During a chilly January week, which saw some areas receive snowfall and hard frost, there were a couple of major stories to help stoke the winter rarity fire.
Probably the most extraordinary development came from Inishmore, Co Galway. Earlier this month, the remarkable dual presence of a White-winged Scoter and a Pied-billed Grebe – both still in situ this past week – made headlines. However, things took an even more unlikely Nearctic turn when a drake Bufflehead was found there on Saturday 13th. With the continuing American Wigeon to boot, only the surprise appearance of a female-type Garganey prevented observers from convincing themselves they were birding somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard … without doubt, an astonishing line-up of midwinter rarities for anywhere in Europe.
Pied-billed Grebe, Inishmore, Co Galway (Brian McCloskey).
A similarly unlikely story played out in Cornwall this past week, with the shock discovery of a first-winter Golden Oriole in a Gulval garden on 9th. The bird remained throughout this review period, and after some brief and optimistic speculation that it could be Indian Golden Oriole – a partial migrant from Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, and very unlikely vagrant to Europe – birders appreciated what looks like the first-ever known wintering record of this species in Britain.
Back in Ireland, and specifically the capital of Dublin, a small arrival of Grey-bellied Brant was seemingly evidenced on 11th, including a family party of seven. Prior to these birds, there had only been one record in Britain and Ireland this winter of this mysterious goose, which is discussed comprehensively in the upcoming February edition of Birdwatch.
Elsewhere in the goose department, Co Mayo and Argyll continued to host Richardson's Cackling Geese, the four Red-breasted Geese continued in their respective British counties, five sites held Snow Geese and Black Brant lingered in Kent and East Yorkshire. Meanwhile, in what's been a poor winter for Tundra Bean Geese, there was a handful of new birds in south and eastern counties, presumably weather-related.
Interestingly, there was no sign of the Canvasback all week – perhaps the cold weather has forced it and its Common Pochard compadres onto waters new? Smew numbers reached a minimum of 61 birds across Britain, while the rubbish winter for King Eider continued with another week of zero records.
However, Lesser Scaup were at an impressive nine sites, and included new finds in Co Sligo, Devon and Perth and Kinross. Five Surf Scoter, four Ferruginous Duck, 20 Ring-necked Duck and the Co Mayo American Black Duck were all logged, while the Co Kerry White-winged Scoter made its first appearance at Brandon Bay for over a month.
Sadly, one of the two first-winter Bonaparte's Gulls in Cornwall was picked up dead at Marazion. The adult remained in Co Antrim. Ring-billed Gulls were at four sites. There was a slight uptick in white-winged gull sightings with the cold weather (15 Glaucous Gulls on Westray on 13th being one count of note), though numbers remain meagre, especially in the south and west. Caspian Gull, on the other hand, seems to be enjoying an especially good winter in England, and a count of 11 at Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, on 14th was high.
At least three Pallid Harriers were present, including a minimum of two in Wales where a presumed wild immature White-tailed Eagle in Meirionnydd caused a stir. There were no reports of Rough-legged Buzzard – what a woeful winter for this raptor it's been.
However, the thunderous start to the year for Waxwing continued, with twitchable flocks within reach for virtually anyone in England, unless you live in parts of the South-West.
A far lesser influx that has gone somewhat under the radar this autumn is that of Mealy Redpoll – not quite as glamourous (or taxonomically straightforward!) as Waxwing, counts of multiple birds were reported from Bedfordshire, Durham, Norfolk and Northumberland. It's worth sifting through your local Lesser Redpolls that's for sure. The two Coues's Arctic Redpolls were last seen at Fontburn Reservoir, Northumberland, on 11th. A male Two-barred Crossbill at Hightate, Dumfries and Galloway, came rather out the leftfield on 9th.
The Northern Waterthrush settled into a pattern at Heybridge, Essex, and continued to pull in a crowd all week. Shetland hosted a Black-bellied Dipper, and the fine male Black-throated Thrush remained at Tophill Low NR, East Yorkshire.
Poor numbers of Great Grey Shrike (see here), Shore Lark and Yellow-browed Warbler also made up passerine proceedings, two Richard's Pipits were logged and at least two of the wintering Little Buntings remained in Cornwall (more here).
Two crakes made the headlines in the WP this week. A showy African Crake at Ponta da Erva, Portugal, was quite the find on 13th. Given its proximity to Lisbon (and thus a range of WP Category C goodies), it could prove popular if it sticks.
Meanwhile, in Cape Verde, two Lesser Moorhens on Sal from 10th continued the island nation's bumper autumn and winter, though unfortunately one of the birds was found dead. Elsewhere on Sal, the White-faced Whistling Duck was reported for the first time this year. An Allen's Gallinule was on Santiago on 8th.
It was otherwise steady in the region, with notable continuing birds including the White-throated Sparrow in Barcelona, Spain, the Basalt Wheatear in Israel, the two Ross's Geese in Belgium and the Siberian Buff-bellied Pipit at 's-Gravendeel, the Netherlands.