The past few weeks have had a distinct feeling that winter is on the way, with the BirdGuides sightings pages dominated by sightings of Waxwings and wildfowl. Nevertheless, it felt like the last knockings of autumn migration still had a surprise or two in store during the last seven days.
It didn't take long for the week to get off to a running start, with a juvenile Little Crake photographed at Linford Lakes, Buckinghamshire, on 6th. A county first, it is the first twitchable record since a one-day bird at Blacktoft Sands RSPB, East Yorkshire, in 2019, with the last multi-dayer one at Minsmere, Suffolk, in 2014. However, recent years have seen a small number of birds hold territory in the Cambridgeshire fens, with females in 2018 and 2020 followed by a singing male in 2023. These resided just 60 km ENE of Linford Lakes – is it possible, therefore, that this latest individual is British born? Efforts of local birders allowed this usually permit-only site to be opened up to the masses on three dates this week, although access is likely to be restricted to permit holders going forward.
The best-ever autumn for Nearctic passerines in Britain and Ireland proved it had gas left in the tank too, with a Cape May Warbler found mere minutes after the finder, Scott Reid, arrived on Bryher on 10th. Cape May has undergone a meteoric rise in terms of records in recent years and it is the third Western Palearctic record of 2023, with nine from an overall total of 11 having occurred since 2019. It is likely that this is in part linked a recent population boom, perhaps prompted by a concurrent outbreak of Spruce Budworm moth (more on that in the December issue of Birdwatch magazine).
Other megas from across the pond included a first-winter male Rose-breasted Grosbeak photographed in a garden at Skibbereen, Co Cork, on 4th, and late news of a Baltimore Oriole in a west Fife garden in mid-October.
It would take something big to top this desirable Nearctic warbler, yet the momentous find of a drake Canvasback at Abberton Reservoir, Essex, from 11th did just that. On paper, it is the eighth British record, yet it would seem likely that the previous seven, which all occurred between 1996 and 2002, relate to no more than two returning birds. The first for 21 years meant it was always likely to be popular, with a large crowd gathering at the Essex reservoir on 12th. The bird was initially somewhat elusive, before eventually showing nicely from the Layer Breton causeway at lunchtime. There is only one accepted Western Palearctic record away from Britain – a first-winter female shot in Iceland in April 1977.
Northern Irish birders, meanwhile, were treated to a female-type Bufflehead at Corbally Road Reservoir, Co Antrim, from 9th. A drake Blue-winged Teal was new at Berry Fen, Cambridgeshire, on 5-6th, with one still in East Yorkshire, and Green-winged Teal and American Wigeon totalled seven and 10 respectively.
Three new Lesser Scaup included two on RSPB reserves. This week, birds were at Lochwinnoch RSPB, Clyde, South Uist, Outer Hebrides, and Portmore Lough RSPB, Co Antrim, joining lingering individuals in Devon, Cornwall, Co Donegal and Co Antrim. Ferruginous Duck remained in Dorset and Cambridgeshire and four of 11 Ring-necked Duck resided in Somerset. Lewis, Outer Hebrides, kept onto its young drake King Eider; Surf Scoter were at seven sites.
Norfolk's Red-breasted Goose tally increased to two, with an adult joining last week's juvenile with Dark-bellied Brents on the north coast. Lingering birds were in Northumberland and Moray. Elsewhere at least one Richardson's Cackling Goose was still on Islay, Argyll, and three Todd's Canada Geese were at different sites. Snow Geese numbered five.
Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire, hosted a popular juvenile White-rumped Sandpiper from 6th, with another at Lacken Strand, Co Mayo, the following day. East Yorkshire bagged a young Lesser Yellowlegs at Swine Moor from 10th. The Suffolk bird continued at Southwold, lingering Long-billed Dowitchers were in Norfolk and East Sussex, and American Golden Plovers numbered 10.
A late-season find on Fair Isle comprised a first-winter Brown Shrike on 8th. It is only the fourth for island after birds in 2000, 2019 and 2020. A Little Bunting on Tory Island, Co Donegal, was notable, with others on St Mary's, Scilly (two), and Lerwick, Mainland Shetland. Other totals included two Red-flanked Bluetails, two Richard's Pipits and a Red-breasted Flycatcher in Devon. All of the week's Shore Larks were along the east coast.
Elgin, Moray, looks to be the epicentre of 2023's Waxwing arrival, with a bumper flock containing an incredible 1,000 on 9th – 2012 was the last year a single flock reached four figures. Birds continue to move further south and west across Britain and Ireland, with one at Streatley, Berkshire, the closest to London.
Two Eurasian Penduline Tits were along the Lee Valley north of London on 10th: at Fisher's Green NR, Essex, and Rye Meads RSPB, Hertfordshire. Interestingly, the latter was caught at dusk during a scheduled session at a Reed Bunting roost, which led to it being roosted overnight in accordance with BTO ringing welfare rules. A striking adult male was at How Hill, Norfolk, on 11th.
Five Great Grey Shrikes included a new bird in Dorset and two keeping close company at Dalnahaitnach, Highland. A European Serin was in Kent, with a long-staying Wryneck still on Skokholm, Pembrokeshire, three Hoopoes, and a Rosy Starling on Yell, Shetland. Also in Shetland was a single Coues's Arctic Redpoll and two Northern Treecreepers.
Three Pallas's Warblers included two at Portland, Dorset, with Dusky Warblers in Essex and Shetland. Notable Barred Warblers were at Tophill Low, East Yorkshire, and Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB, Cheshire. There was a report of 12 probable Parrot Crossbills over St Cyrus, Aberdeenshire, on 9th. Pallid Swifts were over Winterton-on-Sea, Norfolk, Boulmer, Northumberland, and Crail, Fife, with further probables in Aberdeenshire (two) and Highland.
A couple of Pallid Harrier were in Norfolk: a ringtail south past Happisburgh on 11th and the second-winter female still near Warham Greens. The Rough-legged Buzzard continued at Stone Creek, East Yorkshire, and a Purple Heron was again in Gloucestershire on 6th.
In West Yorkshire, an astounding Leach's Storm Petrel record saw one located at St Aidan's RSPB later fly north-west over a Bardsey garden. Most coastal records came from southern England, alongside smaller numbers of Sabine's Gulls. A White-billed Diver was in Shetland and 15 Grey Phalaropes were reported.
Remarkably for November, Great Shearwater continues to be recorded in numbers in the South-West Approaches, with a high count of 413 off Pendeen, Cornwall, on 12th. An albatross species – probably Black-browed – flew leisurely west past Lizard Point, Cornwall, on 8th. An adult Bonaparte's Gull over Goldhanger on 11th is just the third Essex record and a juvenile White-winged Tern continued at Ballin Lough, Co Cork.
Recent days have seen France bear the brunt of Storms Ciarán and Domingos, with winds of up to 190 kph slamming into the northern tip of the French Atlantic coast. This played havoc with seabirds in the Bay of Biscay, including the biggest-ever influx of Leach's Storm Petrels – including an amazing 75 inland at Lac de Grand-Lieu near Nantes – as well as hundreds of Grey Phalaropes, Sabine's Gulls and Long-tailed Skuas. An unbelievable seawatch off Quiberon, Brittany, on 4th produced a South Polar Skua and at least one Black-browed Albatross.
Several birds weren't so lucky, with two Barolo Shearwaters and two Madeiran Storm Petrels found among a string of tideline corpses. Incredibly, another Madeiran Storm Petrel was found dead in a garden at Saint-Michel-de-Bannières – more than 225 km inland from the French coast. An exhausted immature South Polar Skua taken into care on Jersey, Channel Islands, on 6th. The most unexpected 'lost' seabird, however, concerned a Wilson's Storm Petrel found exhausted in a supermarket car park at Hanušovice, Czech Republic, on 6th. This incredible national first is 1,400 km from the Atlantic Ocean, with the closest patch of coastline on the Baltic Sea still 450 km away.
Wilson´s Storm-Petrel, Oceanites oceanicus found exhausted, (died later) at Hanusovice, Sumperk district - the 1st record for Czech Republic pic.twitter.com/a4nJYu7tiX— Tarsiger (@TarsigerTeam) November 6, 2023
The major Waxwing irruption reached Spain, with a first-winter male at A Coruña, Galicia, becoming only the 18th national record. The first Blackpoll Warbler for Spain and the Canary Islands, meanwhile, was an excellent find in a mistnet on Fuerteventura, on 12th, with the Sudan Golden Sparrow still on Gran Canaria. A South Polar Skua flew past Porto de Peniche, Portugal, on 5th and a Great Blue Heron was still on Terceira, Azores, with the White-faced Whistling Duck still on Sal, Cape Verde.
A run of finds in Finland included a Pallid Swift at Hanko and Eastern Black Redstart at Utö, the fourth and fifth national records respectively. In the early run up to Christmas it was a Dusky Thrush paying Santa a visit, found at Ivalo, Lapland, on 3rd. Two Caspian Stonechats were in Norway; a juvenile Pacific Diver off Öland is a second for Sweden. In Denmark, the lingering Blyth's Pipit was trapped and ringed, the Northern Harrier lingered and a returning Stejneger's Scoter was off Mellbystrand.
Two Ross's Geese remained near Bruges, Belgium, and a drake Lesser Scaup reached the Netherlands at Marken on 8th. An unlikely 'mega' saw two Greenland White-fronted Geese reach central France at Rillé. Elsewhere, a Spotted Sandpiper was near Geneva, Switzerland, and an Oriental Turtle Dove was in Turkey, with a Western Cattle Egret in Lithuania becoming only the country's fourth record.