Review of the Week: 30th September–6th October 2004

Yellow Warbler: Barra, Outer Hebrides. (Photo: Jim Duncan)

Yellow Warbler: Barra, Outer Hebrides. (Photo: Paul Bowyer) Yellow Warbler: Barra, Outer Hebrides. (Photo: Mark Oskien)

There have been many superb rarities around this week, but if you birdwatch solely on the British mainland you could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about as new migrants were few and far between. As is frequently the case under such circumstances most of the interest was focused on the Northern Isles, some of which had a superb run of 'sibes', most notably Foula. This arrival will have surprised few in light of the recent run of excellent birds in western Scandinavia though.

However, the twitchable rarity of the week did not occur on the Northern Isles, but on the Outer Hebrides, which is rapidly developing a reputation for a regular supply of high-calibre rarities. These islands surely offer the best opportunity for glory hunters to find a Western Palearctic or British first nowadays. It was the island of Barra at the southern end of the group that once again triumphed. After the heady successes achieved by birders there last year many of us wondered if they could do it again this autumn - they did. A 1st-winter Yellow Warbler was found at Brevig on Saturday 2nd and further enhanced the growing reputation of the island for producing quality rarities. The Yellow Warbler has remained for the rest of the week and is the first since two in Ireland in October 1995. Previous records were on Orkney in 1992, Shetland in 1990 and Caernarfon in 1964. Other Nearctic landbirds during the week included a Blackpoll Warbler on Lundy (Devon) on Saturday 2nd and a male American Kestrel over Trimley (Suffolk) on Thursday 30th - if accepted this will be the 3rd British record following two in 1976. The latter was seen by a single observer and was presumably ship-assisted, correlating well with the Song Sparrow on the same day in Belgium? There was also an unconfirmed report of a possible Black-and-white Warbler in Suffolk on Sunday 3rd.

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler: Foula, Shetland. (Photo: Tony Mainwood) Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler: Foula, Shetland. (Photo: Tony Mainwood)

Blyth's Reed Warbler: Foula, Shetland. (Photo: Tony Mainwood) Blyth's Reed Warbler: Foula, Shetland. (Photo: Tony Mainwood)

Events just prior to this week in Norway hinted at an arrival of ultra-rare sibes to the Northern Isles and birders there were not to be disappointed, though away from Foula (Shetland) jewels were a bit harder to come by. Three Pallas's Grasshopper Warblers were noted on Foula from Friday 1st onwards, with another at Pool of Virkie (Shetland) on Wednesday 6th - four in a year equals the Shetland totals for 'PG Tips' in 1997 and 1998 and no fewer than 22 of the 28 nationally accepted records by the end of 2002 had been seen on Shetland, 17 of these on Fair Isle. Associated with this were an exceptional three White's Thrushes on Shetland, with one on Out Skerries on Friday 1st, another at Voe, Mainland on Saturday 2nd and another at Maywick, Mainland on Wednesday 6th which flew into a window. The bird was rehabilitated at Gott SSPCA and was successfully released at Kergord on the 7th. Fair Isle contributed a Lanceolated Warbler on Monday 4th and a Booted Warbler on Tuesday 5th, whilst a Pechora Pipit was on 'the place of the moment', Foula, on Tuesday 5th and 6th. Also on Shetland, there was a Yellow-breasted Bunting at Toab from Friday 1st-2nd and the juvenile Pallid Harrier was seen again, this time on Bressay on Friday 1st.

Rustic Bunting: Out Skerries, Shetland. (Photo: Michael McKee)

Siberian Stonechat: Out Skerries, Shetland. (Photo: Michael McKee) Siberian Stonechat: Out Skerries, Shetland. (Photo: Michael McKee)

A Rustic Bunting was on Out Skerries from Thursday 30th-1st, and Siberian Stonechats were on the island from 30th-6th, with two on Saturday 2nd, and another was at Quendale (Shetland) on Friday 1st. The nominate-race Arctic Redpoll remained on Foula for much of the week. The first Radde's Warblers of the year were seen on the Farne Islands (Northumberland) on Thursday 30th and North Ronaldsay (Orkney) on Friday 1st Away from the Northern Isles passerine interest was less exciting, but a Western Bonelli's Warbler was on St. Agnes (Scily) on Thursday 30th and an Arctic Warbler at Walton-on-the-Naze (Essex) from Tuesday 5th onwards, with Red-throated Pipit reported over there on Sunday 3rd. A Calandra Lark was seen in flight past Spurn (E. Yorks) on Sunday 3rd.

Short-toed Lark: Out Skerries, Shetland. (Photo: Michael McKee) Short-toed Lark: St. Mary's, Scilly. (Photo: Paul Bowyer)

Yellow-browed Warbler: Out Skerries, Shetland. (Photo: Michael McKee) Bluethroat: Out Skerries, Shetland. (Photo: Michael McKee)

Rose-coloured Starling: Scarlett, Isle of Man. (Photo: Pete Hadfield) Marsh Warbler: Galley Head, Cork. (Photo: Michael O'Keefe)

Little Buntings were on Tresco (Scilly) on 30th and North Ronaldsay on 1st. A Marsh Warbler was at Galley Head (Co. Cork) from Thursday 30th-3rd and represents the 3rd Irish record. There were around 65 Yellow-browed Warblers reported, mostly on the Northern Isles and along the east coast, whilst there were around a dozen each of Red-breasted Flycatchers, Barred Warblers and Bluethroats, though of the latter only one was seen away from Shetland, at Landguard NR (Suffolk). Richard's Pipits just reached double figures, and there were around 8 Wrynecks and half-a-dozen Rose-coloured Starlings. Hoopoes were noted in Hampshire, the Outer Hebrides and Durham, and there were three Red-backed Shrikes and two lingering Short-toed Larks, with birds still on Out Skerries and St. Mary's. The first Great Grey Shrike of the autumn was on Holy Island from 30th-1st and was followed by others on Whalsay and Out Skerries. Just two Ortolan Buntings were reported, singles on Fair Isle and St. Agnes, making it a quite miserable autumn for this lovely bunting, and an Icterine Warbler was on Lundy and Melodious Warblers still at Nanquidno (Cornwall) and the probable at Fairlop Waters CP (London). There were around 19 Common Rosefinches noted, mostly on the Northern Isles.

Cream-coloured Courser: St. Martin's, Scilly. (Photo: Tristan Reid)

Cream-coloured Courser: St. Martin's, Scilly. (Photo: Steve Nuttall) Cream-coloured Courser: St. Martin's, Scilly. (Photo: Garry Bagnell)

Western Sandpiper: Brownsea Island, Dorset. (Photo: Kit Day) Western Sandpiper: Brownsea Island, Dorset. (Photo: Kit Day)

Western Sandpiper: Brownsea Island, Dorset. (Photo: Andy Warr) Western Sandpiper: Brownsea Island, Dorset. (Photo: Marcus Ward)

The two five-star waders from last week remained throughout, allowing those who so desired the opportunity to travel to see both on the same trip. The Cream-coloured Courser has continued to entertain visitors the Scillies as has the juvenile Western Sandpiper at Brownsea Island (Dorset). A Great Snipe was seen at Boddam (Shetland) on Thursday 30th and the good run of Nearctic waders continued. There were half-a-dozen American Golden Plovers, with birds on South Uist and Benebecula (Outer Hebrides), Rogerstown Estuary and Swords (Co. Dublin), Fetlar (Shetland), and Nosterfield NR (Yorks); those on S. Uist and Fetlar remaining from last week. Four Baird's Sandpipers remained from last week, with presumably a 'new' bird at Tacumshin (Co. Wexford) from 2nd onwards. White-rumped Sandpipers were seen at Dunmore Strand (Co. Sligo) on Saturday 2nd and Slimbridge (Glos) on Monday 4th, plus there were 24 Pectoral Sandpipers, five of which were on the Rogerstown Estuary (Co. Dublin) on the 30th. A superb total of 15 Buff-breasted Sandpipers were widely scattered, with three remaining on St. Mary's, with two on South Ronaldsay (Orkney), South Uist (Outer Hebrides), Myroe Levels (Londonderry) and the Ythan Estuary (Aberdeenshire). Several Dotterel were noted, nearly all in southern England. Red-necked Phalaropes were seen at Filey Dams (N. Yorks) on 4th and Lodmoor (Dorset) on 5th and good numbers of Grey Phalaropes were seen passing Bridges of Ross (Co. Clare) with 80 on 5th, with 37 the following day and 35 passed Brandon Head (Co. Kerry) also on 5th. The Terek Sandpiper remains at Blennerville (Co. Kerry) - perhaps it will winter there?

Baird's Sandpiper: Flamborough Head, E. Yorks. (Photo: Jane Hanson) Pectoral Sandpiper: Huttoft Pits, Lincs. (Photo: Dean Eades)

Buff-breasted Sandpiper: St. Mary's, Scilly. (Photo: Paul Bowerman) Red-necked Phalarope: Filey Dams, E. Yorks. (Photo: Jane Hanson)

Curlew?: Minsmere, Suffolk. (Photo: Marek Walford) Curlew?: Minsmere, Suffolk. (Photo: Richard Jackson)

Finally it would not be possible to leave the waders section without mention of the controversial Curlew at Minsmere (Suffolk), which has remained at this famous reserve for all of the week. Early on in its stay it was considered by many to have been a Slender-billed Curlew, then the possibilities of an aberrant Curlew, or perhaps even a hybrid, came into play, though current thinking perhaps suggests that the moult of the bird points to it being a Curlew of the nominate race moulting from juvenile to 1st-winter plumage. Conclusive answers to a problem such as this will not come quickly, but it illustrates nicely that there are still plenty of questions to be asked about bird identification, even about familiar birds on our own doorstep. Whether this individual will have any influence on the file on the previously accepted British record of Slender-billed Curlew from Northumberland in May 1998 only time will tell! The whole exercise has also usefully demonstrated the use of the Internet in engaging discussion and debate about the latest photos, plenty of which have been widely posted. It has been a learning curve for everyone, so when the next controversial Curlew arrives we will be better informed...or so we like to think!

Squacco Heron: East Chevington, Northumberland. (Photo: John Malloy) Squacco Heron: East Chevington, Northumberland. (Photo: Richard Dunn)

Squacco Heron: East Chevington, Northumberland. (Photo: Tristan Reid) Lesser Scaup: Sandbach Flashes, Cheshire. (Photo: Paul Hill)

An adult winter Slender-billed Gull was seen for a short period off Portland Bill (Dorset) on Monday 4th, but not subsequently. A 1st-winter Whiskered Tern was reported from Canvey Island (Essex) on Thursday 30th and a White-winged Black Tern was at Covenham Reservoir (Lincs) from Friday 1st onwards. The 2nd-winter Bonaparte's Gull is still at Thurso (Highland) and seawatchers notched up 40 Sabine's Gulls during the week. A Squacco Heron was a surprise find at East Chevington (Northumberland) from Sunday 3rd onwards, the Glossy Ibis remained in Norfolk during the week as did the Purple Heron in Essex and Great White Egret in Carmarthenshire with another bird at Rye Harbour (E. Sussex); this bird had previously been seen in Kent, then South Yorkshire.

Brown Shrike: Whalsay, Shetland. (Photo: John Lowrie Irvine) Brown Shrike: Whalsay, Shetland. (Photo: John Lowrie Irvine)
Many of the images that appear in our weekly reviews can be purchased from the photographers, some of whom have their own websites:

Bill Aspin: http://www.eastlancashirebirding.net
Ian Barnard: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/sussex.birder
Bill Baston: http://billbaston.com
Steve Blain: http://www.steveblain.co.uk
Nigel Blake: http://www.nigelblake.co.uk
Will Bowell: http://www.geocities.com/wbowell/
Paul Bowerman: http://mysite.freeserve.com/severnsidebirds
Paul Bowyer: http://www.ukbirds.net
Andy Brett: http://www.freewebs.com/andybrett/
Martin Cade: http://www.portlandbirdobs.btinternet.co.uk
Mark Caunt: http://angusbirding.homestead.com/
Kit Day: http://www.kitday-uk.com/
Lee Dingain: http://www.leedingain.co.uk
Sean Gray: http://www.grayimages.co.uk
Peter Hadfield: http://www.manxbirdphotography.co.uk
Josh Jones: http://www.geocities.com/blgp_birder
John Judge: http://www.draycotebirding.co.uk
Paul and Andrea Kelly: http://www.irishbirdimages.com/
Jack Levene: http://www.birdingimages.com
John Malloy: http://mysite.freeserve.com/JohnMalloyBirdPhotos
Jerry O'Brien: http://www.BirdsofBerkshire.co.uk
James Packer: http://www.somersetbirder.co.uk
Tristan Reid: http://www.solwaybirder.org.uk
Steve Round: http://stevenround-birdphotography.com
Tom Shevlin: http://wildlifesnaps.com/
Matt Slaymaker: http://www.freewebs.com/slaymaker
Glen Tepke: http://www.pbase.com/gtepke
Phillip Tomkinson: http://www.philliptomkinson.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk
Stephen Tomlinson: http://www.digitalbirds.co.uk
Sue Tranter: http://www.suesbirdphotos.co.uk/
Steve Williams: http://www.hilbrebirdobs.co.uk
Chris Wormwell: http://www.iombirding.co.uk
Dylan Wrathall: http://www.planetthanet.org
Written by: Russell Slack