Review of the Week: 4-10 September 2023


By the time September rolls around, birders' thoughts begin to entertain thoughts of far-off vagrants from eastern Asia and North America. A recent flurry of American Cliff Swallow records in Iceland meant focus this year was on westerly arrivals. But, as it transpired, this Nearctic hirundine was nowhere to be found in either Britain or Ireland, although a welcome New World warbler made an appearance instead.

New World warbler habitat at Ham, Foula (Sam Viles).

News broke late on Wednesday of an American Yellow Warbler on Foula, Shetland. Present in an overgrown yard at Ham, it was only the seventh British record and the third for Shetland (after birds at Helendale, Mainland, in November 1990 and Garths Ness, Mainland, in September 2005). In fact, this sought-after American vagrant has a habit of choosing islands on which to appear, having only been seen once on the British mainland – at Portland, Dorset, on 21 August 2017.

American Yellow Warbler, Foula, Shetland (Donna Atherton).

American Yellow Warbler, Foula, Shetland (Penny Clarke).

Several arriving Nearctic waders added support to the warbler, including a juvenile Baird's Sandpiper on Barra, Outer Hebrides, and four Semipalmated Sandpipers in southern Ireland. Cumbria, Angus and Co Cork all bagged Lesser Yellowlegs, while a juvenile Spotted Sandpiper on Isle of May, Fife, on 6th was the first island record (another Spotted was in Glamorgan on 10th). Buff-breasted Sandpiper totals reached 14, with other tallies consisting of 10 American Golden Plovers and two Long-billed Dowitchers. The Caithness Wilson's Phalarope just made it into the review period.

Semipalmated Sandpiper (right) with Dunlin, Owenahincha, Cork (Richard Mills).

Lesser Yellowlegs, Port Carlisle, Cumbria (Roger Ridley).

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly (Kris Webb).

Britain's first Sharp-tailed Sandpiper since 2012 was a brilliant find at Montrose Basin, Angus, on Sunday afternoon and will undoubtedly prove popular if it lingers. Elsewhere, Kentish Plovers were in Cornwall and Co Wexford, with the Greater Sand Plover last noted at The Cull, Co Wexford, on 4th. Four Temminck's Stints made an appearance, as did 19 Pectoral Sandpipers, 14 Eurasian Dotterels, two Red-necked Phalaropes and the Kent Eurasian Stone-curlew.

Pectoral Sandpiper, Sandymount, Dublin (John Murphy).

Red-necked Phalarope, North Cave Wetlands YWT, East Yorkshire (Chris Teague).

Causing quite a splash in the North Sea were at least two Brown Boobies. The adult female logged off Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire, at the end of last week lingered in the vicinity of Filey, North Yorkshire, on 4-5th and attracted quite a crowd, with a brief foray as far north as Whitby. On 6th it was action stations for north-east seawatchers, as it was tracked heading north past Long Nab early morning, before passing Cowbar, Cleveland, just over an hour later. Reports at this point became more confused, with at least some claims from coastal headlands apparently relating to an immature Northern Gannet, but the bird eventually settled on the River Tees off South Gare later that day, where it would remain until the end of the week. Flirting with the Durham-North Yorkshire border, which runs down the middle of the river, made it a nervous wait for some county listers. A few enterprising local boatmen even offered birders and photographers the opportunity for a more close-up view for the reasonable price of £10 per person.

Brown Booby, South Gare, Cleveland (Paul Coombes).

Brown Booby, Seal Sands, Cleveland (Bob Howe).

The Scottish Brown Booby was again around the head of the Firth of Forth on 5-6th, with most sightings hailing from between Pettycur, Fife, and Cramond, Lothian. Unconfirmed sightings followed from the Moray Firth: Lossiemouth, Moray and Nairn, on 9th and Tarbat Ness, Highland, on 10th. Completing the booby hat-trick was the settled immature Red-footed Booby on Bishop Rock, Scilly, throughout.

Brown Booby, Teesmouth, Cleveland (Colin Bradshaw).

Cory's Shearwaters continued to mass in south-western areas, with high counts of 2,346 off Cape Clear, Co Cork, and 2,000 off Lizard Point, Cornwall, on 4th. However, this paled in comparison to simply incredible Great Shearwater tallies. A stunning 11,800 flew past Annagh Head, Co Mayo, in six hours on 10th, while one was enjoyed by Migfest visitors off Kilnsea, East Yorkshire, on 8th.

Great Shearwater, Scilly pelagic, Isles of Scilly (Paul Coombes).

Cory's Shearwater, Scilly pelagic, Isles of Scilly (Paul Coombes).

A Fea's/Desertas Petrel was the highlight of a North Ronaldsay, Orkney, seawatch on 5th, although only four Wilson's Storm Petrels was a good indicator that autumn is now here and the 'Wilson's season' is very much drawing to a close. Juvenile Long-tailed Skuas made their way along the North Sea coast, passing more than 10 sites between Fife and Norfolk. Elsewhere were 13 Sabine's Gulls, while Grey Phalaropes were sighted from ferries to Scilly and Barra.

Action in Ireland saw the adult Azores Gull again at Belmullet, Co Mayo, near-resident Double-crested Cormorant still at Doon Lough, Co Leitrim, and Bonaparte's Gulls in Cos Cork and Dublin. The long-staying Bonaparte's persisted in Kent, with the Forster's Tern again commuting between Brownsea Island and Arne RSPB, Dorset.

Bonaparte's Gull, Dublin, Dublin (Mark Carmody).

One of this week's talking points was a significant fall of migrants in south-west England and Ireland. A combination of light easterlies, warm temperatures and clear skies – as well as fog in central and eastern areas – saw birds overshoot and drop down when the land 'ran out' in these south-westerly locales. Excellent tallies of common migrants such as Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Whinchats and various common warblers were reported from the likes of Scilly, Cornwall and Co Cork, with some impressive counts of scarcities such as Wryneck thrown in for good measure. In fact, Wryneck had a particularly good seven days, with the great majority of the week's 55+ birds in Cornwall and Scilly. Counts from the latter islands included 10 on Bryher on 10th and at least nine on St Mary's, while those reported from Ireland included at least three on Cape Clear.

Numerous rarities were also found as part of this fall, including the 18th and 19th Western Bonelli's Warblers for Ireland in Co Cork, with birds on Cape Clear from 6th and at Three Castles Head on 9th. Another Western Bonelli's was at Porthgwarra, Cornwall, on 5th, while further Bonelli's warblers not identified to species level were at Morvah, Cornwall, and Lundy, Devon. A Booted Warbler at Crookhaven, Co Cork, on 7th was preceded by one at Porth Joke, Cornwall, on 5th.

Western Bonelli's Warbler, Cape Clear, Cork (Steve Wing).

Meanwhile, South-East birders were all aflutter about the second twitchable Aquatic Warbler in as many weeks – at Upper Beeding, West Sussex, on 10th. A surprise Savi's Warbler crept through an asparagus field at Sandwich Bay, Kent, the previous day, while a Greenish Warbler was at Dingle Marshes, Suffolk, and an Arctic Warbler at Exnaboe, Mainland Shetland. A respectable eight Melodious Warblers saw four in Cornwall and three in southern Ireland plus one on Fair Isle, Shetland. Other totals included two Marsh Warblers, four Icterine Warblers and 23 Barred Warblers.

Aquatic Warbler, Upper Beeding, West Sussex (Ed Stubbs).

Barred Warbler, Toab, Mainland, Shetland (Donald Robertson).

An adult Lesser Grey Shrike was a surprise overshoot to the Outer Hebrides at South Galson, Lewis, on 8th. A handful of Woodchat Shrikes were evident, with two in the Isles of Scilly and one on Lundy, Devon. A brief Red-throated Pipit was at Pendeen, Cornwall, with a Greater Short-toed Lark still in Pembrokeshire and no fewer than three Citrine Wagtails. The first Little Bunting of the autumn fed along the roadside at Sumburgh, Mainland Shetland, on 7th, while the summing White-spotted Bluethroat was noted at Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire, for the first time since early July.

Greater Short-toed Lark, Dale, Pembrokeshire (Richard Stonier).

Citrine Wagtail, Marazion, Cornwall (Trevor Williams).

Some 11 Hoopoes included one as far north as Stromness, Mainland Orkney, with 16 Common Rosefinches and 15 Red-backed Shrikes also seen nationally. Six of the week's nine Ortolan Buntings were found in western areas, including an Irish record in Co Donegal. Up to four Rosy Starlings were in Cornwall, with others in Lincolnshire, Devon and Co Cork. European Bee-eaters were in Dorset and Kent, while a Golden Oriole was at Dunnose, Isle of Wight, and a Red-rumped Swallow accompanied gathering Swallows in Dorset.

Common Rosefinch, Bempton Cliffs RSPB, East Yorkshire (Ian Howard).

Red-backed Shrike, Osterley Park, London (Joe Downing).

Pallid Harrier is now an expected feature of September in Britain and this species will surely lose its rarity status in the near future. This week saw birds at Otmoor RSPB, Oxfordshire, Shorwell, Isle of Wight, Cuckmere Haven, East Sussex, and on Mainland Shetland. A female Montagu's Harrier was in Co Cork at Coolmain Head, with perhaps this bird seen previously in Co Waterford. Otherwise, a male Red-footed Falcon flew over Graveney, Kent, on 8th and a Black Kite flew south over Bardsey Island, Gwynedd, on 6th.

Pallid Harrier, Otmoor RSPB, Oxfordshire (John Reynolds).

News of a Black-crowned Night Heron at Ouston, Durham, emerged at the end of the week – a rare county bird. Another proved brief at Worth Marsh RSPB, Kent. A flurry of Purple Herons included a popular juvenile at Lower Quinton, Warwickshire, with a notable three logged over Mizen Head, Co Cork, and an additional youngster in Cornwall. A showy juvenile Spotted Crake at Ogston Reservoir, Derbyshire, was reserved for members of the site's bird club, although views look to more than justify the £12 membership fee. Migrant Corncrake were reported from four sites.

What is presumably Lancashire's regular Todd's Canada Goose made an early appearance among arriving Pink-footed Geese at Marshside RSPB on 10th. The Stejneger's Scoter and King Eider persisted along the Lothian coast and both Blue-winged Teal were back at Tophill Low, East Yorkshire. An American Wigeon was on Islay, Argyll, with a Ferruginous Duck again at Draycote Water, Warwickshire.

Purple Heron, Lower Quinton, Warwickshire (Nick Truby).

Spotted Crake, Ogston Reservoir, Derbyshire (Glyn Sellors).


Western Palearctic

Mega news from the Channel Islands concerned a sprightly juvenile Solitary Sandpiper at Rue des Bergers, Guernsey, from 5th. A startling record from Île-de-Sein off the Brittany, France, coastline involved a male Sudan Golden Sparrow present from 1st. This nomadic bird of the Sahel is typically only recorded in the extreme south of the Western Palearctic but recent weeks have seen an interesting spread of records from southern Spain and Gibraltar. News also came to light this week of one in the Canary Islands at Maspalomas, Gran Canaria, on 30 August. Could it be that this French bird has come all the way from south of the Sahara?

Equally as remarkable was a White-chinned Petrel observed passing a jubilant crowd of observers at Estaca de Bares, Galicia, on 8th among a heavy passage of Cory's Shearwaters. This is only the third for the Western Palearctic, as well as the first for Spain. Spanish news otherwise comprised two Pacific Golden Plovers together in Catalonia and Elegant Terns in Asturias and Andalucia. A Brown Booby boarded a boat approximately 160 km off the coast of Lorient, France.

Solitary Sandpiper, Rue des Bergers NR, Guernsey (Henry Rowe).

A Desertas Petrel was photographed from a research vessel c 160 km south-west of Suðuroy, Faroe Islands, on 8th. It looks set to become the archipelago's first identified to species level, with one previous record of a Fea's-type petrel. The previous day produced a Cory's Shearwater – the archipelago's second after the first as recently in August. At least one American Cliff Swallow was at Keflavík, Iceland, with numbers involved in this autumn's influx to the nation reaching 22.

A run of raptors in Sweden comprised a dark-morph Eleonora's Falcon on Gotland, Lesser Kestrel on Öland and an immature Bonelli's Eagle at Gärdslöv. Finland's first Great Shearwater was an incredible find some 150 km inland at Ukonselkä on 10th. The second Black-winged Kite for Lithuania was at Balninkai, with Slovenia's second Cream-coloured Courser dazzled by torchlight overnight at Logatec on 2nd and a Sociable Lapwing in Poland. Germany hosted a juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at Schkopau on 9th, with an adult at Brekstad, Norway, on 30 August.

A Marsh Sandpiper at Cabo da Praia Quarry, Terceira, on 6th was only the second for the Azores. The same site hosted a bumper flock of 10 American Cliff Swallows on 10th. The White-faced Whistling Duck continued on Sal, Cape Verde, with a Hudsonian Whimbrel also on the island.


Written by: Sam Viles