Review of the Week: 4 - 10 March


The week at a glance

The late-winter monotony was finally broken this week as a south-westerly airflow, rising temperatures and — for a time at least — blue skies allowed the first pulse of early summer migrants to reach British and Irish shores.

It was of course two classic harbingers of spring that dominated the migrant news: Northern Wheatear and Sand Martin. Following a single wheatear at Marazion, Cornwall, on 6th, a more widespread arrival took place on Saturday as southerly winds took hold, with many south-coast birders enjoying their first sightings of 2015 in the glorious spring sunshine. By the start of the working week birds were widespread throughout coastal southern England and Wales, with several records also from southern Ireland.

Wheatear, Portland, Dorset (Photo: John Wall)

The picture was similar for Sand Martin: the first two were reported from Chew Valley Lake, Somerset, on 6th. A widespread arrival then took place over the weekend, with birds as far north as Lancashire and West Yorkshire, with a peak count of c.20 birds at Shapwick Heath, Somerset, on 10th. The first Little Ringed Plovers arrived at Great Heck, N Yorks, and Sandwell Valley, W Mids, on 8th and a third was at Newton, Warks, on 9th. The first Swallow was in Somerset on 8th, that day also producing House Martins in Cornwall and Kent. A number of Garganey included a flock of five at Titchwell, Norfolk, on 7th. Birds aside, many birders also reported their first sightings of typical early-season butterflies such as Brimstone.

Alpine Swift is a classic early spring overshoot, yet few would have expected that the first record of 2015 would involve a bird zooming around in the middle of Wolverhampton, W Mids — yet that's exactly what happened during the afternoon of 9th. Two further birds were reported over Wheathampstead, Herts, together on 10th. Both are welcome records given the almost complete lack of records during spring 2014, and hopefully mark the onset of another mini-influx of this stunning species.

After an absence of almost a week, the Harlequin Duck reappeared on the River Don in Aberdeen on 8th, once again posing for photos on 10th. The female was again off Brora, Highland, on 10th, as was the Pacific Diver off Penzance, Cornwall. American Coots were still at Lough Gill, Co Kerry, and Balranald, North Uist, on 5th and 8th respectively.

Harlequin Duck
Harlequin Duck, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire (Photo: Samuel Langlois)

The drake Black Scoter was again off Rossbeigh, Co Kerry, to at least 8th. Seven Surf Scoters included a couple still off the Conwy coastline, as well as single birds still in Lothian, Suffolk/Essex, Co Clare (2) and Co Wexford. The young male King Eider also racked up another week at Maenporth, Cornwall, as did the female at Ruddon's Point, Fife, and the White-billed Diver off South Ronaldsay, Orkney.

A drake Lesser Scaup was new at Lough Gara, Co Sligo, on 8th, while a bird at Colliford Lake, Cornwall, from 7th is presumably the Dozmary bird relocating. The long-staying drake also remained at Cardiff Bay, Glamorgan. A drake Ring-necked Duck was at Bala Lake, Gwynedd, on 8th and other British birds included the two females still at Carlingwark Loch, Dumfries & Galloway, and single birds in Northamptonshire, Orkney and the Outer Hebrides. Two drakes were at Lough Cullin, Co Mayo, on 8th and other males remained in Counties Waterford and Donegal.

Lesser Scaup
Lesser Scaup, Cardiff Bay, Glamorgan (Photo: John Friendship-Taylor)

The American Black Duck was still on Tresco, Scilly, on 4th, as was the Blue-winged Teal at The Shunan, Orkney, on 8th. Just four American Wigeon were reported this week: drakes at Cahore, Co Wexford, Holme Pierrepont, Notts, Normanton, W Yorks, and Fairlie, Ayrshire. A drake Green-winged Teal was again at Abbotsbury, Dorset, from 6–9th and birds remained in Gloucestershire, Cleveland, Dumfries & Galloway (2), Orkney (2), Co Limerick and Co Meath.

American Wigeon
American Wigeon, Normanton, West Yorkshire (Photo: Mark Leitch)

The Ross's Goose continued to frequent the Widdrington area of Northumberland to 8th, as did the Snow Goose at Deerness, Orkney. At least one Richardson's Canada Goose remained on Islay, Argyll, and the Ridgway's Cackling Goose was at Cults Loch, Dumfries & Galloway, to 9th. The Lesser Canada Goose also extended its stay at Wexford Wildfowl Reserve. Black Brants included two (adult and first-winter) still at Kilnsea, E Yorks, two at Potton Island, Essex, on 9th and single birds in Lincolnshire, Suffolk, Hampshire and Devon.

Ross's Goose
Ross's Goose, Widdrington Moor Lake, Northumberland (Photo: Joe Jobling)

Two Cattle Egrets remained around Dungeness, Kent, throughout the week; a White Stork at Ferry Meadows, Cambs, quickly turned out to be an escape. Glossy Ibis were near Burscough, Lancs, on 6th and at Two Tree Island, Essex, on 8th, in addition to the usual birds at Tramore, Co Waterford; Fen Drayton Lakes, Cambs; and Gonalston, Notts.

White Stork
White Stork, Ferry Meadows CP, Cambridgeshire (Photo: John Saunders)

An adult-type White-tailed Eagle over Ruffside, Durham, on 8th was an excellent local record; unfortunately the Black Kite at Wrentham, Suffolk, was a long-staying escapee rather than an early overshoot. The grey Gyr Falcon was again at Lough Gill, Co Kerry, on 5–6th while, belated news was received of a white morph photographed on Inishbofin, Co Galway, in February — see a photo here.

The only shorebird of note was the Lesser Yellowlegs still on the Rogerstown Estuary, Co Dublin, on 7th.

A now-familiar sight, the Laughing Gull at New Brighton, Cheshire, continued to perform very well throughout the week — as did the second-winter at Ballycotton, Co Cork. A first-winter Bonaparte's Gull was a great find as it showed well at Ferrybridge, Dorset, on 7th, although it wasn't seen subsequently. Adults remained at Cardiff Bay, Glamorgan, and Dawlish Warren, Devon. As many as 12 Ring-billed Gulls were seen in Britain, including at least four in Cornwall: first-winters at Hayle Estuary and Swanpool, and adults at Helston, Marazion and Hayle. Two were again in Hampshire and an adult was on St Mary's, Scilly, on 4–6th. A dozen Irish records included three in Galway City and two in Cork City. Completely out the blue in such an unremarkable winter for the species, a massive count of 72 Iceland Gulls was made from the coast between Port Nis and the Butt of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, on 8th, plus at least 16 still in Stornoway Harbour — this combined count equals the single-site record of 88, made at Stornoway in 2012. The Forster's Tern also remained at Doorus, Co Clare, on 6th.

Laughing Gull
Laughing Gull, New Brighton, Cheshire (Photo: Jamie Sample)

Ring-billed Gull
Ring-billed Gull, Swanpool, Cornwall (Photo: Brian Mellow)

Bonaparte's Gull
Bonaparte's Gull, Cardiff, Glamorgan (Photo: Alan Cripps)

Bonaparte's Gull
Bonaparte's Gull, Portland, Dorset (Photo: Keith Pritchard)

Bonaparte's Gull, Ferrybridge, Dorset (Video: Martin Cade)

Two Richard's Pipits were seen again at Breydon Water, Norfolk, on 5th and 10th. The North Yorkshire bird was still at Cloughton Wyke on 7th with a third again seen at Parton, Cumbria, on 8th. Guernsey also chipped in with a bird at Pleinmont on 8th. All three Black-bellied Dippers were seen this week: the Harpham, E Yorks, bird continued to show well throughout while Shetland's duo — at Skaw, Unst, and Voe, Mainland — were seen on 4th and 7th respectively.

A Yellow-browed Warbler was a great find in Worcestershire at Sedgeberrow sewage works on 6th; it lingered until 10th at least. Another was found at Uffculme sewage works, Devon, on 5th and others continued in the latter county near Plymouth and at Slapton Ley; a Cornish bird remained at Ponsanooth sewage works.

Two Penduline Tits remained at Darts Farm, Devon, all week with the two singing male European Serins evidently enjoying the warm early spring sunshine at Gunners Park throughout. A male House Finch photographed in Tiptree, Essex, on 9th will unlikely be of great interest to many despite its dapper appearance. With no reports of the East Sussex bird this week, just two Little Buntings continued in residence, at Marazion, Cornwall, and Forest Farm, Glamorgan.

Penduline Tit
Penduline Tit, Topsham, Devon (Photo: Jeff Lack)

Western Palearctic news

A Lesser Flamingo at Kulu Lake, Turkey, on 9th is presumably a returning bird, and one wonders whether it's the bird that wintered in Israel. New finds were otherwise scant, although a Dalmatian Pelican at Leczyca, Lódz, Poland, from 8th was just the sixth national record, with the country's third American Golden Plover also belatedly reported from Lódz.

A first-winter American Herring Gull was a great find at Hondarribia in the Basque Country of Spain and strayed into neighbouring France — just across the river — on at least one occasion. In Spain the Thayer's Gull, Pallas's Gull, Brown Shrike and Pygmy Cormorant all remained. Other records included the Hooded Merganser in Iceland, Dark-eyed Junco in the Netherlands, Wallcreeper in Belgium and the Black-winged Kite in northern Italy.

Photo of the Week, 4—10 March

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl, Orford, Suffolk (Photo: John Richardson)

Our Iris galleries are typically filled with great photos of Short-eared Owls during the winter months, writes Steve Young, so it was always going to have to be a special shot to win Photo of the Week.

John Richardson has achieved that with this superb image. As well as being super-sharp, with the wings nicely positioned, John has captured the moment perfectly as the owl turns to look straight at the camera as it flies past — eye contact is always special, but especially when the image is sharp!

John evidently spends a lot of time with these birds; being familiar with their feeding patterns consequently means an understanding of the best times and places to photograph them. A deserved winner: congratulations to John.

Other notable images

Red Grouse
Red Grouse, Grinton, North Yorkshire (Photo: Chris Hawes)

Red-billed Tropicbird
Red-billed Tropicbird, Cape Verde (Photo: Dave Barnes)

Hen Harrier
Hen Harrier, Venus Pool NR, Shropshire (Photo: Tony Webb)

Mandarin Duck
Mandarin Duck, Hartlepool, Cleveland (Photo: Renton Charman)

Ptarmigan, Cairn Gorm, Highland (Photo: Marcus Conway - ebirder)

Little Gull
Little Gull, Cardiff Bay, Glamorgan (Photo: Peter Howlett)

Andean Cock-of-the-rock
Andean Cock-of-the-rock, Colombia (Photo: Tony Stewart)

Starling, Nosterfield Quarry, North Yorkshire (Photo: Antony Ward)

Yellowhammer, Lossie Estuary, Moray & Nairn (Photo: David main)

Lilac-breasted Roller
Lilac-breasted Roller, Kenya (Photo: Paul Davison)

Long-tailed Duck
Long-tailed Duck, Crosby Marine Park, Lancashire (Photo: Pete kinsella)

Purple Sandpiper
Purple Sandpiper, Westward Ho!, Devon (Photo: Rob Cross)