Review of the Week: 4-10 March 2024


The first full week of March came and went in a flash, with signs of the approaching spring season continuing to crop up. But with several days of chilly north-easterly winds it was never going to a vintage week for an influx of summer visitors – the forecast for the coming days looks much more promising, with a switch to south-westerly winds and much milder temperatures by the end of the working week that will likely mean many more birders scoring their first summer migrants. Nonetheless, the first decent arrival of Northern Wheatears was noted over the weekend, with a typical south-westerly bias to their distribution on show.

Northern Wheatear sightings, 4-10 March 2024 (BirdGuides.com).,

Although spring migrants were starting to appear, it was down to winter staples to provide the bulk of the week's notable bird news. Photos emerged of a particularly dark juvenile Iceland Gull at Stornoway Harbour, Lewis, with plumage features suggesting that it could well be a Thayer's Gull. Given that the Iceland Gull 'superspecies' is essentially one big cline, it could be argued that birders' attempts to draw lines in the sand as to where each of the forms (nominate Iceland, Kumlien's and Thayer's Gulls) start and finish in terms of appearance amount to little more than guesswork and personal taste. In a European context, you'd ideally like to see the darkest and most obvious Thayer's to feel comfortable with the identification and the Lewis bird doesn't fall into that category, instead being quite hoary overall with broad, pale fringing to the primaries and even some hint of 'arrowhead' internal markings at the tips of p6-8 at least. In many respects it is similar to other birds seen in the likes of Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Glamorgan over the past decade. In reality, this is probably best described as 'Thayerish' and confidently putting the thayeri tag on it is possibly unwise given its overall appearance. More positively, perhaps we should just enjoy the bird for what it is – a beautifully dark and striking Iceland Gull – rather than get too bogged down in what label to stick on it.

Thayer's or Kumlien's Gull, Stornoway Harbour, Lewis, Outer Hebrides (Steve Dodd).

Thayer's or Kumlien's Gull, Stornoway Harbour, Lewis, Outer Hebrides (Steve Dodd).

Thayer's or Kumlien's Gull, Stornoway Harbour, Lewis, Outer Hebrides (Robert Wemyss).

The week's other flurry of excitement came from Ireland, where an adult Bald Eagle was finally pinned down in Co Wexford following recent reports of it at large elsewhere in the country. Unsurprisingly, it took a matter of minutes for birders to turn up and confirm the presence of rings, and the eagle was reportedly last seen being chased by a man with a net! Of course, it was always going to be the most likely outcome that this was an escaped pet; you'd ideally want a juvenile to turn up at the very least for any hope of it being a wild bird.

Bald Eagle in Co Wexford (via Facebook).

Other mega news concerned the Myrtle Warbler, which put in another week at its favoured garden in Kilwinning, Ayrshire, as well as the resident Double-crested Cormorant, which was reported again from Doon Lough, Co Leitrim.

Wildfowl again dominated the headlines, with the Bufflehead back at Lough Sheelin, Co Westmeath, for the first time in 10 days on 10th. A drake Lesser Scaup was new at Bracklagh Lough, Co Cavan, on 9th and the Cheshire bird was back at Woolston Eyes NR for the first time in a fortnight on 5th. Five were still at Abberton Reservoir, Essex, early in the week, with two still in Lancashire and five singletons dotted around. Ring-necked Duck numbers remained in the low twenties, with a peak of four at Shapwick Heath NNR, Somerset, and the Ferruginous Duck was still in Hampshire on 4th.

Ring-necked Duck, Milngavie, Clyde (Helen Falconer).

The good run of Green-winged Teal continued with four new birds among the 18 seen this week, while the six American Wigeon were all in northern England or Scotland. Co Mayo's American Black Duck was still alive and well on The Mullet. Garganey were reported from 10 sites nationally. Scarce seaduck included five Surf Scoter, one of which was a new male at Crookhaven, Co Cork, and lingering King Eider in Lothian and Shetland. Multiple Red-breasted Geese continued to given birders the runaround in both Norfolk and Essex, a white-morph Snow Goose was in Highland and Cackling Geese were in Co Sligo and on Islay, Argyll. The Pacific Diver was seen again at Crookhaven for the first time since early November 2023.

Also in Co Cork, the Northern Harrier was seen again at Ballyvergan Marsh on 10th. It remains to be seen if this is the bird previously present in Co Mayo and Co Wexford. Three Pallid Harriers were again noted, with the Glamorgan bird still touring the Gower and the Norfolk female noted at Warham Greens and Little Walsingham. The juvenile flying over East Newton, East Yorkshire, is presumably that previously seen in north Lincolnshire and at Spurn. North Norfolk continued to play host to the Dutch-ringed White-tailed Eagle, which was seen between Wells-next-the-Sea and Salthouse. A Rough-legged Buzzard was reported over Ipswich, Suffolk, on 9th, with a juvenile still at Rosedale Abbey, North Yorkshire, throughout.

White-tailed Eagle, Glandford, Norfolk (Les Bunyan).

The Gull-billed Tern lingered at Kilkeran Lake, Co Cork, for another week – presumably this is the bird seen here last July. Early spring often produces a run of Bonaparte's Gulls and an adult in the River Lugg valley east of Hereford, Herefordshire, on 8th was right on cue. Eight Ring-billed Gulls included a new first-winter at West Angle Bay, Pembrokeshire, on 6th. The triumvirate of Long-billed Dowitchers were still around, as were Lesser Yellowlegs in Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire and the Kentish Plover in Somerset.

Gull-billed Tern, Kilkeran Lake, Cork (Richard Mills).

Evidence that it's not worth giving up on your local cover crops just yet came with news of a Rustic Bunting and at least one Coues's Arctic Redpoll near West Raynham, Norfolk. The Little Bunting was still at Godmersham, Kent, to at least 9th. A European Serin flew over Pendeen, Cornwall, on 9th. Only three Great Grey Shrikes could be found this week, but each was popular with birders – the bird at Wareham Forest, Dorset, appears to have shown particularly well. In Cumbria, the Richard's Pipit continued at Ulverston and Yellow-browed Warblers were in Cornwall and Dorset.

Great Grey Shrike, Wareham Forest, Dorset (John Wall).


Western Palearctic

There were some terrific finds in the south of the WP this week, not least the region's first Grasshopper Buzzard at Nouadhibou, Mauritania, on 8th. Also discovered in this area was an Abyssinian Roller (one was also here in early 2018) and at least three Red-billed Firefinches.

Grasshopper Buzzard, Nouadhibou, Mauritania (Zbigniew Kajzer).

Although the species has become more regular in the WP in recent years, the identification of a Lesser Moorhen on Corsica made for major news. Found on 6th, it was still there on 10th at least, thus constituting a realistic twitch for the keen regional listers out there.

At least one Black-capped Petrel was again noted off Santo Antão, Cape Verde, this week, while the male Sudan Golden Sparrow continued on Gran Canaria, Canary Islands. Good numbers of Nearctic waterbirds in the Azores included a new female Wood Duck on Pico.

A first-winter American Herring Gull was a new find in north-west Spain, while the long-staying Forster's Tern continued in Brittany, France. News from the Low Countries concerned the pair of Ross's Geese on the move, leaving the Belgian fields where they'd spent much of the past few months and relocating north-east to the northern shores of IJsselmeer, the Netherlands, on 10th. In Germany, the Sandhill Crane was still at Wulfersdorf on 6th.

Written by: Josh Jones

Josh Jones manages BirdGuides.com and is Editor of Birdwatch magazine. He is an avid birder and keen all-round naturalist. Follow him on Twitter: @jrmjones