Review of the Week: 8-14 April 2024


More wet and windy weather mid-week gave way to warm, dry weather by the weekend, with strong south-westerlies reaching much of Britain. This saw the floodgates once again open for spring migrants, including an exceptional early fall of Golden Orioles.

Some 16 birds were recorded in south-west England (five in Devon, four in Cornwall and seven on Scilly), with a further two reaching Wales (at Breakwater CP, Anglesey, and Cwm Ivy, Glamorgan) and one in Ireland (at Cahore Marsh, Co Wexford). This included a trio at Olchard, Devon, and at least four on St Mary's, Scilly, on 14th. Interestingly, the vast majority looked to be adult males. This early arrival appears to be unprecedented – there are just five records in the BirdGuides database before mid-April since the turn of the century.

Just what led to such a bumper fall is somewhat of a mystery, though it seems likely that record-breaking temperatures across southern Europe may have contributed. A high-pressure system embedded over mainland Europe brought extraordinary early heat to France and Iberia, with temperatures reaching a sweltering 33.5°C in Castilla y León. Birds haven't even arrived en-masse back in Iberia yet – perhaps some were encouraged to continue straight over? Whatever the case, it may mark the start of fourth spring in a row which proves fruitful for this species.

Three male Golden Orioles, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly (Scott Reid).

Portland and Dorset's first Western Subalpine Warbler since 2016 was one of the week's rarity highlights, when a male was found on the island on 14th. A rare twitchable Irish Western Subalpine Warbler resided at Hook Head, Co Wexford, from 11th, where it shared the stage with a Woodchat Shrike. A small arrival of the latter species saw five found in Britain. Most notably, a one-day bird at Beddington Farmlands on 12th was supremely popular with both Surrey and London listers, while another at Tanybwlch, Ceredigion, was also noteworthy.

Western Subalpine Warbler, Hook Head, Wexford (Brian McCloskey).

Woodchat Shrike, Tanybwlch, Ceredigion (John Ibbotson).

Birders in central and southern England were graced by a widespread Whinchat arrival that kicked off in style from 9th. These bundles of orange joy are undoubtedly one of the most eagerly awaited species during spring passage in lowland areas – alongside Pied Flycatcher, Common Redstart and Ring Ouzel. Cambridgeshire boasted the first returning European Turtle Dove on 12th.

Whinchat, Brogborough landfill site, Bedfordshire (Neil Wright).

Common Swifts are typically one of the latest migrants to arrive back in Britain for the summer, not usually occurring in numbers before late April. There is always a chance, therefore, that early arrivals might be of the rarer, Pallid variety. Confirmed Pallid Swifts were at Patrington Haven, East Yorkshire, on 9th and St Mary's, Scilly, on 13-14th, with swifts reported as Common at a further 12 sites. Alpine Swifts were in Cornwall, Norfolk and Co Wicklow. 

Pallid Swift, Patrington Haven, East Yorkshire (David Constantine).

Lancashire's first twitchable Red-rumped Swallow for some 20 years was at Marton Mere on 9th – coincidentally, the last was at the same site on 18-19 April 2004. At least one was over the Isles of Scilly during the weekend, with another at Lough Clubir, Co Cork. The first Montagu's Harrier of 2024 concerned a female at Knockadoon Head, Co Cork, on 14th. The same date delivered a male Bluethroat at Grantchester, Cambridgeshire, with a vocal male Iberian Chiffchaff on St Agnes, Scilly, from 11th. Elsewhere were four Wrynecks – including two at Holme, Norfolk – six European Serins, 12 Hoopoes and nine Blue-headed Wagtails.

European Serin, Southwold, Suffolk (Jake Gearty).

Hoopoe, Greatstone-on-Sea, Kent (Martin Casemore).

Blue-headed Wagtail, Southwold, Suffolk (Jake Gearty).

An early Black-winged Stilt was at Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire, from 8th. Notably, the brown mantle makes it a female, while the white trailing edge to the wing makes it a bird born in 2023. Could this be the return of last year's successful fledgling? Another was at Smerwick Harbour, Co Kerry.

Black-winged Stilt, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire (R Coudray).

Lincolnshire's second Bonaparte's Gull was another welcome find at Frampton Marsh RSPB from 11th. The premier east-coast site was on fire this week, with a terrific line-up of sightings that included an adult Red-breasted Goose, the continuing Lesser Yellowlegs and the aforementioned Black-winged Stilt, as well as Black Tern, two Little Gulls, Channel Wagtail, two Garganey, three Common Cranes, two Curlew Sandpipers and two Little Stints.

Bonaparte's Gull, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire (Steve Furber).

While not quite at the level of spring 2023's exceptional arrival, the week saw a decent flush of Purple Herons appear, with the bulk arriving over the weekend. Birds were split between southern England (11) and Ireland (three). Most notable were two roosting at Winchester, Hampshire, on 13th and one on the Leicestershire-Northamptonshire border at Stanford Reservoir on 9-10th. An incredible four Black-crowned Night Herons were in a garden at Wiston, West Sussex, with a further five elsewhere (one in Cornwall and twos on Lundy, Devon, and St Mary's, Scilly). The first Squacco Heron for Skokholm, Pembrokeshire, was an excellent find for Emmanuel Jatta, an Ornithological Research Assistant on an exchange placement from Kartong Bird Observatory in The Gambia.

Purple Heron, Thornwick Bay, East Yorkshire (Glyn Sellors).

Squacco Heron, Skokholm, Pembrokeshire (Richard Brown / Skokholm Warden).

The first-summer male Myrtle Warbler at Kilwinning, Fife, looks smarter and smarter by the day. A notable find came in the form of a brief Little Bunting at Avon Meadows, Worcestershire, on 12th. Elsewhere, a mobile Richard's Pipit was again at Patrington Haven, East Yorkshire. Other lingering passerines included the Dorset Yellow-browed Warbler, Hampshire Great Grey Shrike and two Shore Larks.

Myrtle Warbler, Kilwinning, Ayrshire (Stevie Clarke).

Confirmed Black Kites were in Cambridgeshire and East Sussex and Pallid Harriers continued in Wales and Scilly. A Rough-legged Buzzard was in Shetland, while a Hooded Crow in Worcestershire is the county's first since 1983. A male Corncrake trapped and ringed on Bardsey Island, Gwynedd, is the first to be ringed on the island since 2015.

The Forster's Tern remained settled around Poole Harbour, Dorset, and the adult Bonaparte's Gull lingered at Sandy Water Park, Carmarthen, until 12th. White-winged gulls totalled 17 Iceland Gulls (including three Kumlien's Gulls) and seven Glaucous Gulls. The Double-crested Cormorant was still at Colgagh Lough, Co Sligo, with at least one White-billed Diver still off Aberdeenshire.

Forster's Tern (centre) with Sandwich Terns, Brownsea Island NT, Dorset (Nicki T).

A pair of Ferruginous Duck was at Napton Reservoir, Warwickshire, on 12th, to complement the two still at Woolston Eyes NR, Cheshire, whether the Ruddy Duck was also still present. Another Ferruginous Duck remained in Kent. Lesser Scaup numbered 12, with the Cheshire female relocating to Greater Manchester on 8th and a pair near Shelley, Suffolk, on 14th. Other totals consisted of two American Wigeon, 12 Green-winged Teal, 12 Ring-necked Ducks, two Smew and three Surf Scoter, with a drake King Eider reported again off Lothian.

Ferruginous Duck, Woolston Eyes NR (permit only), Cheshire (John Tymon).

Ring-necked Duck (front bird) with Common Pochard, Dublin, Dublin (Ian Stevenson).

A stunning six Red-breasted Geese were on offer this week, though at least three are perhaps best described as of unknown origin (two at Lytchett Bay, Dorset, and one in Lancashire with Pink-footed Geese). Two were with Dark-bellied Brent Geese in East Anglia and the wintering bird from Islay, Argyll, relocated to the Outer Hebrides at Callernish, North Uist. Pink-footed Goose flocks in Lancashire also held a Todd's Canada Goose and a late Tundra Bean Goose. A family party of five Grey-bellied Brant were at Dalkey Island, Co Dublin, and a Black Brant was still in East Yorkshire.

It was a quiet week as far as shorebirds were concerned, though four Long-billed Dowitchers and three Lesser Yellowlegs all lingered. Little Stints were at four sites

Long-billed Dowitcher, Cley Marshes NWT, Norfolk (Oscar Lawrence).


Western Palearctic

Now in the company of Barnacle Geese, the pair of Ross's Geese wandered across the German border to Neufeld from 10-12th – where they will likely be accepted as the first Category A German record. They were later seen in active migration along the Swedish Baltic coast on 13th. A Sociable Lapwing was also in Germany, with the drake Falcated Duck again at Rozenburg, Netherlands. The Sandhill Crane, Pacific Diver and American Herring Gull all lingered in Norway for another week, as did an American Robin and White-winged Scoter in Iceland.

Black-faced Bunting has enjoyed a noteworthy rise in records across the Western Palearctic in recent years. Two were recorded this week – birds at Saint-Jean-d'Angle, France, on 8th and Yakum, Israel, on 11th. A notable find in the French Camargue concerned a brief Spur-winged Lapwing at Gacholle on 13th. The third for Cape Verde was found on Sal on the same date.

An action-packed run in the Canary Islands saw the African Crake reported again at Costa Teguise, Lanzarote, and the Sudan Golden Sparrow and Semipalmated Plover still on Gran Canaria. Most noteworthy of all was the belated news of a Yellow-billed Kite at Morro Jable, Fuerteventura, from 21-26 March. A series of records on the European continent in recent years has led to some speculation about whether these might be wild vagrants. News from the Spanish mainland comprised a Cream-coloured Courser, American Herring Gull and Brown Booby.

Lampedusa, Sicily, hosted Italy's fifth White-crowned Wheatear, with Italy's fourth American Golden Plover on the mainland at Castel Volturno. An Intermediate Egret and Hudsonian Whimbrel were again on São Vicente, Cape Verde, while a Double-crested CormorantAmerican Coot and Wood Duck remained in the Azores. In the Channel Islands, a male Iberian Wagtail was at St Ouen's Pond, Jersey.


Written by: Sam Viles