06/09/2012
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Review of the Week: 30th August–5th September

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The week at a glance

A week of contrasting weather saw much of England and Wales enjoying increasingly sunny and warm conditions, while the remnants of tropical storm Kirk battered northern and western Scotland. Although the weather conditions certainly suggested it was going to be a week for arrivals from the west, no-one could say they were anticipating the momentous news from County Mayo during the morning of 30th....

Words such as 'amazing', 'astonishing' and 'incredible' are regularly bandied about by birders in the wake of a mega arrival. But, if there was ever an occurrence that truly deserved just about any superlative thrown its way, it was the adult Black Skimmer that flew past Annagh Head at around 10:00 on 30th. After it was originally reported, as a 'skimmer sp.', pandemonium broke out in the birding community: many couldn't understand why a dragonfly had been mega-alerted, but the penny dropped sooner with others, causing blind panic. Despite a wealth of suitable sandy beaches available on The Mullet on which it could pitch down, it could not be relocated, and must have continued southwards. For a species that is far from pelagic, surely there is a chance it might be relocated somewhere else in Ireland (or Britain) in the coming weeks?

In almost any other week, the arrival of a juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher to Lodmoor (Dorset) on 3rd would have been the week's headline news — after all, it represents just the second British record of this fine North American wader, following the Aberdeenshire/Cleveland individual of September–October 1999. It was first identified as a juvenile Long-billed, but the early date and appearance of a distant record shot demonstrating patterned tertials, warm-coloured underparts and a contrasting dark cap sent alarm bells ringing. The bird was extremely elusive during 4th, but was eventually conclusively identified that evening from photographs taken earlier in the day. Although disappearing for long periods of time, it was thankfully still present on 5th and thus delighted the start of what will likely be a long stream of admirers.

Short-billed Dowitcher
Short-billed Dowitcher, Lodmoor RSPB, Dorset (Photo: Allan Neilson)


Short-billed Dowitcher, Lodmoor RSPB, Dorset (Video: megabrock161)

But that wasn't it for top-quality Nearctic vagrants: a fine juvenile American Black Tern was found at Eccleston Mere, St. Helens (Lancs) during the evening on 30th, where it remained — via a few brief visits to nearby Prescot Reservoirs as well as Pennington Flash (16km to the east) on 1st — until the week's end. This distinctive North American subspecies could often be seen alongside a [European] Black Tern during its stay, offering many another fine opportunity to compare to the two taxa. This is the third record since the widely appreciated Farmoor (Oxon) individual of August 2009, so surinamensis are evidently not the ultra-rare visitors we once thought — as identification awareness grows, we can likely expect more of these delightful marsh terns in the near future, split or not.

American Black Tern
American Black Tern, Eccleston Mere, St Helens, Lancashire (Photo: Sam Viles (aged 15))

Suffolk listers also had something to shout about this week, for the male Spanish Sparrow reappeared long enough for most to make it down to Landguard and see it. It was discovered to be roosting near the Butts Pond, where it was noted on arriving during the evenings of 1st–3rd, and was also seen leaving during the morning of 2nd, but not again from 4th. Given how elusive the Serin was there during the spring and summer, it seems unlikely that it has gone far.

But the week was really about the first 'dump' of Nearctic shorebirds, particularly in northern and western areas. Dowitcher aside, the most exciting report concerned a probable Semipalmated Plover, seen in flight and heard to call (a Spotted Redshank-like 'chew-it') several times, at Dunnet Bay (Highland) on 3rd. In the increasingly poor weather conditions, it could not be located on the ground and was not seen the following day. Perhaps when the weather abates it may be relocated.

Other shorebirds included the first flush of juvenile Semipalmated Sandpipers, four birds found in the Western Isles. One was on Tiree (Argyll) from 2nd while the Outer Hebrides claimed three: different individuals at the Butt of Lewis on 3rd and 4th, and the third at Baile Gharbhaidh, South Uist on 4th. An adult Baird's Sandpiper was on the beach at Marazion (Cornwall) on 31st, and a juvenile was identified from photographs at Seaton Snook (Cleveland) on 3rd but fortunately still present there on 5th.

Semipalmated Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper, Baile Gharbhaidh, S.Uist, Outer Hebrides (Photo: Andrew Stevenson)

Baird's Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper, Marazion, Cornwall (Photo: James Packer)

Marazion also claimed an adult Buff-breasted Sandpiper, one of at least eleven seen during the week. The St. Mary's (Scilly) juvenile was joined by a second from 2nd, while others were seen in Cork, Kerry (2), Clare, Wexford, Londonderry and Orkney (2). The sole White-rumped Sandpiper was at Garretstown (Cork) on 3rd.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Kilshannig, Kerry (Photo: Ed Carty)

An impressive arrival of Pectoral Sandpipers involved as many as 40 birds, mostly in the north and west. There were too many to mention individually here, but groups included threes on Tiree (Argyll) and at Tacumshin (Wexford) on 2nd in addition to last week's trio on the Hayle Estuary (Cornwall) still that day. Two were at Carrahane Strand (Kerry) on 2nd, while a juvenile at New Lambton (Durham) from 1st was joined by a second on 4th–5th. At least two were at Loch Bee, South Uist (Outer Hebrides) on 5th. A good London record concerning a showy juvenile came from Lockwood Reservoir on 5th.

Pectoral Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper, Walthamstow Reservoirs, Greater London (Photo: John Murray)

But it didn't end there. Five American Golden Plovers turned up at the week's end: adults were on St. Mary's (Scilly), on the Cefni Estuary (Anglesey), at Cockersand Abbey then Glasson (Lancs) and on North Ronaldsay (Orkney) on 5th, while a juvenile graced the Butt of Lewis from 4th. Cork's second (or the same?) Wilson's Phalarope of the autumn was at Kinsale Marsh from 2nd, while a juvenile Spotted Sandpiper was at Baile an Reannaigh, Smerwick Harbour (Kerry) on 4th. Juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs were at Flamborough Head (E Yorks) on 1st and Kingsmill Lake (Cornwall) on 2nd–5th while, just to cap it all off, the long-staying Long-billed Dowitcher remained at Slimbridge (Glos) throughout!

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American Golden Plover
American Golden Plover, Glasson, Lancashire (Photo: Gavin Thomas)

Four Red-necked Phalaropes included juveniles at Old Moor (S Yorks) and Cley (Norfolk) on 30th and Rutland Water on 31st–1st, and the adult remained at Frampton Marsh (Lincs). Up to three Spotted Crakes continued to be seen at Marazion (Cornwall) throughout the week, with a new bird at Portbury Wharf (Somerset) from 30th.

Spotted Crake
Spotted Crake, Marazion, Cornwall (Photo: Bobbster)

In a week of strong winds in the north, one might have expected seawatching to be a little more productive. A good variety of species was seen, although it was only Sooty Shearwater numbers that were remarkable: 2,716 were seen past Kilcummin Head (Mayo) on 4th, with 2,300 past the Bridges of Ross (Clare) on 5th. The headline bird in the North Sea was a Yelkouan Shearwater seen flying north past Whitburn (Durham) on 31st, while a Great Shearwater passed Flamborough Head (E Yorks) that day.

Wildfowl remained very much the same as in the previous week. The drake Blue-winged Teal remained at Carbarns Pool (Clyde) to 3rd at least. The drake Lesser Scaup was still at Chew Valley Lake (Somerset) all week with a drake Ferruginous Duck there on 30th in addition to a Ferruginous-like hybrid. Elsewhere, a possible immature drake King Eider was seen briefly off Kingsbarns (Fife) on 1st.

In Cambridgeshire, the juvenile Purple Heron continued on the Ouse Washes throughout the week, with the Glossy Ibis also still there. The Grove Ferry (Kent) 'Purp' was also seen again early in the morning on 30th, while further Glossies included birds at Cahore (Wexford) on 1st and Hesketh Out Marsh (Lancs) on 2nd in addition to more familiar individuals still at Timoleague (Cork) and Marloes Mere (Pembrokeshire). A juvenile Cattle Egret was a new arrival alongside the usual Great White Egret at Dungeness (Kent) on 30th, and further Great Whites included new birds at Wood Lane (Shropshire) on 30th, Oare Marshes (Kent) on 1st–2nd, Steart (Somerset) on 2nd and over Fishguard (Pembrokeshire) on 4th in addition to the usuals at Grimley (Worcs) and Shapwick Heath (Somerset). Of interest, the adult again returned to Blashford Lakes (Hants) during the week.

Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis, Ouse Washes RSPB, Cambridgeshire (Photo: David H Hatton)

A fourth Azorean Yellow-legged Gull was discovered in Cork this week, this time another near-adult at Ring, Clonakilty where there was no sign of last week's second/third-year bird. The possible third-winter (or hybrid) was also still at Rainham landfill site (London) to 3rd at least. Up in the northeast, the adult Bonaparte's Gull was still touring the Whitburn and Sunderland area of Durham to 3rd, while three Ring-billed Gulls were noted in Ireland (in Kerry, Sligo and Down). Also over in the Emerald Isle, the adult Forster's Tern remained off Soldier's Point (Louth) on 2nd.

Azorean Yellow-legged Gull
Azorean Yellow-legged Gull or hybrid (back right) with Herring Gulls, Rainham Marshes RSPB, Greater London (Photo: Josh Jones)

It was another great week for Ospreys, which seemed to be present on just about every waterbody in southern England — no doubt testament to their continuing success on breeding grounds further north. Otherwise, apart from a few Honey Buzzards on the move, it was a quiet week for raptors, the only other news concerning the Snowy Owl still on Arranmore Island (Donegal) on 4th.

With a westerly airflow predominating, it was perhaps no surprise that drift migrants took more of a back seat this week. Nevertheless, another strong showing of over 30 Wrynecks included birds reported from no fewer than eight sites in Dorset. Other inland birds included one trapped and ringed at a site on the Salisbury Plain (Wilts) — their third this autumn — as well as birds at Weir Wood Reservoir (E Sussex) on 5th and Denton (Northants) on 3rd. Popular birds from last week remained at Wanstead Flats (London) to 30th and Cuckmere Haven (E Sussex) to 31st.

Wryneck
Wryneck, Cuckmere Haven, East Sussex (Photo: John Stanton)

A Citrine Wagtail on St. Mary's (Scilly) from 1st eventually settled down to a commute between Porth Hellick and Lower Moors, while another was on Foula (Shetland) for four days from 31st. A Red-throated Pipit over Mid Holmwood (Surrey) during the evening of 3rd was a fine inland record, while there was a report of a probable Richard's Pipit on Tresco (Scilly) on 31st. A juvenile Red-rumped Swallow flew over the RSPB reserve at Conwy on 3rd.

In East Yorkshire, a fine Arctic Warbler at Flamborough Head on 1st–2nd performed extremely well at times in the Old Fall Hedge, while another at Halligarth, Unst (Shetland) mirrored its dates of arrival and departure. A third continued on Fair Isle all week, where other sightings included Common Rosefinch and numerous Barred Warblers. Around 15 further Barred Warblers were reported along the east coast between Norfolk and Shetland, the notable exception being a bird on Arranmore Island (Donegal) on 2nd. An Icterine Warbler at Lowestoft (Suffolk) on 4th was the only reported individual this week, and two Melodious Warblers were on St. Mary's (Scilly) on 31st and at Hallsands (Devon) on 2nd.

Arctic Warbler
Arctic Warbler, Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire (Photo: Dave Mansell)

Five Red-backed Shrike reports came from Gramborough Hill (Norfolk), Sandgarth (Shetland), Gibraltar Point (Lincs), Mullion (Cornwall) and Wembury (Devon), but the Woodchat Shrike was last seen at Wyke Regis (Dorset) on 1st. The adult Rose-coloured Starling remained at Llansantffraid (Ceredigion) on 2nd, with a juvenile on Guernsey that day.

Away from Fair Isle, Common Rosefinches were at Holme (Norfolk) on 30th, Orford Ness and Hollesley (Suffolk) on 1st and 2nd respectively and on Tiree (Argyll) on 5th, with the bird still at Baltasound, Unst (Shetland) on 31st. Very much a rare bird these days, Ortolans briefly at West Bexington and Hengistbury Head (Dorset) on 4th and 5th respectively were notable, while three were reported on Jersey on 3rd and 5th. Finally, it was no surprise that the first Lapland Buntings of the autumn turned up in northern and western areas this week in the wake of the strong westerly airflow.

Photo of the Week

Arctic Warbler
Arctic Warbler, Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire (Photo: Lee Johnson)

This week, our two most popular photo uploads (based on visitor 'thumbs up') have been a pair of images taken by Lee Johnson of an Arctic Warbler that spent a couple of days at Flamborough Head in East Yorkshire. These images featured a small green warbler skulking in vegetation doing nothing in particular, so why were they so popular? The answer is mainly a combination of the photographic subject involved and the way its distinctive features were captured. To British birders, Arctic Warblers are not just rare, but also difficult to find and identify, and so have a kind of 'connoisseur appeal'. This individual was originally misidentified as a Greenish Warbler, but this pair of images — one in sunlight and one in shade — show all key ID points, allowing even armchair birders to appreciate the bird's finer features. For its greater all-round photographic merit, we chose the sunlit shot as Lee's first Photo of the Week.

Other notable photos

Green Woodpecker
Green Woodpecker, undisclosed site, Cheshire (Photo: Richard Steel)

Sparrowhawk
Sparrowhawk, Castle Douglas, Dumfries & Galloway (Photo: Chas Moonie)

Kestrel
Kestrel, Rainham Marshes RSPB, Greater London (Photo: Brian Harrison)

Nuthatch
Nuthatch, Laurieston, Dumfries & Galloway (Photo: Alan McFadyen)

Little Owl
Little Owl, Wigan, Greater Manchester (Photo: Roy)

Hen Harrier
Hen Harrier, undisclosed site, Argyll (Photo: Jimmy MacDonald)

Blue Tit
Blue Tit, Bala, Gwynedd (Photo: Neill Carden)

Raven
Raven, Strumble Head, Pembrokeshire (Photo: Richard Stonier)

Dunlin
Dunlin, Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire (Photo: M.Rafter)

Lesser Grey Shrike
Lesser Grey Shrike, Saudi Arabia (Photo: Duha)

Golden Plover
Golden Plover, Ferny Ness, Lothian (Photo: Mike Thrower)