14/08/2002
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Review of the Week: 8th-14th August 2002

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Another unsettled week for many areas, but strong onshore winds in Cornwall and off Irish headlands ensured that there was some excellent seawatching for the dedicated. On the Northern Isles the expected autumn arrival of rarities started early, courtesy of a low pressure system over the Low Countries pulling in drifting easterlies.

News of the week was the announcement of the successful breeding of Icterine Warblers on Stronsay in the Orkney Islands. This is the first confirmed breeding record, though details are few and far between at present.

Greater excitement for many will have been caused by the subadult male Pallid Harrier at Elmley Marshes (Kent). Although there have been nearly a dozen British records, none had been accessible for all comers on the mainland. Given the upsurge in records in northwestern Europe over recent years this bird will not really be a surprise, and based on recent events more are likely in the future. Present for at least 9 days now, this individual has proved to be extremely popular with the masses, though many were to be disappointed as the bird has tended to show distantly for much of its stay.

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Many birders will have been disappointed by the cancellation of the pelagic trip last weekend due to engine trouble, especially as news of the cancellation broke late in the day ensuring that many had already travelled to Cornwall. However, land-based seawatchers in both Cornwall and Ireland were kept busy as good numbers of larger shearwaters, predominantly Great Shearwaters, were noted passing favoured headlands, with a couple of Sabine's Gulls for good measure. The seawatching prize went to the diminutive Wilson's Petrel, with 5 seen from the Bridges of Ross (Clare) on the 11th, with another the following day and two from Porthgwarra (Cornwall) on the 13th. Despite the regularity with which birds are encountered on pelagic trips in the southwest and Ireland, land-based sightings are still extremely rare and remain a prize for the diligent seawatcher.

A few early migrants were evident this week. A Citrine Wagtail on Fair Isle was one of the earliest ever British records, and 4 of the 7 Barred Warblers seen during the week were on the famous island. Yet more Two-barred Crossbills were seen, this time on North Ronaldsay and at Sumburgh in Shetland. An Ortolan Bunting at Spurn was one of the earliest Yorkshire records and at least 7 Red-backed Shrikes were present between Shetland and Suffolk. On Shetland there was a female Subalpine Warbler, but a Woodchat Shrike in Glamorgan was more noteworthy, as was a Red-rumped Swallow in Flintshire. Rare waders were few and far between, but Red-necked Phalaropes in Essex and Gwent were deservedly popular. A Lesser Yellowlegs was on the Outer Hebrides and White-rumped Sandpipers were seen in Cleveland, Kerry and Essex. Rare terns were represented by a Caspian Tern inland in Lincolnshire and a Gull-billed Tern reported past Flamborough Head (East Yorkshire). At least 5 Great White Egrets were present and a White-billed Diver was located in Shetland.

Crossbills have been noted moving at a number of locations. Nothing unusual in that, you might think, but news from Scandinavia indicates that large numbers of Two-barred Crossbills are on the move, with good numbers seen in Norway. This movement is no doubt responsible for the five records already this autumn - let's hope that some birds penetrate further south. It could well be worth scanning any local haunts of Crossbills in the hope of one of these beauties, though at this early stage coastal migrants are more likely. Of course, what happens in Scandinavia does not always penetrate as far as the British Isles, as more seasoned birders will be aware, but at present the signs are good - fingers crossed.

Written by: Russell Slack