit for Italy was on Linosa on 2nd, Sinop, Turkey, hosted an Oriental Turtle Dove, and Romania's first Radde's Warbler was mist-netted at Chituc.

Northern Harrier, Frøstrup, North Denmark (Christian Helligsø).

A number of lingering American visitors meant Spain had a proper New World flavour – a Common Nighthawk at Vigo, Belted Kingfisher at Lekeito, Franklin's Gull at Cortiguera and American Herring Gull at Muxía. Cueta, the Spanish enclave in North Africa, played host to a Dwarf Bittern on 5th, with two Sudan Golden Sparrows on Gran Canaria, Canary Islands.

Monday 30th saw the last visiting birders depart Corvo, Azores, but not before they'd added to the autumn's totals – a Wood Thrush, two Indigo Buntings, American Bittern and American Coot. Totals on Flores comprised a Belted Kingfisher, two Swainson's Thrushes, American Buff-bellied Pipit, Green Heron and Great Blue Heron. A Killdeer, Wilson's Snipe and Great Blue Heron all remained on Terceira and the adult drake Wood Duck continued on São Miguel. A South Polar Skua flew past Porto de Peniche, Portugal, on 3rd and the White-faced Whistling Duck on Sal, Cape Verde, lingered into November.


Written by: Sam Viles