Review of the Week: 31st January–6th February


The week at a glance

In an eventful week of weather that saw quite exceptional storms battering northern Britain amid flurries of snow and gales for many parts, it was the Northern Isles that, through the bracing conditions, bagged an early contender for the bird of 2013.

With much of Shetland being blasted by waves tens of metres high over the weekend, the arrival of an Ivory or Ross's Gull seemed inevitable. But, as has so often been the case in recent winters, the storms failed to deliver one of these High Arctic goodies, and instead coincided with the surprise discovery of a first-winter (presumably male) Pine Grosbeak near North Collafirth at Housetter. It was identified from photographs taken on 30th January, but a search of the area after the news broke during the afternoon of 2nd February failed to reveal any sign of the bird. However, fortunately, it was relocated there the following morning.

Pine Grosbeak
Pine Grosbeak, Collafirth, Northmavine, Mainland, Shetland (Photo: Hugh Harrop)

Seemingly undeterred by the prevailing conditions, the bird continued to commute between two favoured gardens (at Saltoo and Housetter) for the rest of the period, with birders also battling through the wind, snow, and freezing temperatures to fly or ferry up to the archipelago. As is often the case with midwinter twitches to far-flung destinations, there were delays and cancellations to contend with both before and after the bird was seen. Certainly those travelling on the Aberdeen ferry were not to be envied during winds that occasionally touched storm force.

Pine Grosbeak
Pine Grosbeak, Collafirth, Northmavine, Mainland, Shetland (Photo: Dougie Preston)

It later came to light that this bird had first been seen just a few miles away at Urafirth back on 2nd November 2012, where it had been photographed by a non-birder as a Crossbill. After the excellent southward irruption witnessed across Scandinavia during the late autumn, it's nice to see we didn't miss out on the influx after all — better late than never! And, with such a long stay already clocked up, it seems likely now that this bird will linger into the spring.

As alluded to already, more predictable after a transatlantic storm is a scattering of rare gulls. County Kerry paved the way with a serious contender for a first-winter Glaucous-winged Gull at Cromane on 30th January. This bird, which has received some positive response from Stateside birders, seems to have plenty of structural features indicative of Glaucous-winged: the short primary projection, hanging belly and deep bill with strong gonydeal angle all fit well, but is the plumage too pale?

Glaucous-winged Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull, Cromane, Kerry (Photo: Seamus Enright)

Cork weighed in with a smart first-winter American Herring Gull at Baltimore fish factory on 2nd; this is the second successive winter that the species has been seen here and one wonders if they are still being overlooked in other parts of southwest Ireland. Their rarity in recent winters is hard to comprehend given regular transatlantic storms; one has to travel back as far as winter 2003/4 for the last decent smithsonianus influx.

Also on 2nd, a new first-winter Bonaparte's Gull was seen and photographed at Stoneybridge, South Uist (Outer Hebrides) while the adult in East Sussex became more reliable in Princes Park, Eastbourne, being present constantly from Saturday afternoon onwards. The Welsh adult also remained on the Ogmore Estuary (Glamorgan) throughout.

Bonaparte's Gull
Bonaparte's Gull, Eastbourne, East Sussex (Photo: Bill Dykes)

Bonaparte's Gull
Bonaparte's Gull, Stoneybridge, S.Uist, Outer Hebrides (Photo: YvonneB)

A probable third-winter Azorean Gull was located on the Hayle Estuary (Cornwall) during the evening of 6th; no doubt many are eagerly anticipating images of this latest claim. A total of 24 Irish Ring-billed Gulls included threes at Nimmo's Pier (Galway), Tralee (Kerry) and on the Great Island (Cork) and twos in Cork and Louth, while five British records included a new adult at Torr Reservoir (Somerset) on 2nd. The stormy conditions unsurprisingly induced a slight influx of Glaucous and Iceland Gulls, with around 60 of each seen across Britain and Ireland throughout the week, including eight apiece at Killybegs (Donegal) at the weekend. Several Kumlien's Gulls also arrived, including two at Killybegs and another photographed at Eyeries (Kerry). Remaining in western Ireland, the Forster's Tern was again on Claddagh Beach (Galway) on 2nd.

Ring-billed Gull
Ring-billed Gull, Cuskinny Marsh, Cork (Photo: Ronan McLaughlin)

Kumlien's Gull
Kumlien's Gull, Eyeries, Cork (Photo: Fionn Moore)

The unsettled conditions brought a handful of Grey Phalaropes to our coastlines, the most popular being a lingering bird off Filey Brigg (N Yorks) on 31st–2nd. Others flew past Hinkley Point (Somerset) on 2nd and Flamborough Head (E Yorks) on 4th, and a third was in a creek near Gillingham (Kent) on 5th. A scattering of Little Auk sightings came from the west coast between Cornwall and Shetland, many exhausted birds being found in sheltered bays during the worst of the weather from the weekend onwards. And, in Offaly, a remarkable sighting of a fly-by Leach's Storm-petrel at Lough Boora Parklands came on 5th!

Grey Phalarope
Grey Phalarope, Filey, North Yorkshire (Photo: Tim Cowley)

The Nearctic shorebird line-up changed very little this week, with Long-billed Dowitchers remaining in Pembrokeshire and Wexford and the Lesser Yellowlegs firmly rooted to its favoured creek at Ernesettle (Devon). However, there was a reappearance of the Lincolnshire dowitcher at Alkborough Flats on 2nd — the first sighting for almost a month.

Long-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher, Gann Estuary, Pembrokeshire (Photo: Peter Morgan)

It was a similar situation with the rare geese on offer: the two white-morph Snow Geese remained at Knockintorran, North Uist (Outer Hebrides), as did the Red-breasted Goose on the West Sussex/Hampshire border (another in Suffolk at Sudbourne Marshes on 3rd may or may not be one of the roaming feral birds). All but one of eight Black Brants this week were restricted to the English coastline between Hampshire and Norfolk (the exception being a bird on Guernsey). The Todd's Canada Goose continued at Loaningfoot (Dumf & Gall) and a Richardson's Canada Goose was found at Balranald, North Uist on 31st and was still there on 6th. Other Richardson's continued on Islay and in Lincolnshire.

Black Brant
Black Brant, Vazon Bay, Guernsey (Photo: Mark Guppy)

The drake Black Duck was again seen near Strontian (Highland) on 2nd, and American Wigeon consisted of remaining drakes still at Tullaghan (Leitrim) and Bawburgh (Norfolk) plus a third again at Loch Bee, South Uist (Outer Hebrides) on 6th — the first report here since the autumn! Fifteen drake Green-winged Teals included two new birds: at Soulseat Loch (Dumf & Gall) on 1st and at Steart (Somerset) on 6th.

Black Duck
Black Duck, Strontian, Highland (Photo: Matt Whitelocke)

Two new Lesser Scaup were found this week: immature drakes were at Shotton Pools (Clwyd) on 2nd–3rd and Oxford Island (Armagh) on 3rd–4th, although the presence of a hybrid at the latter location confused matters somewhat. The Clare individual remained at Lough Gash throughout the week although the Blagdon Lake drake, last seen on 31st, relocated to Cardiff Bay (Glamorgan) from 3rd. A female Ferruginous Duck showed well in Danson Park (London) on 31st–1st until it was flushed by a canoe; this is presumably the same female that has visited southeast London in the past two winters but never really given itself up. Meanwhile, the drake continued to show well at Priory Country Park (Beds) throughout the week. Thirteen Ring-necked Ducks included three still on Scilly, two still at Slapton Ley (Devon) and the East Yorkshire drake relocating to Tophill Low.

Lesser Scaup
Lesser Scaup, Shotwick Fields/Boating Lake, Clwyd (Photo: Dave Kelsall)

Ferruginous Duck
Ferruginous Duck, Priory CP, Bedfordshire (Photo: Mike Lawrence)

A first-winter drake Surf Scoter was new off Hougharry, North Uist (Outer Hebrides) on 1st, and drakes remained at The Wig (Dumf & Gall) throughout and again off Llanddulas (Conwy) on 1st–2nd. Over in Ireland, the long-staying American Coot remained at Ballyconneely (Galway) while, in the Northern Isles, White-billed Divers included a new bird off Muness, Unst (Shetland) as well as the remaining bird off South Ronaldsay (Orkney).

The theory that the Northumberland Cattle Egret might be the recent Donegal bird was quickly dispelled on 1st, as both were present at their respective locations on the day; the Holy Island bird was last seen on 2nd, but the St. Johnston bird was still present to at least 3rd. Glossy Ibis remained at Marloes Mere (Pembrokeshire) and Timoleague (Cork), while Great White Egrets included several still in the southeast of Kent and on the Somerset Levels — will 2013 register an increase in breeding pairs? Time will tell, but it seems likely.

Cattle Egret
Cattle Egret, Holy Island, Northumberland (Photo: Gary Smith)

Seven Common Cranes remained on Sheppey (Kent) with five also still at Tacumshin (Wexford), where the juvenile Northern Harrier was again seen on 4th. A White-tailed Eagle was reported flying over Sutton-on-Sea (Lincs) during the afternoon of 1st. However, it was a white-morph Gyr Falcon on mainland Orkney that stole the headlines, lingering around the Loch of Stenness/Stromness area from 31st–2nd and thus continuing this winter's excellent glut of sightings of the species. Four Rough-legged Buzzards were seen in Norfolk with further individuals reported in Suffolk and on Broomhead Moor (S Yorks). A possible Dark-breasted Barn Owl at Southease (E Sussex) on 2nd–3rd looked of similar mould to the recent Cambridgeshire bird — close, but probably no cigar.

Gyrfalcon, Stromness, Mainland, Orkney (Photo: Chris Griffin)

In Dorset, the Hoopoe continued to poke about in gardens in Hamworthy until at least 5th while, on 2nd, one of Berkshire's Buff-bellied Pipits reappeared at Kingsmead Quarry (though there have been no sightings since). Also in the county, the Pallas's Warbler remained at Moor Green Lakes to 3rd, while a Yellow-browed Warbler was again seen at Gwennap sewage works (Cornwall). A Richard's Pipit was found on rocks at Cooley Point (Louth) on 2nd, remaining there to 6th, with another reported on the beach at Dornoch (Highland) on 5th.

Richard's Pipit
Richard's Pipit, Cooley Point, Louth (Photo: Gerry O Neill)

In Aberdeenshire, the Desert Wheatear formed an excellent diversion throughout the week for grosbeak twitchers catching the Aberdeen ferry, while the Black-bellied Dipper remained in Thetford (Norfolk) and the Rose-coloured Starling held on in Exminster (Devon). A Penduline Tit was again noted at Stodmarsh (Kent) on 6th while ten Great Grey Shrikes included two in Wales and one in Scotland.

Black-bellied Dipper
Black-bellied Dipper, Thetford, Norfolk (Photo: Chris Mayne)

Photo of the Week

Wren, Wayoh Reservoir, Lancashire (Photo: John Barlow)

Birders in general vary hugely in how far they travel to see birds, and the same is true for bird photographers. Covering serious distances will get you the greatest collection of ticks or snaps, but many consider local patch working to offer a deeper experience, allowing far more time to appreciate the birds with whom we cohabit. From a photography viewpoint, this approach allows images to be conceived and fine-tuned over an extended period of time, although the whims of wild birds can try the patience of the most committed photographers. Lancashire-based bird photographer John Barlow's delightful portrait of a Wren uploaded this week is a great example of what can be achieved by this approach. Over the last three years, John has submitted more than 300 images to BirdGuides, bagging two dozen Notables, yet the vast majority of his uploads have been from one location, Wayoh Reservoir near Bolton. Equally interesting is that no other photographers have uploaded images from this location; such exclusivity is a common feature of local patch birding. Wrens have evolved to blend into their habitat, so an image featuring one on a similarly coloured tree against a similarly coloured background doesn't sound overly interesting. However, as monochrome photographers have argued for decades, colour can easily take over and detract from an image, whereas the use of a limited palette can emphasise other image elements such as the subject and composition. In this case, the green-brown hues give a natural feel to the image and keep the attention on the well-posed bird and, most of all, the framing provided by the tree hole in which it is perched. John's dedication finally wins him his first Photo of the Week.

Other notable images

Pine Grosbeak
Pine Grosbeak, Collafirth, Northmavine, Mainland, Shetland (Photo: Gary Woodburn)

Great Crested Grebe
Great Crested Grebe, undisclosed site, Lancashire (Photo: Cliff)

Buzzard, Venus Pool NR, Shropshire (Photo: Paul Burgess)

Barn Owl
Barn Owl, undisclosed site, West Sussex (Photo: Howard Kearley)

Bearded Tit
Bearded Tit, Hyde Park, Greater London (Photo: Ian Curran)

Slavonian Grebe
Slavonian Grebe, Astbury Mere CP, Cheshire (Photo: Richard Stonier)

Marsh Harrier
Marsh Harrier, Barton-upon-Humber Pits, Lincolnshire (Photo: Graham Catley)

Great Spotted Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker, Castle Douglas, Dumfries & Galloway (Photo: Chas Moonie)

Pintail, Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire (Photo: Pete Blanchard)

Teal, Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire (Photo: Norman West)

Bonaparte's Gull
Bonaparte's Gull, Eastbourne, East Sussex (Photo: Josh Jones)

Sanderling, Barmston, East Yorkshire (Photo: Steve Race)

Hawfinch, Wimpole Hall Park, Cambridgeshire (Photo: Garth Peacock)

Chaffinch, Tomintoul, Highland (Photo: Mark Ranner)