Review of the Week: 31 July-6 August 2023


Recent weeks have been simply sensational for seabirds, a trend that shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Just this afternoon, a Red-footed Booby was photographed 2 km south-west of Bishop Rock from yet another action-packed Scilly pelagic. It appears that the team is unable to return from a trip at the moment without the mega alert sounding ...

Red-footed BoobyScilly pelagic, Isles of Scilly (Joe Pender).

Britain's fourth South Polar Skua dominated proceedings at the start of the week, flirting with the MV Sapphire off Scilly on 31st. The first in more than 20 years, it had been predicted by Alex Lees just one day prior owing to high early totals of Great Shearwaters in the South-West Approaches, a species that South Polar Skuas track north from the South Atlantic towards the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. A full account of the find written by Scilly seabird extraordinaire Bob Flood can be read here. The same trip produced a mammoth 39 Wilson's Storm Petrels, a record total for a Scilly pelagic.

South Polar Skua, Scilly pelagic, Isles of Scilly (Ian Bollen).

A further three Scopoli's Shearwaters off the Scilly pelagics brought the summer's total to seven, with two more reliably claimed off Pendeen, Cornwall, on 2nd. A Fea's-type petrel off Porthgwarra, Cornwall, on three dates caused some excited chatter about the potential of it being twitchable, though a small crowd was left disappointed over the weekend.

Scopoli's Shearwater, Scilly pelagic, Isles of Scilly (Richard Stonier).

From land, 11 Wilson's Storm Petrels past Pendeen on 5th was an excellent tally, with one off Strumble Head, Pembrokeshire, on 3rd also notable. Cory's Shearwater counts reached four figures off five sites, including a ridiculous 5,536 past Porthgwarra on 2nd. Several large counts of Great Shearwater were recorded too, along with small tallies of Sabine's Gulls and Long-tailed Skuas.

Wilson's Storm Petrel, Scilly pelagic, Isles of Scilly (Richard Stonier).

Despite schools being shut for the summer it was tern time elsewhere, with a Bridled Tern at Afon Wen, Gwynedd, headlining. This first for Gwynedd is the first anywhere in Britain since the popular bird of 2013-14. Meanwhile, a seawatch at Pendeen, Cornwall, on 31st produced a Sooty Tern; perhaps the summering French bird on a long-distance foraging trip. The first-summer Forster's Tern at Arne RSPB, Dorset, proved popular throughout the week and the Least Tern was again in Co Dublin. Brief Caspian Terns were at Toft Newton Reservoir, Lincolnshire, and along the Kent coast, with birds lingering in Norfolk and Co Wexford.

Bridled Tern, Afon Wen, Gwynedd (Eddie Urbanski).

Forster's Tern, Arne RSPB, Dorset (David Carr).

No fewer than three Bonaparte's Gulls were in Scotland, with birds at Ullapool, Highland, and on Mull, Argyll, and Sanday, Orkney. Another continued in Kent. A couple of non-breeding visitors returned to Ireland, with the adult Double-crested Cormorant back at Doon Lough, Co Leitrim, from 1st and an Azores Gull again at Annagh Beach, Co Mayo, on 6th. An intriguing report of a pelican species west over Blackpool, Lancashire, on 4th transpired to be an escape from a local zoo.

In Highland, a drake Harlequin Duck at Loch Fleet from 5th marks an excellent late summer find. Bizarrely, this is now the third August record in two years, despite this handsome duck never having been previously recorded during August. A King Eider remained at Musselburgh, Lothian, with a Surf Scoter still off Angus and Ring-necked Duck in Suffolk and Glamorgan.

An early series of transatlantic lows delivered a Baird's Sandpiper at Blanket Nook, Co Donegal, on 5th, where the Black-winged Pratincole remained present and correct throughout. Another mega-rare visitor was Shetland's Hudsonian Godwit, which continued to prove reliable at Grutness, Mainland, and a Pacific Golden Plover remained on North Ronaldsay, Orkney. Action in Norfolk comprised a Lesser Yellowlegs (at Welney WWT on 31st), American Golden Plover and Long-billed Dowitcher, with another dowitcher still in Orkney and an 'AGP' persisting in Co Londonderry. 

Hudsonian Godwit, Grutness, Mainland, Shetland (Penny Clarke).

Two Kentish Plovers at Pegwell Bay, Kent, on 4th made for a nice double act, with other action including nine Pectoral Sandpipers and two Temminck's Stints, plus Black-winged Stilts still at three sites. A female Red-necked Phalarope paid a fleeting visit to Abbotsbury Swannery, Dorset.

Black-winged Stilt, Worth Marsh RSPB, Kent (Martin Collins).

A mini-influx of Montagu's Harrier was noted in south-east England, with no fewer than two – an adult female and a first-summer female – at Blue House Farm, Essex, from 1st. Notably, the adult female is ringed on both legs, with a metal ring on the left and a colour ring on the right, which allow it to be tracked back to a scheme in Belgium and the Netherlands. Elsewhere, Hertfordshire birders enjoyed one at Wallington from 1st.

Montagu's Harrier, Blue House Farm EWT, Essex (Rik Addison).

In South Yorkshire, a male Red-backed Shrike at Auckley Common, South Yorkshire, drew admirers on 6th. Two more were in the Northern Isles, where a small arrival of early passerine migrants included a Greenish Warbler on Fair Isle and a Common Rosefinch on Foula. The moulting male Black-headed Wagtail was still at Myroe Levels, Co Londonderry, until 3rd at least, while both a Wryneck and European Bee-eater were on the Isle of Wight.

A surprise Black Stork was at Osmotherley, North Yorkshire, on 1st, with a brief Spotted Crake at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB, Cheshire, the previous day. Black-crowned Night Herons were at Fishlake Meadows, Hampshire, and The Gearagh, Co Cork.


Western Palearctic

Estaca de Bares, a premier seawatching site on the Galician coast of Spain, enjoyed a stunning week. Headlining was a Black-capped Petrel on 4th – the first for continental Europe – alongside a presumed Zino's Petrel, multiple Fea's-type petrels, Bulwer's Petrel, Brown Booby, South Polar Skua, and several of both Barolo and Scopoli's Shearwaters. In Portugal, a West African Crested Tern was at Alvor on 2-3rd and a Least Sandpiper was on Terceira, Azores. The White-faced Whistling Duck remained in Cape Verde at Santa Maria, Sal.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Biała Olecka, Warmia-Masuria (Zbigniew Kajzer).

The Netherlands's fifth Blue-cheeked Bee-eater at Fochteloo on 5th was roundly appreciated by those lucky enough to get there before it flew off high mid-morning. The White-headed Duck continued at Brabantse Biesbosch and a Pacific Golden Plover was at Dollard. In France, a trio of Sooty, Elegant and Lesser Crested Terns all remained, with a Western Reef Heron at Saint-Gilles.

An adult Sociable Lapwing was again in Finland and the Steppe Grey Shrike remained reliable in Denmark. Both a Steller's Eider and Pacific Golden Plover were in Germany. An adult Sharp-tailed Sandpiper – a Polish first – was at Biała Olecka fishponds on 3rd before relocating 30 km east to Kuków the next day. Other notable reports included a Western Reef Heron at Orzinuovi, Italy, Romania's first Olive-tree Warbler trapped and ringed at Agigea Bird Observatory, and the first Carrion Crow for Belarus since 1949 at Turau. A Magpie at Haifa is a potential first for Israel.


Written by: Sam Viles