14/03/2002
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Review of the Week: 8th-14th March 2002

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In with the new and out with the old, mid-March can be an exciting time for inland and coastal birders and this week has been no exception. Gale force winds battered many parts over the weekend, before a high pressure system slipped over the country coupled with a low pressure out to the southwest, producing strong east and northeast winds across southern England during the latter part of the week and pleasant sunshine over northern parts.

The conspicuous departure of Whooper Swans has been noted at a number of sites over the last couple of days as herds head northwest, though there has doubtless been a subtle departure of many of our wintering birds over the past few days as they slip clandestinely out of the country en-route back towards their breeding areas. Of the early summer migrants over a dozen Little Ringed Plovers have been reported so far from the 10th onwards, with a noticeable arrival on the 12th. A handful of Sandwich Terns have been seen during the week, with birds as far north as Cumbria. Most people associate Sand Martins as the forerunners of the spring rush and over 40 were reported during the week, but just one Swallow. A noticeable fall of Wheatears occurred on the 13th with 55 noted on a stretch of Cornish coastline and 25 in Dorset. A supporting cast of migrants included good numbers of Chiffchaffs, one Willow Warbler reported in West Sussex, a Ring Ouzel in Devon, several Black Redstarts and a good scattering of nearly 30 Firecrests with most, as would be expected, in the southeast.

What of the rarities? Another white-morph Gyr Falcon was seen on the 7th (just too late for last week's review) at South Stack RSPB. The bird remained to the 9th, but was extremely elusive and many people's hopes of a close encounter were dashed with distant foggy views or no views at all! Yet another Ross's Gull was found, this time a 2nd-winter at Peterhead (Aberdeenshire) from the 9th-11th. On Jersey, the second island record of Fan-tailed Warbler was at St. Ouens Pond on the 12th. A female Hooded Merganser of unknown origin has been present at Newbiggin (Northumberland) all week, tempting many to travel purely for insurance purposes. However, if the North Uist bird of 2000 did not pass the Category A test then this bird would presumably struggle too! However, there is always the added bonus of seeing the long-staying Hume's Warbler nearby as additional incentive. A Scops Owl was reported singing in Wiltshire on the 12th, and was reportedly present for a week. The bird has not been seen but, assuming that a hoax, dodgy car alarm or introduced Midwife Toad can be safely eliminated from the equation, this would be the earliest British and Irish record by a couple of weeks (in 1990 one was caught aboard a fishing vessel about 2.4km off Portland Bill on 20th March). Elsewhere, stormy conditions produced at least half a dozen Balearic Shearwaters during the week, all from Dorset and Cornwall.

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Long-stayers are starting to thin out a little bit, but still include many birds that have been around for quite some time. The Black Duck is still in Devon, Lesser Scaup in Dorset and King Eider in Norfolk. The Snowy Egret is still on the Isle of Arran whilst the Great White Egret remains in Cheshire. The Hume's Warbler is, as mentioned earlier, still present, as is the Yellow-browed Warbler in Essex. However, the Serin was last seen on the 10th in London. The long-staying Bonaparte's Gull was last seen on the 9th and could well have now gone.

Of the rarer ducks, at least 7 Ring-necked Ducks have been seen during the week, 5 Ferruginous Ducks, 5 American Wigeons and 6 Green-winged Teals, whilst just 3 drake Surf Scoters are present, all at the usual location off Ruddon's Point (Fife). Good numbers of Iceland and Glaucous Gulls have been seen, as well as several American Herring Gulls, including a 1st-winter in Dorset, and several Kumlien's Gulls, plus around 20 Ring-billed Gulls. Of scarce wintering birds, still at least 9 Great Grey Shrikes remain and 123 Waxwings have been seen in 8 scattered groups in Suffolk, the Northeast and Scotland. Shorelarks remain scarce with a total of 20 birds, 18 of which were at Holkham and Gibraltar Point, one in Essex and the long-staying bird in Derbyshire, whilst Lapland Buntings can still only be seen in East Yorkshire and Norfolk, with at least 7 birds reported during the week.

The prospects for the coming days look good for further arrivals of migrants with winds backing round to a more southerly direction. Prospects for rarities are still quite limited at such an early date, but there is an outside chance of early Hoopoes or perhaps Alpine Swifts, or possibly a rare heron. Anything is possible with birding but a nice accessible Gyr Falcon would be well received by the masses!

For many of us birdwatching is about the excitement of finding and seeing your own birds and there will always be days that stand out for different reasons. We will shortly be featuring a number of articles on Bird News Extra detailing 'Days to Remember' which we hope you will enjoy reading. We are interested in developing these further, so if you have a day that you remember for whatever reason, please write and let us know and we might feature your article. Unfortunately we can not feature every article that we receive, but we look forward to reading about your best day in the field.

Written by: Russell Slack, BirdGuides