An exciting week with a scything Arctic blast delivering winter with a vengeance for many parts of the country. Several quality rarities and excellent seawatching for those hardy enough to face the elements ensured there was something for everyone.
Bird of the week was a juvenile Thayer's Gull at THE gull mecca of Killybegs in Donegal on 2nd February. Although Thayer's Gulls are not everyone's cup of tea, this bird adds a little more to the evolving jigsaw involving a handful of records in Northwest Europe. Treated by some authorities as a full species, but by others as a dark-winged subspecies of Iceland Gull, these birds are the territory of Larid-addicts. Thayer's Gulls breed as close as northwest Greenland and the Arctic Islands of northeast Canada, so everyone accepts that they can, and do, occur, but identification can be a tricky issue.
A Killdeer in Cork Harbour was an excellent find and is the 3rd bird of the winter, though perhaps they are all one and the same? A white Gyr Falcon over Rame Head (Cornwall) on 31st January must have been a fine sight, before it disappeared from view, but there have been no further reports. A new arrival, or the reappearance of the bird seen earlier in the winter in Cornwall? Back to gulls and a 1st-winter American Herring Gull was reported from Swansea (Glamorgan) on the 30th, but not since. Mainland records are still extremely rare and a lingering bird would prove popular. On Shetland an Arctic Redpoll at Sumburgh on 5th was in keeping with the weather for a species which has been scarce of late, but who can forget the amazing influx of 1995/96?
Raging Arctic northerlies at the beginning of the week always threatened to deliver Little Auks, and east-coast seawatchers were not to be disappointed. A handful of birds of the 30th, together with 200 seen off Durham, hinted at the prospect of a flood once the winds had abated. And so it was, for those fortunate enough to be able to reach the northeast coast through the snowdrifts on the 31st as these fantastic auks poured north through towering seas under lighter winds. As always, Flamborough Head (E. Yorks) eclipsed the seabird tallies of other sites, with a superb 9,822 passing the headland reorientating themselves northwards. Further north, 1,350 passed Hartlepool Headland (Cleveland), 1,260 past Whitburn (Durham) and 1,350 whirred their way past Hauxley (Northumberland), though many east coast sites from Flamborough northwards notched up counts in the hundreds. The fall-out from this movement continued to be witnessed over the following days with a handful of birds seen off many North Sea sites. As would be expected there was very little associated with this movement, though a White-billed Diver was reported off Lothian. The only other notable seabird was a Sooty Shearwater off Portland (Dorset).
In Bucks the male Two-barred Crossbill was again present through the week, whilst the Long-billed Dowitcher was seen briefly in Cheshire. A Lesser Scaup was at Vane Farm (Perth), with long-stayers still at several sites and the controversial bird in Derbyshire remained at Swarkestone. Elsewhere, the 'usual suspects' continued to show well for their admirers, whilst a Lesser Whitethroat in West Sussex was an unusual wintering bird and a Garganey was seen in Lincs.