Review of the Week: 30th April-6th May 2009


The week at a glance

Well, well, well. What a cracking week. Well, strictly speaking it was almost "what a cracking day", as May Day saw the arrival of a couple of outstanding spring stars. Elsewhere, for much of the week, the two big draws of late April remained into May to ensure that the south coast in particular was a popular destination for birders as well as ice-cream-licking sun-seekers. As the week drew to a close and cloud and cooler weather took hold there are no doubts now: spring is well and truly here, with a surprise or two still up the sleeve.

Britain's fifth Eastern Bonelli's Warbler was discovered on Portland (Dorset) during the very early afternoon of 1st. Thought to have been an Eastern almost from the off, the bird performed well from time to time as the day progressed and "firmed up" to "definite" status by the middle of the afternoon. By late afternoon and on into the evening, the bird performed for all and, as well as photographs, crucial recordings were taken to ensure that the bird's identity was beyond dispute. The ever-excellent and always informative Portland Bird Observatory website has a sound file of the diagnostic tchipp call and it's well worth hearing. Take a listen, and a look too at some great images, at http://www.portlandbirdobs.org.uk/aa_latestnews.htm.

Eastern Bonelli's Warbler
Eastern Bonelli's Warbler, Portland, Dorset (Photo: Martin Cade)

Just up the road, the extremely popular first-summer male Collared Flycatcher at Southwell was still in place for the weekenders, showing well and singing too, until 2nd, giving everyone a chance to enjoy this still very rare species (and raising over £500 for the local Air Ambulance into the bargain). Back to May Day, in Norfolk a stunning juvenile Pallid Harrier was tremendous reward for a hard-working patchworker at Aylmerton, a few miles inland from the north coast. The northbound bird showed well enough for a couple of images to be rattled off for good measure: a slightly faded juvenile was captured among the pixels. An hour later the bird was reported again near Sheringham, but further searches for the rest of the day yielded nothing. Pallid Harrier is, of course, not the mythic mega of pre–1993, this bird being the fourth (maybe even fifth) of the decade for Norfolk alone, but it still ranks as a top-drawer rarity.

Collared Flycatcher
Collared Flycatcher, Portland, Dorset (Photo: Andy Slade)

Although not the massive rarity they once were, spring Pallid Swifts are still pretty tough to catch up with, so the bird found around Seaforth and Crosby (Merseyside) on 30th was always going to prove popular if it held on — which, happily, it did. The bird performed well, off and on, and was the first for the area. It also gave many birders an opportunity to enjoy their first classic Pallid Swift, rather more impressive than the tricky individuals seen here in autumn. Down in Kent, the Crested Lark remained at Dungeness to the morning of 4th; just like Collared Flycatcher, the species has now been, as the saying goes, well and truly "unblocked".

Pallid Swift
Pallid Swift, Crosby Marine Park, Lancashire (Photo: Steve Seal)

Crested Lark
Crested Lark, Dungeness, Kent (Photo: Alan Shaw)

On Shetland, a Solitary Sandpiper was photographed on Foula on 6th and, once accepted, will be the first spring record for Britain and Ireland. Prior to this bird, Shetland has only hosted the species once before, on Fair Isle in September 1992. But a spring arrival is a huge surprise. In Devon, another vagrant Nearctic shorebird, a potential Western Sandpiper, was seen at Dawlish Warren on 29th (having first been seen there on 8th April and several dates subsequently). The bird had also been noted elsewhere on the Exe Estuary in that time, and was seen at Bowling Green Marsh on 4th and elsewhere around the estuary until 6th. A largely grey (presumed still first-winter) bird, it almost inevitably invited comparison with the famous "Felixstowe Stint" of the winter of 1982/83. That bird had everyone arguing and scratching their heads for months and months (years actually) as the identification was debated over and over again. The Suffolk bird was resolved as a long-billed Semipalmated Sandpiper (dashing hopes at the time). This Devon bird is being cautiously welcomed to the Western camp. The only Western Sandpiper in Devon to date was at Axmouth in September 1973.

Solitary Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper, Foula, Shetland (Photo: Russell Wynn)

Back on mainland Shetland, the drake Wood Duck reappeared on Loch of Brow on 3rd (having last been seen there on 25th April). Will its protracted stay do anything positive for his credibility? On Guernsey, the two Zitting Cisticolas remained at Port Soif until 3rd at least.

In the waters of the Outer Hebrides at least two White-billed Divers were seen off the coastline of Lewis during the week, and one was seen off Burghead (Moray) on 1st–4th. On 3rd, a winter-plumaged bird was seen on Loch Gairloch (Highland). Back on the Hebrides, 25 Pomarine Skuas were seen off Aird an Runair (N. Uist) on 2nd, with 161 from the same site the following day. Things improved further still on 4th: 228 birds headed past the headland, with 108 on 5th. Also seen from Aird an Runair this week were five Long-tailed Skuas (two on 4th and three on 5th). Several Pomarine Skuas were logged elsewhere, including 22 off Bowness-on-Solway (Cumbria) on 4th and 23 there on 6th, with 10 off Criccieth (Gwynedd), also on 6th.

In County Waterford, eight Cattle Egrets remained at the Tourig River, Rincrew until 4th at least. The only other reports this week were of single birds in north Devon, at Braunton Marsh on 1st–3rd (the bird having appeared on 28th April, presumably from nearby Yelland), at Rutland Water (Leicestershire) from 4th and Hayling Island (Hampshire) on 5th while two birds were seen at Eldernell and then around the Nene Washes (Cambridgeshire) on 6th. The single Great White Egrets seen last week on Shetland and in Powys remained into the early days of May while a new arrival was found at Loch of Strathbeg (Aberdeenshire) on 30th, continuing the site's remarkable run of rarities of late. On 3rd, a Great White Egret was seen in the New Forest in Hampshire, flying over Bishop's Dyke. At least 20 Spoonbills were recorded during the week and included two birds at Swillington Ings and Fairburn Ings (West Yorkshire) on 30th and further sets of two birds at Frampton Marsh (Lincolnshire) on 1st, Newtown (Isle of Wight) from 2nd and Titchfield Haven (Hampshire) and on the River Teign (Devon) on 4th. Three birds were seen at Rainham Marshes (London) on 6th.

Cattle Egret
Cattle Egret, Rutland Water, Leicestershire and Rutland (Photo: John M Turner)

Great White Egret
Great White Egret, Dolydd Hafren MWT, Powys (Photo: Jim Almond)

Four sites in Norfolk were hosts to Common Cranes this week, with others noted at Godmanchester (Cambridgeshire) and Rutland Water (Leicestershire), both on 2nd, and Castlemorton Common (Worcestershire) on 4th. Following late news of a White Stork in Lothian last week (at Aberlady Bay on 27th April), two White Storks drifted over Symonds Yat (Gloucestershire) on 2nd and, on the same date, one was seen briefly on the outskirts of Norwich, at Colney. On 5th, a White Stork was seen over Gants Hill (London) while suspect birds were in South Yorkshire and Northumberland. A Purple Heron was at Minsmere (Suffolk) on 30th–1st and another near Hockwold-cum-Wilton (Norfolk) on 4th moved to Lakenheath Fen later the same day (where it remained to 5th). Further singles were reported in Wiltshire on 2nd and Cambridgeshire on 4th.

The two Snow Geese (one white, one blue) at Loch of Strathbeg were joined by a flock of eight white-morph birds on 1st, presumably the flock seen earlier this winter in Holland and then in Lincolnshire in mid-April (flying over Barton-upon-Humber around 17th). Could it actually be the same flock that was seen on South Ronaldsay last year as well? Whatever their point of origin, they didn't hang around for too long, leaving the original duo to their own devices by 2nd. On 3rd, a small-race Canada Goose was seen with the Pink-footed Geese on the reserve. In Norfolk, two adult Black Brants were seen at Titchwell on 1st and one was at Killough (Co. Down) on 4th.

In Wales, the first-winter drake Lesser Scaup lingered into May, still present at Cardiff Bay Wetlands (Glamorgan) to 2nd. The only Ring-necked Duck of the week was the female that was still being seen at Swineham GPs (Dorset) to 3rd, while next door in Somerset, the drake Ferruginous Duck was at Chew Valley Lake again on 29th, with a drake at Wimbleball Lake on 30th. By the afternoon of 3rd it was confirmed that there were two drakes in the county, both birds present during the afternoon.

Green-winged Teal news this included a late report from last week of a drake at Loch of Kinnordy (Angus) on 28th. This week, six birds were seen: at Marloes Mere (Pembrokeshire), Shapwick Heath (Somerset), Eyebrook Reservoir (Leicestershire), Cley Marshes (Norfolk), Wigtown (Dumfries & Galloway) and Loch of Strathbeg (Aberdeenshire). Also in Scotland, a drake American Wigeon was seen at Carbarns Pool (Clyde) on 30th while in Northern Ireland, another drake American Wigeon was at Larne Lough (Co. Antrim) from 3rd.

The female Surf Scoter remained in Dunnet Bay (Highland) to 1st and in Aberdeenshire, Loch of Strathbeg came up trumps again on 4th when a first-year drake King Eider appeared at the northern end of the reserve. Strathbeg is enjoying the most purple of purple patches at the moment: this week alone has seen six different rarities on-site. Whatever will be next? In Dorset, there was a decided upturn in visitor numbers at Radipole Lake where the Hooded Merganser found his popularity ratings soaring once again as a stream of curious optimists popped in to say "hello" (or worse) after collecting one or two megas out on nearby Portland.

A sub-adult Golden Eagle was seen (and photographed) over Orford Quay (Suffolk) on the morning of 2nd. Quite where this bird (a potential county first) has come from is anyone's guess (though some have suggested it could be the bird that has been at large in Sussex for a year or more). With the also-photographed bird in Cornwall being seen only two weeks previously, it makes you wonder if this is one in the same wanderer (escape or not). A reintroduced White-tailed Eagle remained at Loch of Strathbeg into 30th and single Rough-legged Buzzards were in Suffolk (at Benacre) on 30th, Norfolk (again at Horsey) and at two sites on mainland Orkney, all on 3rd.

Following a probable Black Kite at Stenness (Orkney) on 30th (possibly the Shetland bird) another was reported from Earls Barton GPs (Northamptonshire) on 2nd. A Black Kite was seen near Great Notley (Essex) on 3rd and, in the same county, two were reported over Colchester and, later, Braxted Park on the same day. Other Black Kites on 3rd were reported from Stowupland (Suffolk) and Flitcham (Norfolk). Back in Essex, on 4th, one was seen at Weald Bridge, with other Black Kites on 4th being seen in Kent, at Bough Beech Reservoir and Haysden Country Park. In neighbouring East Sussex, a Black Kite was noted over Glynde on 5th, another was over Bedfords Park (London) and on Shetland, the Black Kite was seen again, also on 5th, this time appearing at Fladdabister, where local birders managed to grab some of the very best images of a British Black Kite ever taken.

Black Kite
Black Kite, Fladdabister, Mainland, Shetland (Photo: Jason Atkinson)

Red-footed Falcons this week included a female over Hastings Country Park (East Sussex) on 2nd and reports of first-summer males in Norfolk came on 4th over Holkham, on 5th over Cley Marshes and on 6th over Titchwell and Holme. On Orkney, the male Snowy Owl seen near Holm was still present to 29th, while more late news from last week was of the Snowy Owl that remained around the Balranald reserve on North Uist to 28th. This week, a Snowy Owl was seen out on St. Kilda (Outer Hebrides) on 30th. None were reported from the Channel Islands this week.

Single Pectoral Sandpipers remained at Walmsley Sanctuary (Cornwall) to 30th and Loch of Strathbeg to 3rd at least, with new birds at Tacumshin (Co. Wexford) on 4th and Leigh (Greater Manchester) on 6th. Late news from last week was of five Dotterels out on Wallasea Island (Essex) on 29th, with two at Tetney (Lincolnshire) on the same date. The Essex quintet were still present on 30th and were followed by five more at Grainthorpe (Lincolnshire) on 1st and two or three singles around the Outer Hebrides, as well as birds in East Sussex, Norfolk, North Yorkshire, Aberdeenshire and Conwy. The largest trip of the week was found at Plex Moss (Lancashire) on 5th, where up to 15 birds were counted. A Temminck's Stint was at Pegwell Bay (Kent) briefly on 2nd and a male Kentish Plover was there on 3rd. A female Kentish Plover was at Black Point (Hampshire) on 4th.

Dotterel, Titchwell RSPB, Norfolk (Photo: Ben Lewis)

On Scilly, an adult summer Bonaparte's Gull was a nice surprise on Porthloo Beach, St. Mary's on 5th and on 6th, a summer Laughing Gull was found on Foula (Shetland) — the Solitary Sandpiper appearing half an hour later! A first-winter Caspian Gull was at Dungeness (Kent) and was the only record of the week. Only 35 or so Iceland Gulls were noted this week, with half a dozen seen around the Outer Hebrides, at least three on Orkney and three at Nimmo's Pier (Co. Galway) as well. An adult Kumlien's Gull was again at Loch Ryan (Dumfries & Galloway) on 2nd–4th. The week's haul of Glaucous Gulls just managed to make it to double figures, with three birds at Ullapool (Highland) on 6th. Two first-winter Ring-billed Gulls (one of them a new arrival) were at the marina in Antrim on 30th–1st and a first-summer Ring-billed Gull was at Cuskinny Marsh (Co. Cork) on May Day, with two birds there on 6th. Staying in the Republic, the adult summer Forster's Tern was still at Tacumshin (Co. Wexford) to 4th at least.

Laughing Gull
Laughing Gull, Foula, Shetland (Photo: Russell Wynn)

Ring-billed Gull
Ring-billed Gull, Antrim, Antrim (Photo: Derek Charles)

There was another decent showing for Red-rumped Swallows over the past seven days. After some 14 birds last week, double figures were reached again this week. The bird at Kilmany (Fife) remained to 30th when one was seen at Frensham Great Pond (Surrey). On 1st, singles were at Dungeness (Kent), Spurn (East Yorkshire) and on Out Skerries (Shetland) and these were followed by two birds together over Cowpen Marsh (Cleveland) and one at Ingram (Northumberland) on 2nd. In Suffolk, on 3rd, singles were seen at Landguard and Livermere Lake, while another Red-rumped Swallow was seen in neighbouring Essex, at Maldon. Also on 3rd, in Devon, another flew past Prawle Point and was followed by another brief bird at Dawlish Warren the following day. As the week drew to a close, further single birds were at Lodmoor (Dorset) and on St. Martin's and St. Mary's (Scilly), all on 5th.

Late news emerged on 1st of a Hoopoe at Studham (Bedfordshire) on 27th. Later the same day, the bird was found to be still present and was singing for good measure. The only Alpine Swift of the week was seen over Barton-upon-Humber (Lincolnshire) on 1st while the 30th saw three Wrynecks reported, two in Northumberland (singles on the Farnes and at Hadston Carrs) and one in East Yorkshire (at Spurn). A Wryneck was at Thornbury (Gloucestershire) from 1st–3rd and another was found on Lundy (Devon) on 4th.

Alpine Swift
Alpine Swift, Barton-upon-Humber Pits, Lincolnshire (Photo: Graham Catley)

The first Tawny Pipit of the year was seen at Sutton Heath (Suffolk) on 3rd and in Norfolk a Short-toed Lark was found in the cliff-top fields near West Runton on the same day — this bird was the first in the county since one on Blakeney Point in early June 2005. Better still was the stunning male Citrine Wagtail found late in the day of 6th at Lodmoor (Dorset). The only previous county record to this were two first-winters at Stanpit (then in Hampshire) in October 1966.

Citrine Wagtail
Citrine Wagtail, Lodmoor RSPB, Dorset (Photo: Steve Carey)

The only Woodchat Shrike of the week was the first-summer female that lingered in Plymouth (Devon) to 3rd at least. A female Red-backed Shrike was at Margate (Kent) briefly on 5th. Migrant Golden Orioles were seen on Tresco (Scilly) on 29th and Sandwich Bay (Kent) on 6th, while the birds at Lakenheath Fen (Suffolk) were slowly making their presence known. Around 135 Waxwings managed to make it into the new review period, with up to 50 in and around Dublin on 1st the highest count of the week.

Woodchat Shrike
Woodchat Shrike, Plymouth, Devon (Photo: Phil Stidwill)

A singing male Savi's Warbler was a terrific find inland at Lee Valley CP (Essex) on 1st and the bird remained to the morning of 6th. The species has become genuinely tough to catch up with in the past decade and twitchable birds have become particularly hard to come by (aside from a bird on Unst for nearly a week in spring 2006 you have to go back to Lancashire in 2003 for the last sticking Savi's).

In Dorset, a male Serin was seen on Portland on 4th while the review concludes with a Little Bunting on Tresco (Scilly) on 4th–6th and a very unseasonable Shore Lark on the same island a couple of days beforehand — the first on the islands since one on St. Mary's in May 2004.

Photo of the Week

Swallow, Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk (Photo: Amanda Hayes)

Amanda Hayes' contributions to the BirdGuides photo galleries exude enthusiasm for birds and their behaviour. Where most bird photographers are content to settle for good-quality portrait shots, Amanda constantly seeks to capture something special, such as birds flying, fighting, breeding, feeding, bathing or just doing something unusual. Success rates when shooting in some of these situations are always going to be low, but Amanda shows that if you're brave enough to 'have a go', you can consistently capture images that stand out from the crowd. This week, visiting Minsmere in Suffolk, Amanda has bagged what many would regard as the most difficult of bird shots: a Swallow in flight. With perfect focus, exposure and lighting, this image picks out every bit of detail in the bird's head, body, wings, feet and tail. With a dynamic 'banking' pose, the bird's swept-back wings mirror the shape of the tail streamers, creating a sense of speed and conveying the aerodynamic perfection of this species.

Osprey, Venus Pool NR, Shropshire (Photo: Jim Almond)

Guillemot, Stack Rocks, Pembrokeshire (Photo: Richard Crossen)

Canada Goose
Canada Goose, Alwinton, Northumberland (Photo: David Cookson)

Common Kingfisher
Common Kingfisher, undisclosed site, Lancashire (Photo: Tom Charles)

Dotterel, Axletree Edge, Greater Manchester (Photo: Matt Latham)

Puffin, Bempton Cliffs RSPB, East Yorkshire (Photo: Steve Race)

Yellow Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail, undisclosed site, Cheshire (Photo: Richard Steel)

Common Redstart
Common Redstart, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire (Photo: Lewis Thomson)

Bearded Tit
Bearded Tit, Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk (Photo: Chris Upson)

Gannet, Troup Head, Aberdeenshire (Photo: Alan Sinclair)

Tawny Owl
Tawny Owl, Llandrindod Wells, Powys (Photo: Kev Joynes)

Hobby, Summer Leys LNR, Northamptonshire (Photo: Ben The Plumber)

Gadwall, Cley Marshes NWT, Norfolk (Photo: Nigel Pye)

Common Tern
Common Tern, Earls Barton GPs, Northamptonshire (Photo: John Betts)

Lapwing, Elton, Greater Manchester (Photo: A.Dancy)

Dartford Warbler
Dartford Warbler, Dunwich Heath NT, Suffolk (Photo: Nigel Pye)

Carrion Crow
Carrion Crow, Chailey, East Sussex (Photo: Neill Carden)

Written by: Mark Golley