Winter, it appears, has finally arrived, with snowfall gripping many parts of Britain and Ireland. There is nothing quite like an icy blast to shake things up in terms of winter birding, as birds move around in search of food and safe harbour. Providing a near-guaranteed food supply, gardens with accompanying bird feeders can prove especially popular at this time of year – might a rare garden visitor or two be discovered in the coming days?
In the meantime, the momentous discovery of Britain's first Stejneger's Scoter made for quite a spectacle off Gullane Point, Lothian, on 10-11th. The species, split from White-winged Scoter as recently as 2019, is a long-awaited addition to the British list, with a number of other north-west European records. In recent weeks, a small influx into the Baltic has produced no fewer than three in Poland and one in Latvia, while another was in Sweden. The species has also been recorded in Ireland on one previous occasion – a drake at Rossbeigh, Co Kerry, from February-April 2011. A previous British claim off Musselburgh on 26 December 2013 – just a short distance away from the current bird – was later deemed inconclusive off the distant images taken. While a certain football fixture and inclement weather conditions likely put off the masses from south of the border from making the trip on Sunday, it will be sure to prove popular if it lingers among the wintering Velvet Scoter flocks over the coming weeks.
Amazingly, the week's second-best find resided just 10 km to the south. A male Black-throated Thrush was in a Haddington garden from 9th, becoming the county's second record. A possible Dusky Thrush was reported at nearby Roslin the previous day too. Is a bumper winter for vagrant thrushes on the cards?
Fittingly, a small scattering of Arctic Redpolls appeared during the week's cold blast. First up was a Coues's photographed in a Grays, Essex, garden from 4th, with a brief bird at Gibraltar Point NNR, Lincolnshire, on 5th. A probable was a;sp at Deerness, Mainland Orkney, on 10th.
Another week and another landlocked Red-flanked Bluetail. This time it was Nottinghamshire's turn to enjoy a county first, in woodland on the edge of Gotham on 9th (but not again). Northumberland was treated to a new Hume's Leaf Warbler at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea on 10th. Amazingly, it was sharing a tree with a Pallas's Warbler! Other Hume's Leaf Warblers remained at Low Newton-by-the-Sea and Brancaster, Norfolk.
The hoped-for major arrival of Waxwings looks likely to end in disappointment, with only small numbers arriving this week despite the cold snap. Nevertheless, more than 40 sites boasted these technicolour beauties and Northern Ireland got in on the action, with two at Bangor, Co Down.
Far less expected for December were a pair of apparently wintering summer passerines – a Willow Warbler at Holes Bay, Dorset, and a Northern Wheatear at Walthamstow Wetlands, London. Hickling Broad, Norfolk boasted a Eurasian Penduline Tit on 11th and a European Serin was at Sennen, Cornwall.
This unseasonal Northern Wheatear on Lockwood Reservoir @E17Wetlands means we've now had the species on site in 10 months of the year. January and February could be tricky though. #londonbirds pic.twitter.com/s5fDFwSbS7— Chris Farthing (@Chris_Farthing) December 2, 2022
The Dusky Warbler at Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire, continued for another week, with at least three still in Scilly. A presumed Siberian Lesser Whitethroat was at Hill Head, Hampshire; 11 Yellow-browed Warblers were in western areas of England and Wales.
Up to 12 Shore Lark continued to prove popular at Holkham Gap, Norfolk, while three were again at Beacon Ponds, East Yorkshire. The Eastern Yellow Wagtail persisted at Loch of Wester, Caithness, throughout, a Richard's Pipit was at Chat Moss, Greater Manchester, on 4-5th, and Little Buntings were in Surrey, Cornwall and Shetland. Five Great Grey Shrike included new birds in East Yorkshire, Powys and Caithness. Unfortunately, the White-throated Sparrow at Northwich, Cheshire, wasn't noted after Sunday.
A Ruddy Duck keeping close company with a Ring-necked Duck at Cross Lough, Co Mayo, from 7th. It could be argued that the bird, likely a first-winter, is perhaps the best candidate for a potential transatlantic vagrant ever recorded in Britain and Ireland and is the first for Co Mayo to boot. It certainly couldn't be better placed on the far north-west coast of Ireland, with a supporting cast of two Bufflehead and a Hooded Merganser in the county in recent weeks. However, confirming its origins without a ring are nigh on impossible and a wanderer from the decreasing feral population in Europe is just as likely.
Lingering on The Mullet was a Richardson's Cackling Goose, while the adult drake Hooded Merganser continued along the coast to the south near Rosduane. Four Ferruginous Duck comprised three again in the Norfolk Broads and a female still at Aqualate Park, Staffordshire. Two Lesser Scaup remained – at Dunfanaghy New Lake, Co Donegal, and West Loch Ollay, South Uist – with Ring-necked Duck at 22 sites. A juvenile drake Surf Scoter was off St Austell, Cornwall, with adult drakes off both Benbecula, Outer Hebrides, and Brandon Bay, Co Kerry. The drake King Eider was still off Redcar, Cleveland. A small influx of Smew was noted, as were three American Wigeon and 16 Green-winged Teal.
Cumbria hosted a Todd's Canada Goose at Cardurnock on 10-11th. At least three Richardson's Cackling Geese were again recorded – at Kilmichael, Argyll, Balranald, North Uist, and Cross Lough, Co Mayo. Black Brant were in Essex, Dorset and Hampshire. A white-morph adult Snow Goose was a superb find from a moving vehicle on the A74(M) at Gretna Green, Dumfries and Galloway, on 6th. Thankfully, it was viewable from the neighbouring B-road too – and was there again on 7th. Away from Slamannan, Forth, Taiga Bean Geese comprised four in Shetland and two at Embleton, Northumberland.
An adult Arctic Skua caused a stir at St Aidan's RSPB, West Yorkshire, from 5th, being an unusual site so far inland and especially at this time of year. It or another flew south-east over Adwick Washlands RSPB, South Yorkshire, mid-week. The sole Long-tailed Skua was off Spurn, East Yorkshire. Northerly winds produced a small push of Little Auks into the North Sea as far south as Essex.
All four of this week's Ring-billed Gulls were adults, with new birds in Dorset at Longham Lakes and in Co Cork at Ring. Bonaparte's Gulls were at both Hartlepool Headland, Cleveland (on 10th), and Ballygalley, Co Antrim. Co Galway's reliable Forster's Tern was again off the county town on 10th, with the Double-crested Cormorant at Doon Lough, Co Leitrim, reported for the first time since late November. Glaucous and Iceland Gulls were at a pitiful nine sites apiece.
The best of the week's coastal action didn't involve a seabird at all. Remarkably, Britain's third Walrus in just two years was at Pagham Harbour, West Sussex, on 10th, before moving to Calshot, Hampshire, the following day. After its first appearance in The Netherlands in early October, it wandered the north French coast as far as Brittany before crossing the Channel to West Sussex.
A new Spotted Sandpiper was at Clachan-Seil, Argyll, on 6th, with one remaining at Hanningfield Reservoir, Essex. The first-winter Long-billed Dowitcher held on at Titchwell RSPB, Norfolk, as did the Kentish Plover at Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset. Joining European Golden Plover flocks were juvenile American Golden Plovers at Bannow Bay, Co Wexford, and Loch Paible, North Uist, with a Eurasian Dotterel still at Lydd, Kent. A popular Grey Phalarope frequented an increasingly icy Isleham Washes, Cambridgeshire, until it froze over completely, with others at two coastal sites.
A Rough-legged Buzzard at Cheswick Sands, Northumberland, proved a brief visitor; another was again at Dounby, Mainland Orkney. The young Pallid Harrier lingered at Warham Greens, Norfolk, too, while Glossy Ibis at 13 sites included a trio in Co Wexford and birds as far north as Lancashire and Cleveland.
Notable Norwegian news concerned an American Buff-bellied Pipit at Hvasser from 5th and a second-winter American Herring Gull at Ålesund on 11th, while a wayward Black-throated Thrush pitched down in the Arctic on Svalbard. A male Eastern Black Redstart was at Vestbygd, with Estonia's second at Kuressaare.
Sweden's third Siberian Rubythroat – a male – was at Årby on 7-8th. Amazingly, it was found roosting in a hole underneath a frozen hay bale! A returning Stejneger's Scoter was off Båstad, Lund hosted a Blue-winged Teal and a Pine Bunting held on at Nordanås. In the Faroe Islands, an adult Ivory Gull at Porkeri, Suðuroy, will have whetted the appetite for a spell of midwinter northerlies.
Last week's Pied-billed Grebe remained on Île de Noirmoutier, France, with a Long-legged Buzzard still at Thibie. Both a White-headed Duck and Pine Bunting continued in Belgium, while a drake Baikal Teal at De Panne will become the country's seventh record if accepted. The Common Yellowthroat at Ticino, Switzerland, was joined by a Pine Bunting on 10th! It was a decent week for extralimital Hume's Leaf Warblers – Austria's first was at Zwettl, while one at Göcek Port was a third for Turkey. A Pallas's Gull was on Malta on 10th.
Spanish birders have enjoyed two Sociable Lapwings in recent weeks – at Añora, Andalucia, and Aiguamolls de l'Empordà, Catalonia. Elsewhere, the long-staying American Herring Gull was still at Lires and the American Black Duck remained at Sada. Israel's third Three-banded Plover was in the Golan Heights; at Eilat, last week's African Crake was released from care on 5th and a Verreaux's Eagle remained at Nahal Atek. A Red-tailed Wheatear was at Luxor, Egypt.