Review of the Week: 7-12 May 2024


High pressure brought warm and dry conditions to most of Britain and Ireland for much of the week, with a south-easterly airflow developing under clear skies as we went into the weekend. Although a bit of rain might have meant a few more grounded migrants, there were nonetheless some welcome signs of movement with mini influxes of classic May species such as Black Tern and Temminck's Stint, as well as a few intriguing rarity records to boot. That said, the clear skies did at least mean that the great majority of observers were able to enjoy the unexpected showing of aurora borealis overhead on Friday night, with onlookers treated to a spectacular light show caused by the biggest solar storm since the 1980s.

More than 150 reports were received of Black Tern during the week, with a clear spike in records during sultry conditions on 11th. Although numbers weren't exceptional, they were nonetheless welcome, with plenty of small groups appearing at inland waterbodies and several sites logging double-figure counts. Reports tailed off on Sunday, but a return to south-easterlies in the coming days may well see passage of this species pick up again.

Map of Black Tern reports on Saturday 11 May 2024, showing a classic geographical spread across interior England (BirdGuides.com).

Temminck's Stints arrived at 21 sites, the bulk of which were unsurprisingly in East Anglia. This included threes in Norfolk and Suffolk. Inland were twos at Kilvington, Nottinghamshire, on 11th and at Four Ashes, Staffordshire, on 12th, while there was also one in Shropshire at Venus Pool NR. Temminck's remains a rare bird in Ireland, so one at Portmore Lough RSPB, Co Antrim, on 12th was particularly notable. One also reached the Isles of Scilly.

Temminck's Stint, Walberswick NNR, Suffolk (Jake Gearty).

Arguably the rarity of the week was a one-day Lesser Grey Shrike found along an assuming stretch of hedgerow near Telegraph Hill, Hertfordshire, on 10th. A welcome county first, the shrike put on a great show for the rest of the day, flycatching overhead within feet of admiring onlookers. May is a peak arrival month for this species, with this latest individual becoming the 48th sighted in the month – amounting to more than 20% of all accepted records. But frustratingly for Bedfordshire birders, it never roamed the 500 m needed to cross the county border.

Lesser Grey Shrike, Telegraph Hill, Hertfordshire (Jon Heath).

A Blue Jay reportedly photographed at Dungloe, Co Donegal, on 10th would represent a fascinating discovery if proven to be genuine. A widespread migratory species across eastern North America, thousands migrate in flocks along the Great Lakes and Atlantic coasts in spring and autumn. Whether or not they would be able to make a transatlantic crossing unaided is a different question – but it certainly seems comparable to species such as Northern Mockingbird and some Nearctic sparrows that are readily accepted as genuine vagrants to Europe – and is more than suited to potential transport by ship. While it is not currently on the Western Palearctic list, there are a couple of previous records worth a second look. Perhaps the most notable is one recorded in the Azores at Lagoa das Furnas, São Miguel, on 9 July 1998, while one in Britain at Thornton and later Southport, Lancashire, on 5 and 7 June 2003 is also worth considering. Given the proximity to the major international shipping port at Seaforth, might the latter have been a wild, ship-assisted vagrant?

Two Thrush Nightingales were in Lincolnshire – at Frampton Marsh RSPB on 8th and Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe Dunes NNR on 9th – though unfortunately only the second of these would provide even the briefest of views. Carr Vale, Derbyshire, was treated to a brief Great Reed Warbler on 8th, while a new Savi's Warbler at Rutland Water NR was one of three in Britain and Ireland. A singing Iberian Chiffchaff was trapped and ringed at Kilnsea, East Yorkshire, on 9th. Two subalpine warblers made an appearance on 7th: a male Eastern on St Mary's, Scilly, and a female not assigned to species at Blakeney Point, Norfolk. Belated news was received of male Sardinian Warbler in a Shetland garden on 5th, with six Icterine Warblers also in the archipelago.

Thrush Nightingale, Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe Dunes NNR, Lincolnshire (Jonathan Scragg).

Singing Wrynecks in Glamorgan and East Sussex were two of seven across Britain. European Bee-eaters were at seven sites, with additional sightings including 11 Golden Orioles, 11 Hoopoes, two Red-breasted Flycatchers and two Alpine Swifts, as well as a Red-rumped Swallow in Kent,. Five Red-backed Shrikes were noted in the Northern Isles. Woodchat Shrike finds came at St Gwynno Forest, Glamorgan, and Shieldaig, Highland, with others still in Cornwall, Shetland and Co Kerry.

Wryneck, Fair Isle, Shetland (Alex Penn).

Red-backed Shrike, Fair Isle, Shetland (Alex Penn).

European Bee-eater, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly (Kris Webb).

The singing male White-spotted Bluethroat at Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire, was again popular. Five Red-spotted Bluethroats included one at Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire. Four European Serins included notable records for Durham (over Chester-le-Street on 7th) and Anglesey (a singing male at Trearddur Bay on 9th). An Ortolan Bunting at Hornsea Mere, East Yorkshire, was again present on 7th and a Little Bunting graced Beachy Head, East Sussex, the next morning. Foula, Shetland, bagged a Rustic Bunting and a Common Rosefinch was on Fetlar.

Ortolan Bunting, Hornsea Mere, East Yorkshire (Roger Hackney).

A Red-throated Pipit flushed at Hartlepool on 7th was a brilliant record for both Durham and Cleveland, with another on North Ronaldsay, Orkney. A Greater Short-toed Lark and two Shore Larks were in Shetland. A Grey-headed Wagtail joined by no fewer than three Blue-headed Wagtails at Cemlyn Bay, Anglesey, made for a colourful sight, while one on Rathlin Island, Co Antrim, became the island's fourth Yellow Wagtail of the spring – all males and all belonging to different subspecies!

Greater Short-toed Lark, Skaw, Unst, Shetland (David Cooper).

With Montagu's Harrier having not been confirmed as breeding in Britain since 2020, the rush of records this week was very welcome. The south-easterly airflow was surely a factor in the appearance of birds at 11 sites in eight counties, with one over Leasowe being Cheshire's first record of the species since 2011. Three Red-footed Falcons included two in Kent, while two Rough-legged Buzzards continued a spirited May showing. A Black Kite wandered south over Fair Isle, Shetland, on 9th before being resighted in Mainland Orkney the following day. A handful of migrating European Honey Buzzards were reported. In partnership with Sussex Ornithological Society, a number of viewpoints are to be made public in Sussex, with birders encouraged to visit them and enjoy this rare summer visitor.

Montagu's Harrier, Tophill Low NR, East Yorkshire (Lee Johnson).

Permission was granted for the dissemination of news of four singing Spotted Crakes at Wheldrake Ings, North Yorkshire, overnight on 12th, with another at Bank Island. Some 13 Purple Herons continued the species' fine run of appearances in recent weeks and included two together at Stodmarsh NNR, Kent. Black-crowned Night Herons were at three sites.

Purple Heron, Stodmarsh NNR, Kent (Mike Gaston).

Two Whiskered Terns at Stodmarsh NNR on 12th made for a superb find. A mobile White-winged Tern was tracked between The Solent, Hampshire, and West Sussex on 11th, while two more dropped in at North Cave Wetlands, East Yorkshire, on 10th. In Ireland, the Elegant Tern relocated a short distance north to Belmullet, Co Mayo, and a Gull-billed Terns was at Cahore Marsh, Co Wexford, from 7-9th. The second-summer Forster's Tern was again in Poole Harbour, Dorset, on two dates. Bonaparte's Gulls sightings consisted of a lingering first-summer in Dorset and a gorgeous summer-plumaged adult in Co Antrim. An adult Ring-billed Gull was in Co Waterford and dwindling white-winged gull numbers included three Kumlien's Gulls. Surprisingly, a Long-tailed Skua flew inland over Rhosneigr, Anglesey, on 7th, while there was a report of an unidentified albatross species past Brora, Highland, on 12th.

White-winged Terns, North Cave Wetlands YWT, East Yorkshire (Tom Hines).

Wader-wise, five Pectoral Sandpipers made an appearance and a Black-winged Stilt remained in Lincolnshire. However, Eurasian Dotterel remain pitifully absent, with migrants noted at only five sites this week. Nearctic visitors consisted of two American Golden Plovers in Ireland, a lingering Long-billed Dowitcher in Co Wexford and three Lesser Yellowlegs.

A drake Cinnamon Teal in a flooded dune slack at Bamburgh, Northumberland, attracted some attention from 3-11th, with another drake appearing at Poolbeg, Co Dublin, on 12th. Native to western North America as well as Central and South America, the species is readily kept in captivity. This makes assessing records of this fairly unlikely vagrant fraught with difficulty. The only accepted Western Palearctic record refers to a drake in Morocco in October 2016, and a record of a fairly tame drake on the east coast in spring seems unlikely to be the one that sees the species added to the British list. There are past records worthy of further consideration, however.  A widely-twitched adult drake at Loch Tuamister on Lewis, Outer Hebrides, between 13 May and 16 June 2004 is a stand-out candidate for being wild and occurred amid a strong run of Nearctic wildfowl in the Outer Hebrides and further afield that spring. There is also an interesting record of a first-winter erroneously ringed as a 'Blue-winged Teal' in Dorset in October 1979 before being shot in France as a drake Cinnamon Teal in February 1981.

Cinnamon Teal, Bamburgh, Northumberland (Tom Tams).

Co Cork hosted an American Wigeon and a Green-winged Teal, while the resident American Black Duck hung on in Co Mayo. Rare wildfowl elsewhere involved two Lesser Scaup, two Ferruginous Duck, four Ring-necked Duck and four Surf Scoter. A Pacific Diver was off Toormore, Co Cork, and up to five White-billed Divers remained around Scottish coasts.

Lesser Scaup (right) with Tufted Duck, St Aidan's RSPB (Swillington Ings), West Yorkshire (Dave Ward).

Presumed feral Snow Geese continued to wander, with a flock of seven (six white morphs and a blue morph) reaching Barra, Outer Hebrides, on 11th. These unprecedented wanderings – presumably of birds from the feral Oxfordshire population – also saw totals logged of 24 in Staffordshire, 24 in Cumbria and 23 in Lancashire, with timed sightings meaning at least two and probably three different flocks were involved. Additional Snow Geese were reported in Anglesey, North Yorkshire and Highland. A late Taiga Bean Goose accompanied Pink-footed Geese near Balnakeil, Highland, on 9th and Red-breasted Geese were still around in Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Lancashire.

Snow Geese, Belvide Reservoir (permit only), Staffordshire (Paul Smith).


Western Palearctic

Sometimes a record originates so far out of left field that many birders haven't even heard of the species, let alone seen one. That was certainly the case when news broke of a Red-breasted Swallow at Espergærde, Denmark, on 9th. A migratory species found throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa, it has never previously been recorded north of the Sahara. Amazingly, lingered until 12th, allowing twitchers from across the region the opportunity to connect with this most unexpected of Afrotropical vagrants. It certainly came as quite the shock for finder, Mikkel Høegh Post.

Red-breasted Swallow, Espergærde, Capital Region (Stephen Menzie).

The two Ross's Geese (one bearing a Canadian ring) made a reappearance on 9th, near Mo i Rana in northern Norway. The last report came with Barnacle Geese in Estonia on 17 April, but they are now travelling alone, without the company of any carrier species. Continuing on such a trajectory would take them back to their Canadian breeding grounds – perhaps with a stop-off on Svalbard or Greenland first.

Elsewhere, the Danish hot-spot of Skagen held an Alpine Accentor and there was a White-tailed Lapwing in Poland. A dark-morph Western Reef Heron visited Montenegro. A Pied Crow remained on Linosa, Italy, with three Sudan Golden Sparrows still on Gran Canaria and a Lesser Flamingo again on Mallorca, Spain. Quarteira in Portugal boasted an adult Laughing Gull, while a Franklin's Gull at Ghadira was a surprise first for Malta.


Written by: Sam Viles