Review of the Week: 9-15 October 2023


It was always going to be a struggle to keep up the frenetic pace of recent weeks, particularly with such changeable weather and a run of north-westerlies These did deliver the first noticeable arrival of Whooper Swans, alongside a surprising, early arrival of Waxwings.

After last year's initial excitement fizzled out to nothing, might we hope for the first proper 'Waxwing winter' in several years? Perhaps as many as 50 birds were in Shetland alone, with others reaching Orkney, Outer Hebrides, Argyll, Highland and Aberdeenshire. More unexpected were two in western Ireland, with birds at Tarmon, Co Mayo, and Inishbofin, Co Galway, undoubtedly garnering more than a second glance by the finders to rule out the possibility of Cedar … just in case!

Waxwing, Burravoe, Yell, Shetland (Dougie Preston).

North American passerines continued to appear despite the week's lack of obvious weather for new arrivals. Black-and-white Warbler was finally unblocked in Ireland, with a first-winter male on Inishbofin, Co Galway, from 12th ending the long wait for a gettable bird there. This was only the fifth Irish occurrence, following three accepted records, an unsubmitted bird from Inishbofin in October 2019 and narrowly preceded by another at Firkeel, Co Cork, for a matter of minutes on 10th. Sadly, that bird proved agonisingly brief in foggy conditions, meaning the relief was even more palpable when Inishbofin's latest star find lingered for all only a few days later.

Black-and-white Warbler, Inishbofin, Galway (Brian McCloskey).

Shetland's second American Yellow Warbler of the autumn was found just in time before large numbers of visiting birders returned home from their holidays to the archipelago. It was present in gardens at Hoswick, Mainland, on 12-13th. The first-winter White-crowned Sparrow lingered at Houbie, Fetlar, until 11th. Interestingly, an orange bill and pale lores allow it to be identified as the Western gambellii subspecies, meaning the island has now hosted both subspecies on the British list (following an adult male leucophrys in May 2020).

American Yellow Warbler (centre) with House Sparrows, Hoswick, Mainland, Shetland (Mark Rayment).

White-crowned Sparrow, Houbie, Fetlar, Shetland (Alan Tate).

In the Outer Hebrides, a Swainson's Thrush at Castlebay, Barra, on 9-10th was the island's ninth North American passerine of the autumn. Otherwise, a Red-eyed Vireo was trapped and ringed on Lundy, Devon, on 9th – the island's third 'REV' of the autumn – and Ireland's ninth American Cliff Swallow of the year was over Great Saltee, Co Wexford, on 12th, with additional Nearctic visitors including an American Buff-bellied Pipit at Nanjizal Valley, Cornwall, at least three Monarch butterflies and an American Painted Lady on St Mary's, Scilly.

Swainson's Thrush, Castlebay, Barra, Outer Hebrides (Bruce Taylor).

Northern Harrier, Windmill Farm NR, Cornwall (Sam Viles).

Lingering Northern Harriers were in Cornwall and Co Mayo at the beginning of the week, followed by a juvenile at Tacumshin, Co Wexford, from 12th. Photo analysis suggests that this might be the Co Mayo bird relocating, although more images are required to be sure. Monday delivered a treat to the Outer Hebrides in the form of a juvenile Hooded Merganser at Loch Ardvule, South Uist, while a juvenile male Lesser Scaup put in an appearance at Cahore Marsh, Co Wexford, from 10-12th.

Two Upland Sandpipers gave birders the runaround, the first of which was in West Cornwall. It was followed by another on Cape Clear, Co Cork, from 9-13th – the county's third and first since 1991. Photos on a Facebook identification group showing a juvenile Solitary Sandpiper were purported to have been taken at Stodmarsh NNR, Kent. Other new finds included a Spotted Sandpiper at Lough Gill, Co Kerry, from 10th and a Baird's Sandpiper at Halton Marshes, Lincolnshire, on 14th, plus a juvenile White-rumped Sandpiper on Achill Island, Co Mayo, and three Semipalmated Sandpipers (birds at Caher Marsh, Co Kerry, South Slob, Co Wexford, and Sandymount, Co Dublin). Another 'Semi' continued to prove popular at Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire.

Semipalmated Sandpiper, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire (Glyn Sellors).

Up to three Buff-breasted Sandpipers were in Scilly, with others at Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire, and Tacumshin, Co Wexford. Elsewhere were three continuing Long-billed Dowitchers and a solid showing of 19 American Golden Plovers, while five Lesser Yellowlegs included new birds in Cumbria, Essex, Outer Hebrides and Co Donegal. The Wilson's Phalarope was last noted at Stiffkey, Norfolk, on 9th. Additional shorebird news consisted of 15 Pectoral Sandpipers and four Eurasian Dotterel nationally, plus a Red-necked Phalarope on the Norfolk coast. The week's only inland Grey Phalarope was at Lapwing Hall Pool, Cheshire.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire (Glyn Sellors).

Pectoral Sandpiper, Aldeburgh Marshes, Suffolk (Chris Mayne).

An amazing Olive-backed Pipit record saw one briefly pitch down inland at Cissbury Ring, West Sussex, on 14th. It is just the third county record after equally brief visitors in 1987 and 2003. All other 'OBP' records this week were from islands – two in Shetland and singles on Farne Islands, Northumberland, St Agnes, Scilly, Isle of May, Fife, and North Ronaldsay, Orkney. In fact, Sussex enjoyed a fantastic week on the pipit front, with the county's first Red-throated Pipit since 1995 over Beachy Head, East Sussex, on 15th. Others flew over Longhoughton Steel, Northumberland, Paull, East Yorkshire, and Tresco, Isles of Scilly.

Olive-backed Pipit, Cissbury Ring, West Sussex (David Campbell).

Cornwall's Lesser Grey Shrike wasn't noted at all this week; however, was replaced by a different first-winter at Sanaigmore, Islay, from 10th. Other Lanius action comprised the first Great Grey Shrike of the autumn at South Foreland, Kent, on 10th, the adult male Red-tailed Shrike still on Fair Isle, Shetland, and four Red-backed Shrikes.

Lesser Grey Shrike, Sanaigmore, Islay, Argyll (Jim Dickson).

A couple of Amur Stonechats were found on 9th, with birds on North Ronaldsay, Orkney, and Fair Isle, Shetland. A Siberian Stonechat continued on Mainland Shetland, while a male Pied Wheatear at Northdale, Unst, was one of the archipelago's more significant finds of the week. Shetland also hosted three Hornemann's Arctic Redpolls, while the White's Thrush lasted on Bressay until 10th. In Cleveland, an Isabelline Wheatear visited South Gare on 10th. Two Red-flanked Bluetails were seen together at both Filey, North Yorkshire, and on North Ronaldsay, Orkney, with a singleton at Barns Ness, Lothian.

Pied Wheatear, Northdale, Unst, Shetland (David Cooper).

Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll, Norwick, Unst, Shetland (David Cooper).

White's Thrush, Bressay, Shetland (Ian Bollen).

Scilly birders enjoyed a bunting or two, with an Ortolan Bunting on Bryher followed by a Rustic on St Martin's and four Little Buntings across the isles. In fact, Little Bunting enjoyed a strong showing in general this week, with birds at 16 sites including another duo on Holy Island, Northumberland.

In Fife, the Isle of May produced a strong shout for a Central Asian Lesser Whitethroat trapped and ringed on 12th, with apparent Siberian Lesser Whitethroats numbering into double figures. Up to four Radde's Warblers were recorded and Dusky Warblers were in Northumberland and Shetland. The Fair Isle Lanceolated Warbler just made it into the review period on 9th. A vocal Iberian Chiffchaff was on Cape Clear, Co Cork, Arctic Warblers were at four sites and three Melodious Warblers were logged, while Barred Warblers at Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire, and Holyhead, Anglesey, pleased county listers.

Radde's Warbler, Wolla Bank, Lincolnshire (Nick Clayton).

Arctic Warbler, Skaw, Unst, Shetland (John Anderson).

A tame Shore Lark performed admirably at Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk, a Greater Short-toed Lark was on Harris, Outer Hebrides, and as many as five Richard's Pipits were in Scilly, with three noted elsewhere. Other totals comprised 10 Common Rosefinches, 10 Hoopoes, six Rosy Starlings (with half of those in the Isles of Scilly), five Wrynecks, five Red-breasted Flycatchers and four Bluethroats – the last including one on Skokholm, Pembrokeshire.

Shore Lark, Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk (Les Cater).

Red-breasted Flycatcher, Bressay, Shetland (Ian Bollen).

An impressive four juvenile Pallid Harriers were spread the length and breadth of Britain and Ireland, with birds in Scilly, Cornwall, Kent and Co Mayo – the former watched heading south out to sea on 14th and the latter only the second county record. A Snowy Owl located by a dog walker at Balnabruach, Highland, on 8th unfortunately wasn't relocated. Sculthorpe, Norfolk, hosted a juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard the following day.

The juvenile Squacco Heron continued in Somerset for another week, though one at a private Cornish site on 15th came as a surprise. Black Storks overflew Lydd, Kent, on 9th and Kirton Marsh, Lincolnshire, on 15th.

Squacco Heron, Ham Wall RSPB, Somerset & Bristol (Jeff Hazell).

Strong gusts in the North Sea coincided with healthy Pomarine Skua passage, making for some excellent east-coast totals. Holme Dunes, Norfolk, boasted the highest count with 49 past on 15th, with six further sites logging double figures. Perhaps surprisingly, most birds reported were adults.

Pomarine Skua, Cley next the Sea, Norfolk (Andy Thompson).

The South-West continues to host unprecedented large shearwater numbers for so late in the season, with a Scilly pelagic logging 750 each of Great and Cory's Shearwaters on 10th, while an evening trip the following day again located the Red-footed Booby on Bishop Rock Lighthouse. Azores Gulls remained in Cornwall and Co Mayo, as did the Ring-billed Gull at Blennerville, Co Kerry, Forster's Tern at Arne RSPB, Dorset, and Double-crested Cormorant in Co Leitrim.

Cory's Shearwater, Scilly pelagic, Isles of Scilly (Richard Stonier).

Grey Phalarope, Scilly pelagic, Isles of Scilly (Richard Stonier).

Stealing the show on North Ronaldsay, Orkney, was a female Harlequin Duck past on 15th – a first for both the island and the wider Orkney archipelago. Green-winged Teal were at Dawlish Warren, Devon, and Eoligarry, Barra, and two Blue-winged Teal remained at Tophill Low, East Yorkshire, with other totals comprising six American Wigeon, 15 Ring-necked Duck and a lingering Ferruginous Duck in Bedfordshire. Northumberland's regular Black Scoter returned to Goswick on 11th. Surf Scoter were off Shetland, Outer Hebrides, Caithness and Co Antrim.

Blue-winged Teal, Tophill Low NR, East Yorkshire (Lee Johnson).

American Wigeon (front right), Tophill Low NR, East Yorkshire (Lee Johnson).

It looks set to be another sterling winter goose season on Islay, Argyll, as throngs of Barnacle Geese brought with them a Richardson's Cackling Goose, Todd's Canada Goose and Red-breasted Goose. Other Richardson's Cackling Geese were at Halton Marshes, Lincolnshire, Lissadell, Co Sligo, and Vallay, North Uist – the latter joined by a white morph Snow Goose. A blue morph continued in Lancashire and a second Red-breasted Goose was still in Northumberland, while five early-returning Taiga Bean Geese flew south over Holy Island on 9th.


Western Palearctic

It was a week to remember for French birders. A first-winter Chestnut Bunting trapped and ringed near Hyères is only the 13th for the WP but, amazingly, the fourth for France. Highlighting on Ouessant was a Baltimore Oriole on 9th, alongside two continuing American Yellow Warblers. The oriole is only the second for France, following one on the same island just last year. Guernsey's Pied Crow relocated to Cap de la Hague, Normandie, on 8th, which had hosted a fly-past Brown Booby in the preceding days. The Sudan Golden Sparrow was again on Île de Sein and a juvenile Sociable Lapwing was at Villandry.

Action in the Azores has slowed somewhat; however, a few bits and pieces were found. Given prevailing weather conditions it is perhaps unsurprising that a Lesser Kestrel on Corvo – the archipelago's second – was the week's rarest addition. The island's Nearctic species totaliser included the continuing White-eyed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager, three Ovenbirds, American Redstart, Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Cliff Swallow, three Red-eyed Vireos and an American Buff-bellied Pipit. A Wood Duck and Stilt Sandpiper were on São Miguel, with a Solitary Sandpiper on Terceira, Hudsonian Whimbrels on Pico and Flores, and the Yellow-crowned Night Heron on Flores.

Ross's Goose, Vlissegem, West Flanders (Marc Fasol).

Two white-morph adult Ross's Geese – one confirmed to have been ringed in Nunavut, Canada – migrated between Norway and Belgium with Pink-footed Geese, passing through Denmark and the Netherlands en route. Also in Belgium were a Pygmy Cormorant and Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler, while a Sociable Lapwing was at Wildervank, the Netherlands.

Sweden's second Swainson's Thrush was at Nabbelund, Öland, on 10-11th and a Hermit Thrush was at Eyrarbakki, Iceland, on 15th, with the Dark-sided Flycatcher last reported at Herdlevær, Norway, on 10th. An Amur Stonechat on Heligoland is a first for Germany and a Baird's Sandpiper was at Hortobágy, Hungary. No fewer than three countries have added Sabine's Gull to their national lists this month, with one along the Croatia-Slovenia border and another at Lake Kerkini, Greece.

In Spain, the Belted Kingfisher continued at Lekeito, a South Polar Skua flew past Punta de la Vaca and three Lesser Flamingos were logged.


Written by: Sam Viles