Review of the Week: 6th-12th December 2007


The week at a glance

Great Blue Heron, St. Mary's, Scilly (Photo: Danni Borrett)

Great Blue Heron, St. Mary's, Scilly (Photo: Martin Goodey)

Modern birding history confirms that December really isn't a month in which you should expect the unexpected. Over the past 40 or so years, there have been (perhaps unsurprisingly) just a handful of species that have managed to enter the record books as (the holy grail of bird watching) a "first" for the country during December. It happened in 1963, with the finding of a Pied-billed Grebe in Somerset. It happened again with Britain's first Desert Warbler, in Dorset, in 1970 and then with Greater Sand Plover, in West Sussex, in 1978 and Canvasback, in Kent, in 1996. Then, last year, came the incredible news of Britain's first Glaucous-winged Gull in Gloucestershire. Not a massive return for a period of four decades or so...but now, the tally can again rise by one, with the discovery of Britain and Ireland's first Great Blue Heron, around the Lower Moors area of St. Mary's (Scilly) on 7th. One of the most predicted, long awaited, British "firsts", the rather showy first-winter bird (occasionally seen in the company of two Grey Herons) obliged all the islands' fifteen or so resident birders during the afternoon and early evening, and was last seen at dusk, and appeared settled. However, those travelling souls braving the increasingly stormy conditions over the following two days were to be severely disappointed - the raging WNW winds (gusts of over 80mph were recorded) and driving rain appear to have convinced the transatlantic vagrant to depart somewhat earlier than many had expected. Perhaps the bird may still be lurking somewhere around the archipelago, or more likely (given the wind direction) may have been blown yet further over the Atlantic and on towards northern France. Wherever it may be now, it was a magnificent find, and an outstanding reward for hard-working, and extremely diligent, local patch birders. The enjoyment may have been made a little sweeter still by the fact that the "cheque-book" birding fraternity, just for once, missed out - for now at least. It's almost a decade since the last "first" on (rather than around) the islands - the Short-toed Eagle in October 1999 - and all those who have written off the power of Scilly will have to think again. And quite whether the Great Blue will "do a Glaucous-winged" is something that only time will tell. After all that excitement, everything else may seem rather mundane, but there's nothing mundane about the continued presence of the adult Pacific Diver that reappeared in Mount's Bay, near Penzance (Cornwall) on 10th (having last been reported there on 29th November). A probable Pacific Diver was seen in St. Austell Bay (Cornwall) for half an hour on 10th, before drifting east. At least 10 Black-throated Divers were present to offer some decent comparison too. In County Cork, the American Buff-bellied Pipit was again at Red Barn Strand, near Youghal, on 10th, but that species wasn't the one causing turmoil at the site during the week! In County Down, the drake Barrow's Goldeneye remained at Quoile Pondage to at least the 9th. Aside from the Great Blue Heron, the week's other major talking point surrounded the true identity of the putative Thayer's Gull or dark-winged Kumlien's Gull around Dix Pit, Stanton Harcourt (Oxon) from 6th-8th. This fascinating (and rather beautiful) juvenile gull also headed to the roost at Farmoor Reservoir on 7th, and discussion and debate has raged as to the potential identity of the bird. The smart money still favours a dark-winged Kumlien's, though there are those still hankering for the much rarer option. Others have been keen to explore alternative hybrid options and a mass of bandwidth has been taken up as "gullers", birders and listers alike try to make sense of it all. Possibly the same bird was seen at Ogston Reservoir (Derbyshire) and Draycote Water (Warks) on 9th and 12th respectively.

Kumlien's Gull, Dix Pit, Oxon (Photo: Nic Hallam)

Grey Phalarope, Abberton Reservoir, Essex (Photo: Sean Nixon)

Three Balearic Shearwaters were noted, including two singles from Portland Bill (Dorset) on 7th and 9th. Another passed Pendeen Watch (Cornwall) on 7th. Around 36 Pomarine Skuas lingered around the British coast over the week, including five birds passing St. Ives (Cornwall) on 7th. The stormy weather also produced a Leach's Storm Petrel off Portishead (Somerset) on 7th, with another off Hill Head (Hampshire) on 9th. Two Grey Phalaropes were noted during the week, with the popular long-staying bird at Abberton Reservoir still present to 9th at least, while a second bird was seen at Lissadell (Co. Sligo) on 7th-9th. Only a dozen or so Little Auks were seen (despite the brisk blast of sub-arctic air along North Sea coasts), with three birds off St. Ives (Cornwall) on 10th the highest total.

The invasion of Cattle Egrets into southwestern England was still very much in the news throughout the week, with birds radiating ever further afield from Cornwall and Dorset (although it could, of course, be a further small wave of new arrivals). A bare minimum of seven were in Cornwall, though there may have been almost double that number present - four were still around Sancreed on 6th, and four were still at Siblyback Reservoir on 12th. Six were reported near Crows-an-Wra, near Penzance on 9th, with two birds still there the following day. In Dorset, two birds were still in the Abbotsbury/Upwey area. A single bird remained at Holes Bay until 6th. Other singles were at Teigngrace (Devon) from 6th-12th and at Fretherne (Gloucestershire) on 9th-12th, while two were found at East Levant (West Sussex) on 7th, and remained until 11th at least. Another Cattle Egret was located west of Wellington (Somerset) on 11th and was still present on 12th. In Ireland two Cattle Egrets remained near Red Barn Strand, Youghal (Co. Cork) until 9th at least. There was just one new Great White Egret this week, reported at Aber Ogwen NR (Gwynedd), plus the three old favourites, at Mockbeggar Lake (Hampshire), Leighton Moss RSPB (Lancashire) and Lough Beg (Co. Derry). Numbers of Spoonbills took a little bit of a nosedive this week, with only eleven birds reported. Four were at Brownsea Island NT (Dorset) on 9th, with two more Dorset birds, present along the Fleet throughout the week. The two Spoonbills remained on Tresco (Scilly), while two more were on the Hayle Estuary (Cornwall) on 11th. A lone Spoonbill was seen on the Swale NNR, Sheppey (Kent) on 9th-12th, and another was at Fingringhoe Wick (Essex) on 12th. The Common Crane was again seen heading off to roost at Welney WWT (Norfolk) on 7th, and four Glossy Ibis on 11th were reported from Kilbrittain (Co. Cork).

Ferruginous Duck, Corbet Lough, Down (Photo: Craig Nash)

Lesser Scaup, Draycote Water, Warks (Photo: Bob Hazell)

A Ross's Goose was belatedly reported from the area near the drying barns at Choseley (Norfolk) on 4th, when it was joined by one of the county's two Snow Geese. The two birds were again together on 11th, when they were present on Holkham Freshmarsh. In Scotland, the intermediate-phase adult was again at Loch of Skene (Aberdeenshire) on 8th, and then near Kintore (Aberdeenshire) later the same day. A juvenile was seen on Mainland Orkney, at Finstown, on 8th-12th. The adult Red-breasted Goose was still to be found around West Wittering (West Sussex) this week, in the company of Dark-bellied Brent Geese and a lone Black Brant until 12th at least. Another Red-breasted Goose, of unknown origin, was found in the dubious company of Greylags and Barnacle Geese at Godmanchester GPs (Cambs). Two Richardson's Canada Geese remained amongst Barnacle Geese at Ballyconnel (Co. Sligo) until at least 11th, with another again at Oban Turmisgarry, North Uist (Western Isles) on 10th. It seems to be a week when Black Brant watchers have been keeping the lowest of profiles. Aside from the bird already mentioned alongside the handsome Red-breasted Goose in West Sussex, just two other Brants were reported, at Wells and Mitchell (Norfolk), both on 11th. The drake American Wigeon was again at Angle Bay (Pembrokeshire) on 8th-11th, with another drake at Maywick, Mainland (Shetland) on 11th. Other Nearctic wildfowl included two new drake Green-winged Teal in Scotland: at White Cart Water, Clyde (Renfrewshire) on 9th and at Shapinsay (Orkney) on 10th. Seven other drake Green-winged Teal were noted off and on during the week, in Cornwall (on the Hayle Estuary), in Essex (at Abberton Reservoir) in Norfolk (on Rush Hills scrape, Hickling NWT), in Lancashire (at Marshside RSPB), in Northumberland (at Woodhorn Flash), in County Sligo (at Lissadell) and in Co. Antrim (at Belfast Lough RSPB). In County Dublin, the female Blue-winged Teal was still to be found on North Bull Island until 9th. The still-popular first-winter drake Lesser Scaup remained at Draycote Water (Warwickshire) until 11th, with an adult drake on Loch Leven (Perth & Kinross) on 8th. Just five Ring-necked Ducks were reported through the week: new birds on Lough Gur (Co. Limerick) on 11th and Loch Calder, west of Thurso (Highland) on 10th-11th, plus the now-familiar drake at Foxcote Reservoir (Buckinghamshire) to 8th, and other drakes lingering on Mainland Shetland, at Loch of Tingwall, to at least 6th and at Keenan's Cross Pond (Co. Louth) to 10th. The drake Ferruginous Duck was still to be found on Corbet Lough (Co. Down) to 11th at least. The first-winter drake King Eider remained off the headland at Girdle Ness (Aberdeenshire) to 12th. He was joined, once again, by his "queen" from 9th, the female reappearing again having last been reported there on 3rd. A "Northern Eider" (of the form borealis) was seen off Raghly Point (Co. Sligo) on 6th. The first-winter Surf Scoter remained off Dawlish Warren (Devon) until at least 12th and a 1st-winter drake was reported briefly the same day in Tor Bay.

The colour-ringed juvenile White-tailed Eagle continued its winter break in Hampshire until at least 12th, continuing to favour the area around Quarley and Shipton Bellinger. Investigations into the exact country of origin for this bird continue, but as was mentioned last week, it is definitely known to be from Scandinavia, most likely Finland. Two Rough-legged Buzzards were seen in Norfolk during the week: at Hickling Broad on 8th, with another heading north-west over Holme on 9th. Further Rough-legged Buzzards included a juvenile again on Orkney, at St. Peter's Pool, Mainland, on 10th, two (an adult and juvenile) still on the Isle of Sheppey (Kent) to 11th at least, and an adult at Icklingham Plains (Suffolk) also on 11th.

Spotted Sandpiper, Lisvane Reservoir, Glamorgan (Photo: Alan Bull)

The over-wintering Spotted Sandpiper was again at Lisvane Reservoir (Glamorgan) on 7th-11th, with the first-winter Long-billed Dowitcher still present at Bowling Green Marsh RSPB (Devon) until 8th at least. The Lesser Yellowlegs at Montrose Basin (Angus) was still to be found there until at least 12th, while also in Scotland, the Pectoral Sandpiper was again at Caerlaverock WWT (Dumfries and Galloway) on 6th-7th. An American Golden Plover was found at Ballycotton (Co. Cork) on 9th. Staying in County Cork, many of the Republic's birders were dealt a hammer blow after some startling news was received regarding the German-ringed Kentish Plover at Youghal. The bird (still present to 10th at least) was the cause of much discussion last week before the ring was read, and perhaps now some would wish its ring had never been seen properly at all! It transpires that this particular Kentish Plover was actually confiscated from an illegal breeder in Germany. It was then subsequently ringed and released, and, despite its migration to Cork, it could hardly be classed as listing fodder. The second of the month's Kentish Plovers (unringed and therefore above suspicion) remained at South Ford, South Uist (Western Isles) to at least 9th.

American Herring Gull, Nimmo's Pier, Galway (Photo: Tom Cuffe)

Bonaparte's Gull, Peterhead, Aberdeenshire (Photo: Micky Maher)

Iceland Gull, Gresford Flash, Clwyd (Photo: Steve Round)

A new adult Bonaparte's Gull arrived this week, at Liscannor (Co. Clare) on 7th, while the two Scottish adults were still present - one was at Ferryden (Angus) on 7th, while the bird around Peterhead (Aberdeenshire) was present to at least 9th. In a lean autumn for the species (just four birds seen), a new American arrival was a first-winter Laughing Gull, seen around Firths Voe, Mainland (Shetland) on 8th. Numbers of Glaucous Gulls were still holding up reasonably well this week, with at least 35 birds reported countrywide, and included six at Burrafirth, on Unst (Shetland) on 8th, gaining an additional adult on last week's haul of two adults and three juveniles. Around 20 Iceland Gulls were reported, including one at Gresford Flash (Clwyd) from 6th-12th, and the well-watched juvenile remained at Edgefield (Norfolk) to at least 9th. A first-winter Kumlien's Gull was seen in the company of similarly aged Glaucous and Iceland Gulls at Blaydon (Co. Durham) on 9th, and two Iceland Gulls were present there on 10th. Caspian Gulls mustered some 20 birds over the course of the week, including five that fell under the watchful eyes of birders at Dix Pit (Oxfordshire) on 7th. Five adult Ring-billed Gulls were noted, including the always-popular bird at Westcliff-on-Sea (Essex). Other oft-returning adults were still in Sligo town (Co. Sligo) and at Whitehouse Lagoons, Belfast (Co. Antrim). Also in Antrim, an adult was at Portrush on 9th, with another adult on Islay (Argyll) on 8th. A second-winter Ring-billed Gull was seen at Lodmoor RSPB (Dorset) on 10th. In County Galway, the adult American Herring Gull was again at Nimmo's Pier on 10th. First seen at this excellent gull hotspot in the winter of 2003/04, the bird has been coming back ever since, becoming ever more challenging to locate with each year that passes. The Sabine's Gull was still at Cobh (Co. Cork) to at least 11th, while a misplaced (very late) juvenile Sabine's Gull appeared to mistake the frozen flood at Insh Marshes RSPB (Highland) for its Arctic tundra homeland. The only Forster's Tern of the winter remained at Cruisetown Strand (Co. Louth) until the 7th at least.

Desert Wheatear, Cromer Point, N Yorks (Photo: Marcus Conway)

A Black-bellied Dipper was seen on Fair Isle (Shetland) on 5th, only the second record of this distinctive form this year. In Northumberland, the Short-toed Lark remained at Long Nanny (Northumberland) until at least 12th. Both first-winter male Desert Wheatears remained into another week and both remained extremely obliging. The bird at Horsey (Norfolk) remained to 10th, and the bird at Burniston (North Yorkshire) remained to 12th (and was joined by a Northern Wheatear on 10th too). A second December Northern Wheatear remained on the Malvern Hills (Worcestershire) until 12th at least.

Around 200 Waxwings were noted this week, with the largest flock by far being a group of around 125 seen in Aberdeen on 10th. Just a handful of birds made it across the border to England, four over Central Park, Gosforth (Northumberland) on 11th being the, rather poor, highest tally.

Great Grey Shrike, Newton Fells, Lancs (Photo: Gavin Thomas)

Four or five Yellow-browed Warblers continued to seek winter solace in the far southwest of the country. One remained around Lower Moors, St. Mary's (Scilly) to 9th at least, another (or the same) was on Tresco on 12th, two birds were at Boscathnoe Reservoir, near Penzance (Cornwall) on 10th (with one staying to 12th at least). Also on 10th, one was seen at Helston (Cornwall), along with at least four Firecrests. Just five Great Grey Shrikes were noted this week: in Lancashire, around Newton and Waddington Fells, at Budby Common in Nottinghamshire, on Thursley Common in Surrey, on Cannock Chase in Staffordshire and finally a new bird on Molland Common on Exmoor (Devon) on 12th.

Photo of the Week

Great White Egret, Extremadura, Spain (Photo: Steve Fletcher)

Egrets are regarded by many as the most elegant and photogenic of birds. For the photographer, though, their brilliant white plumage can make exposure-setting a real challenge, especially when the bird is flying across a changing background. Steve Fletcher's flight shot of a Great White Egret in Extremadura, Spain, shows what's possible when photographers get this right: a full range of tones that make the most of the dappled, low-altitude sunlight and bring out every detail of the bird's graceful form. Beyond exposure, though, the layered effect of the two parallel wings with the head and neck in between creates a sense of depth that gives the bird a truly three-dimensional appearance, whilst the sweeping curve from wing-tip to wing-tip is punctuated perfectly by the neck line from bill-tip to body. Steve's image is an essay in aesthetics!

Other notable photos

Barn Owl, undisclosed site, Norfolk (Photo: Nigel Pye)

Dipper, undisclosed site, Devon (Photo: Clive Griffin)

Goosander, Macclesfield, Cheshire (Photo: Mike Atkinson)

Common Treecreeper, Wyre Forest, Worcs (Photo: John Robinson)

Short-eared Owl, Aust Warth, Glos (photo: Gary Thoburn)

Wren, Salthouse, Norfolk (Photo: Dave Whistlecraft)

Common Buzzard, Balcomie, Fife (Photo: John Anderson)

Goldcrest, East Dereham, Norfolk (Photo: Dave Whistlecraft)

Sabine's Gull, Cobh, Cork (Photo: Richard Mills)

Common Redshank, Thurstaston, Cheshire (Photo: Damian Waters)

Many of the images that appear in our weekly reviews can be purchased from the photographers, some of whom have their own websites:

John Anderson: http://www.pbase.com/crail_birder
Bill Aspin: http://billaspinsnatureblog.blogspot.com
Mike Atkinson: http://mikeatkinson.net
Richard Bedford: http://www.richardbedford.co.uk
Steve Blain: http://www.steveblain.co.uk
Will Bowell: http://www.wanderingbirders.com
Paul Bowerman: http://www.severnsidebirds.co.uk
Paul Bowyer: http://www.birdlist.co.uk
Graham Catley: http://pewit.blogspot.com/
Mark Caunt: http://www.AngusBirding.com
Dean Eades: http://www.birdmad.com
Andrew Easton: http://home.clara.net/ammodytes/
Graham Eaton: http://www.eatonphotography.co.uk
Stuart Elsom: http://www.stuartelsom.co.uk
Steve Evans: http://www.isabelline.co.uk
Katie Fuller: http://bogbumper.blogspot.com
Ian Fulton: http://www.pbase.com/ianfulton
Sean Gray: http://www.grayimages.co.uk
David Hatton: http://www.kowapower.com
Josh Jones: http://www.wanderingbirders.com
Paul and Andrea Kelly: http://www.irishbirdimages.com/
Matt Latham: http://www.mattlathamphotography.com
Micky Maher: http://www.aardfoto.co.uk/
John Malloy: http://mysite.wanadoo-members.co.uk/johnmalloy
Brian Mcgeough: http://www.brianmcgeough.com/
Tony Mills: http://www.notjustbirds.com
Jerry O'Brien: http://www.BirdsofBerkshire.co.uk
Mark Newsome: http://www.durhambirdclub.org/
James Packer: http://www.somersetbirder.co.uk
Mike Pennington: http://www.nature.shetland.co.uk
Ken Plows: http://www.kenswildlifepics.co.uk
Ray Purser: http://www.pbase.com/02purser
Marc Read: http://www.marcread-pix.com
Tristan Reid: http://www.atricillaimages.co.uk/
Steve Round: http://stevenround-birdphotography.com
Craig Shaw: http://craigsukbirdpictures.bravehost.com/
Tom Shevlin: http://wildlifesnaps.com/
Peter Simpson: http://www.blueskybirds.co.uk
Matt Slaymaker: http://www.mattslaymaker.co.uk
Oliver Smart: http://www.smartimages.co.uk
George Spraggs: http://www.bird-watching.co.uk
Richard Steel: http://wildlifephotographic.bblogspot.com/
Richard Stonier: http://www.birdsonline.co.uk
Stephen Tomlinson: http://stevesbirding.blogspot.com
Sue Tranter: http://www.suesbirdphotos.co.uk/
Damian Waters: http://www.drumimages.co.uk
Steve Williams: http://www.hilbrebirdobs.co.uk
Simon Wilson: http://www.bakewellbirder.co.uk/
Chris Wormwell: http://www.iombirding.co.uk
Dylan Wrathall: http://www.planetthanet.org
Written by: Mark Golley