Review of the Week: 9th-15th April 2009


The week at a glance

Finally the winter shackles have been shaken off as April managed to provide a week's worth of entertaining early spring overshoots across various parts of the country. The weather too, in some areas at least, continued to improve: glorious spring sunshine bathed Easter's birders, particularly across parts of the north and west, but further east and south sunshine was clouded out with rain, drizzle and cold, clammy murk.

Despite the pleasing new arrivals from the south, the undoubted highlight of the week was the male White-throated Sparrow "found" on 11th at Old Winchester Hill (Hampshire). The second to hit the headlines in the space of a month (after the bird that wintered in Cheshire, unbeknown to anyone) this bird seemed rather more straightforward: a new arrival for sure and yes, although within striking distance of a well-known port with a notable history of ship-assisted American vagrants (even the same species, in 2007), this was plainly a bird re-orientating, having a sing-song before heading north. Ah, if only it were that simple! As birders wishing to fill a hole (be it in a county, year or life list) began to arrive on site, it became apparent that this particular bird hadn't arrived on the day and it wasn't heading north for the moment as it had in fact been present for around five months and had been successfully suppressed from November 7th (or 8th) 2008! Over 150 days without local birders knowing about it. Over 150 days without local birders finding it. Over 150 days of secrecy. No mean feat in this day and age. Of course, the site is sensitive in terms of butterflies but, as a host of people have pointed out, winter is a time of the year not known for mass flights of Lepidoptera. Some unusual plants are also present on site, but visitors have also been keen to point out that the bird is almost entirely confined to the car park. On the web, one or two confused bloggers have been quick to defend the suppression, stating the delicate nature of the site and how it shouldn't be trashed by twitchers, before declaring how exciting the bird was when they went to see it! Hmmmm. The staff at the sharp end of all this, the Natural England wardens, were apparently advised to keep this transatlantic vagrant under wraps, and some have already cited birders' behaviour at Hampshire's last big twitch, the wintering White-tailed Eagle, as reason enough to keep shtum. It seems that a few people have helped to keep such concerns bubbling along by deciding to plonk themselves in the same hedge as the bird. Well done chaps. That crass behaviour aside, thankfully, things seem to have run relatively smoothly. Imagine the hoo-ha though if it had been, say, a Fox Sparrow.

White-throated Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow, Old Winchester Hill, Hampshire (Photo: Chris Thomas)

Down in Cornwall, another Great Spotted Cuckoo was reported this week: this time on the north coast, around Pentire Point on 10th. If accepted, it will be the second record for the site; the first was seen there one day shy of exactly 30 years ago, on 11th–16th April 1979. Out on Guernsey, the two Zitting Cisticolas were still at Port Soif to 12th at least. Two highly rated "probables" raised a few eyebrows on 15th. First was the potential Crag Martin seen briefly with other hirundines over Attenborough Pits (Nottinghamshire). Then, just a few hours later, came word of a potential near-adult Glaucous-winged Gull seen for around 20 minutes at the Galdenoch landfill site. The latter species has been seen by pretty much anyone who wants to in the UK now (though Scottish birders will be desperate for a national first). As for the former species, it is almost 10 years to the day since the much-appreciated bird at Swithland Reservoir (on 17th April 1999, relocating to West Yorkshire the following day), so any "sticking" Crag Martin will attract a sizeable crowd now.

The new month has seen the expected upturn in numbers of the always-exciting White-billed Diver. One remained at Little Loch Broom, Camusnagaul (Highland) to 15th, when one was seen again off North Ronaldsay (Orkney). A second-summer was seen off Turnberry Point (Ayrshire) on 11th and on the same day, two adults were noted near Naast (Highland). On 13th, a single bird was in Gruinard Bay Highland) and seven were seen near the traditional spring hotspot of Port Skigersta, Lewis (Outer Hebrides).

White-billed Diver
White-billed Diver, North Ronaldsay, Orkney (Photo: anon)

Pomarine Skuas were seen from Galley Head (Co. Cork) on two dates this week and one was off Lettermullan (Co. Galway) on 11th. Single Sooty and Balearic Shearwaters flew past Berry Head (Devon) on 9th while a Sabine's Gull was off Lizard Point (Cornwall) on the same date. A Grey Phalarope was off Filey Brigg (North Yorkshire) on 11th.

Three Cattle Egrets lingered around Drift Reservoir (Cornwall) for much of the week and half a dozen were on the Hayle Estuary to 15th. Next door in Devon, four birds were again alongside the Kingsbridge Estuary at the start of the week, with one still on the opposite side of the county at Yelland to 14th. In Dorset, two Cattle Egrets were at Wareham on 11th–12th with single birds remaining in Cheshire and Pembrokeshire. In Ireland, nine Cattle Egrets were seen near Rostellan Lake (Co. Cork) on 13th, with single Cork birds on the same day at Cahermore and the Beamish Pool, and four at White's Marsh on 15th.

Wareham also scored a Great White Egret this week, one flying high WSW over there on 12th. Other new birds this week were in Cork (at Glounthaune on 10th and Fota Island on 13th), on the Dyfi Estuary (Ceredigion) and at Strumpshaw Fen (Norfolk) on 11th, Yantlett Creek (Kent) on 13th and Rainham Marshes (London) on 14th. The bird at Gilmourton (Clyde) was still in the mix, present throughout the week. There were up to 18 Spoonbills to report this week. Two birds flew upriver from Oldbury Power Station (Gloucestershire) on 12th, with two appearing at Burton Marsh (Cheshire) the following day. Two were still in Poole Harbour (Dorset) on 13th and two birds were at Benacre Broad (Suffolk) on 14th. Two singles were seen in Kent (at Elmley Marshes and Allhallows-on-Sea) and Essex (still at Old Hall Marshes and also at Orsett). Lone birds were at Green Island (Scilly), Exminster Marshes (Devon), Lodmoor (Dorset), Horsham (West Sussex), Inner Marsh Farm (Cheshire) and Leighton Moss (Lancashire). A Common Crane was at Lamba Ness, Unst (Shetland) on 9th (which may well have accounted for the bird seen on Papa Westray (Orkney) on 12th) and was followed by three birds over Carlton Colville (Suffolk) on 11th, two birds over Chasewater (Staffordshire) on 14th and four birds over Titchwell (Norfolk) on 15th. Single Cranes were seen over King's Lynn (Norfolk) and Ashford (Kent) on 12th and Stump Cross (Essex) on 14th. At least 18 birds were in the Norfolk Broads as well.

Great White Egret
Great White Egret, Gilmourton, Clyde (Photo: Ian Fulton)

Spoonbill, Burton Marsh, Cheshire (Photo: Steve Seal)

Suspect White Storks were still at large around County Durham and West Yorkshire this week, while a bird of unknown origin was a brief visitor to Albury (Hertfordshire) on 11th, reappearing the following day at Marston Vale (Bedfordshire). Another White Stork (with, you'd imagine, impeccable credentials) drifted over St. Mary's (Scilly) on 13th — this is still a rare bird for the island's resident birders (the last were two seen in September 2004). The 14th saw a White Stork appear at Rednal (Shropshire) where it stayed to 15th. In Suffolk, the (typically splendid) adult Purple Heron at Hollesley Marsh remained until the morning of 10th, before moving to Shingle Street and Oxley Marshes later that day. However, by late afternoon it had flown north from there, and hasn't been reported since.

White Stork
White Stork, Albury, Hertfordshire (Photo: David Sale)

One blue and one white Snow Goose were visitors to Loch of Strathbeg (Aberdeenshire) from 9th–14th and a Greater Canada Goose was seen at Brue, Lewis (Outer Hebrides) on 10th. In Norfolk, two Black Brants were at Titchwell on 11th.

Black Brant
Black Brant, Titchwell RSPB, Norfolk (Photo: Steve Carey)

There were five Lesser Scaup to report this week: review staples lingered in Cardiff Bay (Glamorgan) and Holme Pierrepont (Nottinghamshire), while new drakes were found at Bracklagh Lough (Cavan) on 12th, Hornsea Mere (East Yorkshire) on 13th–15th and at Blair Drummond (Forth) on 15th. Two drake Ring-necked Ducks remained on Loch an Eilein, Tiree (Argyll) on 9th (with one there to 13th), while on 10th the pair remained at Lydacan Turlough (Co. Galway) with single Irish drakes on the same day at Lough Atedaun (Co. Clare) and Inch Island Lake (Co. Donegal). The 13th saw further single Irish drake Ring-necked Ducks noted at Cross Lough and Carrowmore Lake (Co. Mayo), and a female was at the former site on 12th. Two female Ring-necked Ducks were still on Vartry Reservoir (Co. Wicklow) on 12th and lone females lingered on Martnaham Loch (Ayrshire) to 12th and Swineham GPs (Dorset) to 14th. The week's tally was raised again when a drake appeared in Highland, at Loch Ruthven on 14th and drakes at Oxford Island (Co. Armagh) and Otmoor (Oxfordshire) were seen again on 15th. In Somerset, the drake Ferruginous Duck was still on Chew Valley Lake, from 9th to 12th at least.

Ring-necked Duck
Ring-necked Duck, Oxford Island NNR, Armagh (Photo: Ed. O'Hara)

Five of the week's six Green-winged Teal were leftovers from recent weeks — at Draycote Water (Warwickshire), Eyebrook Reservoir (Leicestershire), Greenabella Marsh (Cleveland), Kilcoole (Co. Wicklow) and Shannon Airport Lagoons (Co. Clare) — while a new bird was at Errol (Perth & Kinross) on 11th–12th. The only American Wigeon this week was the adult drake that remained on the Ythan Estuary (Aberdeenshire) to 11th at least.

Green-winged Teal
Green-winged Teal, Eyebrook Reservoir, Leicestershire and Rutland (Photo: Steve Carey)

A drake Surf Scoter was again off Ruddon's Point (Fife) in the early part of the week, while three (two males and a female) were back in the familiar surrounds of the Sound of Taransay (Outer Hebrides) on 12th. The fifth Surf Scoter of the week, a drake, was seen in Gosford Bay (Lothian) on 13th and the sixth, another male, was off Rerwick Head (Orkney) on 14th. In Ireland, the two King Eiders were still near Lissadell (Co. Sligo) to 14th at least and in Dorset, the drake Hooded Merganser was still at Radipole Lake (Dorset) to 13th.

Another week, another Gyrfalcon! A great late winter for this ultra-raptor was enhanced further by one seen near Midleton (Co. Cork) on 13th. A released White-tailed Eagle was still at Loch of Strathbeg this week and another wing-tagged bird was seen on North Ronaldsay (Orkney) on 11th–12th. An adult Rough-legged Buzzard appeared over West Somerton (Norfolk) on 10th. In Cambridgeshire, some two months after it was last reported, the Rough-legged Buzzard was reported again near Coveney 0n 14th. A Black Kite was seen over the Hayle Estuary on 12th, with further singles on the same day reported in Kent, near Lydd and Dungeness, and in West Sussex, at Ardingly Reservoir. On 13th, a Black Kite was seen flying over Stoke Newington (London) and on 14th, one was seen at Seaford (East Sussex). Back in West Sussex, one was over Lancing on 15th and the same day saw another drift over Blore (Staffordshire). A handful of Montagu's Harriers were noted during the week and there was an early report of a Honey Buzzard too, flying over Mizen Head (Co. Cork) on 10th. A male Snowy Owl was still on North Uist during the week, seen at Aird an Runair on 13th–14th, and the birds on the Channel Islands lingered on.

Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl, Lihou, Guernsey (Photo: Steve Levrier)

In Norfolk, out on the mudflats of Breydon Water, the identity of the bird reported last week as a Pacific Golden Plover was finally resolved this week as a few decent record shots emerged — it's wasn't a Pacific, it was a (brightish) first-summer American Golden Plover and it remained to 15th. A female Kentish Plover was a brief visitor to the same site on 14th and was preceded by another female seen at Orford Ness (Suffolk) on 10th and again on 12th. In Essex, a Lesser Yellowlegs was found at Heybridge Basin on 13th, and in County Clare a Long-billed Dowitcher dropped in, once again, at Shannon Airport Lagoons, also on 13th. This is the fifth year in a row that the species has been seen at the site; most recent was in October last year, while in April 2008 one was seen on 20th.

American Golden Plover
American Golden Plover, Breydon Water RSPB, Norfolk (Photo: Ben Lewis)

There were three adult Bonaparte's Gulls to report this week: one remained around Peninerine, South Uist (Outer Hebrides) to 10th, when one was noted on the Swords Estuary (Co. Dublin) and these two were followed by a great find at Farmoor Reservoir (Oxfordshire) on 11th (the fourth record for the county and the site and all within the last decade). The latter bird went missing for day, but appeared again on 13th–15th. In Cheshire, at Sandbach Flashes, a possible first-summer American Herring Gull was seen on 9th–10th. Photos taken show a less-than-impressive beast which may be difficult to ever prove as smithsonianus — if it is one, it's at the less-than-classic end of the scale. As it stands, just three Caspian Gulls was reported this week: a first-summer seen at the London Wetland Centre on 12th (and again on 15th) with a second first year bird appearing at Dungeness (Kent) on 14th. A second-summer bird was at Livermere Lake (Suffolk) on 15th.

Numbers of Iceland Gulls, as you may expect, continued to fall away this week, with around 65 birds reported from Britain and Ireland. Five at Ullapool (Highland) on 9th was the largest group noted, while three at Stranraer (Dumfries & Galloway) on 11th was of note (at least five birds were seen in the county this week). Up to five birds were also noted in Cheshire and the Outer Hebrides as well. The only Kumlien's Gull was the juvenile still around Rossaveal (Co. Galway) on 14th. Glaucous Gulls were even less in evidence: around 25 birds were noted countrywide, with up to five birds on the Outer Hebrides the only tally of note.

Iceland Gull
Iceland Gull, Tobermory, Mull, Argyll (Photo: Gary)

The first-summer Ring-billed Gull was still at Helston (Cornwall) this week, while the first-year bird was still in Antrim too. Further young birds were at Cross Lough on the Mullet (Co. Mayo) on 13th and Loch Beg, Mull (Argyll) on 15th. A second-winter was also in Antrim this week, seen at Larne Lough on 11th, while the county's third bird of the week was an adult at Portrush on 12th. Two birds (an adult and a first-winter) were found at Quilty (Co. Cork) on 11th and an adult was at Nimmo's Pier (Co. Galway) on 12th. Also at Nimmo's, the now summer-plumaged Forster's Tern was seen again on 11th–12th. In Essex, an adult Whiskered Tern was a 30-minute visitor to Hanningfield Reservoir on 14th and, if accepted, will be the first in the county in over a decade (although one was reported briefly off Canvey Island in September 2004).

Ring-billed Gull
Ring-billed Gull, Helston, Cornwall (Photo: Tony Mills)

Ring-billed Gull
Ring-billed Gull, Loch Beg, Mull, Argyll (Photo: Bryan Rains)

Forster's Tern
Forster's Tern, Nimmo's Pier, Galway (Photo: Dermot Breen)

Wales bagged a Hoopoe this week, one appearing at Alwen Reservoir (Conwy) on 10th, when one also made it to Shetland, found on Whalsay and staying to 12th at least. Another Hoopoe was reported from Perham Down (Wiltshire) on 12th and towards the end of the week Suffolk bagged a couple: one was at Barnham on 14th, with the other appearing on 15th at Landguard NR. The spring's first Red-rumped Swallows appeared this week with birds seen at Bishop Middleham (Co. Durham) on 9th, St. Martin's (Scilly) and Frolesworth (Leicestershire) on 10th, the latter bird moving to Watermead CP on 11th where it stayed to 13th. Then, on 14th, a Red-rumped Swallow spent 45 minutes at Upper Bittell Reservoir (Worcestershire), with singles on 15th at Titchwell (Norfolk), Moreton (Cheshire) and Thurso (Highland). More high-flyers to report this week were five Alpine Swifts. The first was seen at Snettisham (Norfolk) on 9th and was followed by two birds on 11th, at Pulborough Brooks (West Sussex) and Old Hall Marshes (Essex), while on 12th one sped over Gibraltar Point (Lincolnshire) and was followed by one over Pilling Lane Ends (Lancashire) on 15th. The first Wryneck of 2009 appeared at Warden Point (Kent) on 10th with further singles reported at Muckleborough Hill (Norfolk) and Barton-on-Humber (Lincolnshire) on the same day. Another Wryneck (or two) was seen around Benacre and nearby Kessingland (Suffolk) on 13th–14th while the final arrival of the week was found on North Ronaldsay (Orkney) on 15th. Further 2009 firsts this week were an early Golden Oriole at Dungeness (Kent) on 12th and a male Bluethroat (variety unknown) reported briefly at Woolhampton GPs (Berkshire) on 9th.

Red-rumped Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow, Watermead CP, Leicestershire and Rutland (Photo: Darren Chapman)

Alpine Swift
Alpine Swift, Gibraltar Point NNR, Lincolnshire (Photo: Andrew P. Chick)

The number of Great Grey Shrikes dropped to just nine this week. New singles were seen in Norfolk (at Letheringsett), North Yorkshire (at Langdale Forest and Grassington), Northumberland (at Simonside) and Northamptonshire (at Borough Hill) while lingering birds remained in Pembrokeshire, Gloucestershire, Cumbria, Derbyshire and Durham. A flock of 100+ Waxwings was at Lemonroyd (West Yorkshire) on 9th and 200+ were still in Glasgow (Clyde) on the same date. On 10th, over 100 were in Market Warsop (Nottinghamshire).

Great Grey Shrike
Great Grey Shrike, Cutthroat Bridge, Derbyshire (Photo: Rob Smith)

Waxwing, Sudbury, Suffolk (Photo: Willie)

After a probable female Subalpine Warbler was seen in west Cornwall, a first-summer male was found at Mizen Head (Co. Cork) on 10th, with a second Cork bird appearing at Toe Head on 11th. Cork's third, a female, was found on Cape Clear Island on 15th. On Scilly, a male Western Subalpine Warbler was found on St. Mary's, also on 11th while, back in Ireland, their fourth of the week , another male, was found at Carnsore Point (Co. Wexford) on 12th. The singing Siberian Chiffchaff was still at Westport Lake (Staffordshire) this week and in Dorset two birds remained at Holes Bay and one was at Radipole Lake. Along the south coast in Devon, another was at Thurlestone on 14th.

Subalpine Warbler
Subalpine Warbler, Carnsore Point, Wexford (Photo: Tom Shevlin)

Finally this week, news of a Little Bunting in Ashdown Forest (East Sussex) emerged on 12th, the bird having actually been found earlier in the week, on 10th. It stayed in place to 13th at least.

Photo of the Week

Great Grey Shrike
Great Grey Shrike, Cutthroat Bridge, Derbyshire (Photo: Robert Askew)

Great Grey Shrikes can settle for extended periods in locations across the UK, making them relatively easy additions to birders' year lists. For bird photographers, though, getting close enough for anything but a record shot of these stunning birds is normally at best challenging and at worst impossible. Making the most of a particularly obliging individual, Robert Askew bagged a superb portrait shot this week. With a simple, balanced composition showing the bird perfectly posed in great light, isolated against a plain background, this is a dream shot. When bird photographers are on their way to catch up with such a scarcity, this is the kind of image they hope they will go home with, but seldom do.

Avocet, Marshside RSPB, Lancashire (Photo: David Cookson)

Black-necked Grebe
Black-necked Grebe, undisclosed site, West Yorkshire (Photo: Marcus Conway)

Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl, Lihou, Guernsey (Photo: Steve Levrier)

Gannet, Bempton Cliffs RSPB, East Yorkshire (Photo: David Cookson)

Razorbill, Bempton Cliffs RSPB, East Yorkshire (Photo: Steve Race)

Dipper, Lathkill Dale NNR, Derbyshire (Photo: Jon Evans)

Black-tailed Godwit
Black-tailed Godwit, Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk (Photo: Amanda Hayes)

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl, Beeley Moor, Derbyshire (Photo: Robert Askew)

Yellow Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail, Covenham Reservoir, Lincolnshire (Photo: Nick Clayton)

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Spain (Photo: Steve Fletcher)

Swallow, Belgium (Photo: Rudi Debruyne)

Blue Tit
Blue Tit, Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk (Photo: Jon Evans)

Written by: Mark Golley