Review of the Week: 5th-11th April 2002


It was inevitable that after the amazing events of the last few weeks there would be a reminder that it is only the beginning of April after all. Cool easterly and northeasterly winds originating from a stationary high-pressure system over northwest Europe coupled with plenty of blocking depressions across Europe were all that were needed to slow down the pace of the 'game'. The forecasts held little promise of rarities, and for once predictions matched the forecasts as we were left to enjoy the early spring sunshine and little else on our local patches.

As is often the case, despite the weather, there were several good birds around during the week, but migrants were thin on the ground and in many areas summer visitors are still somewhat scarce. Bird of the week perhaps goes to a Subalpine Warbler trapped on North Ronaldsay (Orkney). Not that Subalpine Warblers are that rare, with as many as 30 recorded on an annual basis. The clamour amongst modern birders to assign birds to forms, combined with regular taxonomic shuffling, will draw a lot of attention to records of this beautiful Sylvia warbler in the coming weeks and months. Subalpine Warblers are excellent fodder for the 'splitters' as it is widely accepted that there are three forms of Subalpine Warbler: Western, Eastern and Moltoni's. Of all previous British and Irish records few have been assigned to form, but most are thought to be Western birds, whilst a couple of recent birds have been thought to be Eastern and several birds in 1993 were published as birds of this form. There has not yet been a published British or Irish record of Moltoni's, though one was identified in Belgium last Spring and at least one of the previous records is now thought to have perhaps been of this form, which gives a characteristic rattling call. So there you have it, the taxonomic clock is ticking, and never will a Subalpine Warbler be just that, so what was regarded as one is considered by many to be three. Oh, and by the way, the Orkney bird was a Western!

Of the other rarities, Alpine Swifts in Kent and Scilly were to be expected, as were a couple of Night Herons in Cornwall. A drake King Eider was a good find in Argyll (what else lurks in the underwatched coastline of Western Scotland?), a Lesser Yellowlegs was in Cork and a Purple Heron was seen briefly in Glamorgan. An adult Pacific Golden Plover on South Uist (Outer Hebrides) was presumably the same bird as the one there in October and early November last year. In East Yorkshire, the Red-rumped Swallow has made a return visit to Hull and has been showing well all week. The first Pomarine Skua of the spring passed Hampshire early this week and seawatchers will be gearing themselves up for the coming spring skua passage at many headlands. Always eagerly sought, as many as a dozen Hoopoes have been found during the week.

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Two Gyrs have been seen during the week, with white morph birds on St. Kilda and Orkney, though neither could be shared with the masses. In Wexford, the first twitchable Irish Great Spotted Cuckoo since 1975 remains, kindly allowing all interested parties the opportunity to travel and see this splendid bird. Elsewhere, the Snowy Egret in Argyll is clearly delighted with Balvicar and can be found doing what it does best; paddling around the creeks near the golf course. Long-staying waders include the Long-billed Dowitcher, which remains in Belfast, whilst the Dotterel can still be seen in Cheshire.

As announced recently, BirdGuides is pleased that we are sponsoring The Immigration of Lepidoptera web site during 2002. We appreciate that many birders are interested in the broader aspects of natural history and the site has moved to the new domain of http://www.migrantmoth.com. On the page you will find the very latest news on lepidopteral migration in Britain and Ireland, including: daily lists of species and numbers recorded (sorted by date of sighting, or by Bradley and Fletcher number); actual photographs of the scarcer species taken this year; archive records and photos dating back to 1999; and a guide to identifying migrant species (the site will eventually include a description and image of every species of suspected immigrant or importation taken in the British Isles). We shall be featuring monthly reviews on Bird News Extra.

Written by: Russell Slack, BirdGuides