Review of the Week: 31st May-12th June 2002


Sandwiched between the steady run of westerlies there was at last a spell of claggy drifting easterlies for birders to get their teeth into. These conditions did not produce any major falls but provided a nice scattering of rare and scarce birds along the east coast, with most of the action concentrated between North Yorkshire and the Northern Isles.

As expected, the invasion of Rose-coloured Starlings into Europe finally penetrated as far northwest as Britain and Ireland, with the first bird in Cornwall on 31st May. What has followed has been a deluge of these nomadic starlings scattered between the Scilly and Scotland, with birds at many west coast locations and several multiple groups with up to four seen together in Devon. Nearly 60 have been recorded so far, and doubtless more are yet to be found or arrive, so careful scrutiny of your local Starling flock could pay dividends. The numbers involved have surpassed last year's record influx and it would appear to have been a timely decision by the rarities committee to remove this gaudy rarity from the list of species they assess at the end of last year.

Always exotic, at least six Bee-eaters have been reported. A record of two at Spurn (East Yorkshire) on 1st was pretty much to be expected in warm high pressure, and the following day presumably the same two birds were relocated at a quarry in Co. Durham. The pair have been in residence at the site since, attracting the attentions of birders, locals and even the media and hopes are being raised that for only the third time the species might attempt to breed in Britain. The first attempt, which was unsuccessful, was in 1920. The second attempt was in Sussex in 1955 when two of three pairs successfully bred. Fingers crossed for a repeat performance!

There has been a good mix of rarities over the past couple of weeks. Inaccessible, but extremely exciting, was a Black-browed Albatross seen from a cruise ship off St. Kilda in the Western Isles on the 12th – could this bird be spending the summer in a remote Gannet colony off the British coast? A 1st-summer Squacco Heron was found in Cumbria on the 6th and remained for a number of days allowing all interested parties the opportunity to see this southern heron. Rare waders have featured prominently, with Yorkshire bagging its 3rd ever Terek Sandpiper for a day on the 1st and the 3rd record of Marsh Sandpiper for a couple of days from the 8th. A Lesser Yellowlegs in Lincolnshire was added to the growing tally of records for this Nearctic wader this spring, whilst Broad-billed Sandpipers were found in Devon and on North Uist. Herons, storks and egrets were well represented, with the pick of the bunch a fly-over Black Stork in Kent. Suffolk continued to monopolise potentially rare ducks of unknown origin, with a Bufflehead reported briefly and a Falcated Duck remaining for several days. Just two White-winged Black Terns were reported with one briefly in Kent and another for a day in Cleveland. In the skies, Alpine Swifts were seen over Cornwall and Suffolk, with another for an hour or so in Cleveland. Rare passerines were in short supply, with a male Black-headed Bunting reported in Lothian the pick of the bunch. Elsewhere, Great Reed Warblers were seen in Dorset, Shetland and Kent, whilst the male in Surrey remained in residence. The first Greenish Warbler of the spring was on the Isle of May and the 2nd and 3rd Rustic Buntings of the spring were seen in Lothian and on the Outer Hebrides.

Murky drifting easterlies produced a good number of scarce migrants and represented the only notable arrival of scarcities of the spring in many localities. Most were scattered along the east coast and the Northern Isles and comprised the usual suspects. At least 17 Icterine Warblers were seen, including one singing for several days in Durham. Around 21 Marsh Warblers were reported, with 5 on Fair Isle on one the 6th. A supporting cast comprised 19 Red-backed Shrikes, 5 Subalpine Warblers, including one of the eastern form at South Gare (Cleveland), 7 Bluethroats, one Wryneck and a surprisingly poor 17 Common Rosefinches, two of which were found well inland in North Yorkshire. In addition, there were 7 Woodchat Shrikes and 15 migrant Golden Orioles, most of which were on the Northern Isles.

June is the time for mega rarities, so anything is possible in the next week or two. One thing is for sure, there are likely to be more Rose-coloured Starlings found, so check those flocks carefully and just enjoy the invasion of these lovely birds whilst it lasts!

Written by: Russell Slack