The week at a glance
- Collared Flycatcher on Shetland
- Pied-billed Grebe on Achill Island, Co. Mayo
- Report of a White's Thrush in Highland on 5th May
- Strong passage of Pomarine and Long-tailed Skuas in western areas
- Light drizzling of drift migrants on Shetland and along the northeast coast
The changeable conditions experienced during the second week of May might have produced some pretty foul weather that included widespread gales, heavy rain and even a dusting of snow in areas, but the week's birding actually proved pretty reasonable. Sure, there was a distinct lack of ground-breaking mega-rarities and massive falls of migrants, but there was enough on offer right across the country to keep birders ticking over. And, with east winds and plenty of precipitation forecast for the weekend coming, May could well be about to kick off in a big way.
For the second week running, the individual rarity of the week was a Collared Flycatcher — this time found at Skaw, Whalsay (Shetland) on 10th. As with the Northumberland bird (which was still there on 9th), it was a fine first-summer male — a gorgeous mix of black and white, with immaturity betrayed only by a brownish wash to the wings. Rather unusually for the species (especially on the sparsely vegetated archipelago), it went on to linger for six days, still being present and showing well on 15th and further cementing the species' recent status as an almost expected annual spring vagrant.
Further excitement came from way out west, when Achill Island (Mayo) birder Michael O'Briain discovered a fine breeding-plumaged Pied-billed Grebe on the island at Sruhillbeg Lough on 14th. It seems feasible that this could be the bird seen a stone's throw across Clew Bay at Lough Baun back in late October 2012 but, given recent conditions, it could equally be new. Either way, it's yet another high-quality rarity in what is still a criminally underwatched part of the world. Meanwhile, back in Scotland, a White's Thrush was belatedly reported from woodland near Glen Feshie (Highland) on 5th May, following hot on the heels of last week's news of a bird photographed by a camera trap at the end of January.
With strong winds battering many western areas, it proved a good week for Pomarine and Long-tailed Skua passage from Cornwall north to the Outer Hebrides. As is often the case, Aird an Runair on North Uist bagged the bulk of birds with 614 Poms and 57 Long-tails past by mid-afternoon on 11th, over 300 of each on 12th and, on 13th, an outstanding show of 455 Poms and 415 Long-tails. Incredible! The Solway didn't do too badly either, with Annan (Dumf & Gall) recording 101 Poms on 10th and regular counts of up to 80 from Bowness-on-Solway, while both northwest Wales and the Ayrshire coastline also claimed double-figure counts of both species.
In the rancid conditions of Wednesday 15th, a strong passage of waders and terns also occurred throughout inland areas, with plenty of Sanderlings and Turnstones (with smaller numbers of other species such as Curlew Sandpipers) noted, as well as the first real (albeit still relatively minor) influx of Black Terns. It was a relatively good week for waders, with a spotty Spotted Sandpiper at Wadebridge (Cornwall) unusually lingering for five days from 10th — many spring records prove one-day wonders. Wicken Fen (Cambs) played a blinder during heavy rain on 14th as it pulled in a Black-winged Stilt (still there the next day) and also a triumvirate of Pectoral Sandpipers — three of an impressive nine recorded, with others in Kent, Suffolk, Pembrokeshire, Cleveland, Northumberland and County Wexford. Pecs were only just outnumbered by Temminck's Stints, a dozen or so records typically showing an east-coast bias, although there were also birds in Worcestershire and Northamptonshire.
Scarce passerine migrants included a decent early showing of over 25 Red-backed Shrikes, with minima of 11 on Shetland and seven on Orkney as well as a handful of records from northeast England during a mini-fall on 15th. As many as ten Bluethroats (presumably all Red-spots by date) included a showy singing male at Girdle Ness (Aberdeenshire) on 10th with two Cleveland records late on 15th and six in the Northern Isles. Icterine Warblers were on Fair Isle and North Ronaldsay and the first Marsh Warbler of 2013 was trapped and ringed on 13th. Red-breasted Flycatchers were at Rattray Head (Aberdeenshire) on 11th and lingering on Fair Isle on 12th–14th; Fair Isle also boasted its 59th(!) record of Thrush Nightingale on 10th and a fine Ortolan for a few days from 12th, as well as one of the week's five or so Wrynecks.
From the south came the first Great Reed Warbler of the year, singing at Grimley (Worcs) on 14th only — clearly it didn't find the adverse conditions of the British spring to its liking, nor apparently did the singing Savi's Warbler at Minsmere (Suffolk) on 12th. A gorgeous first-summer male Western Subalpine Warbler was at Cruden Bay (Aberdeenshire) on 14th–15th with a further male (unassigned to race) at Rampside (Cumbria) on 15th and the female still on St. Mary's (Scilly) to 11th. Four Woodchats comprised two lingering birds in West Cornwall, a single still on Scilly and a new bird at Hook Head (Wexford) on 14th. Brief Serin sightings came from Portland (Dorset) on 10th, 12th and 15th, while further fleeting records came from Topsham (Devon), Bockhill Farm (Kent) and Selsey Bill (W Sussex). Eight Bee-eaters over St. Osyth (Essex) on 11th were followed by six there the following day then nine nearby at Colne Point on 12th; this was subsequently eclipsed by an impressive ten at Saltwood (Kent) on 14th. Of the four Hoopoes reported, just one proved twitchable: the lingering bird in Lyme Regis (Dorset), which was still there on 15th.
A Red-throated Pipit flew over Spurn (E Yorks) on 10th and the Short-toed Lark was still on St. Mary's (Scilly) to 13th; Grey-headed Wagtails included singles at Scatness (Shetland) and Cley (Norfolk), with two in the latter county at Burnham Norton on 12th. A Black-headed Wagtail — looking very much the 'real deal' with solid black hood and a lack of white on the throat — was in Pembrokeshire at Marloes Mere on 12th–13th (yes, the Glossy Ibis was still there too). Red-rumped Swallows were seen in Lincolnshire (Gibraltar Point on 9th), East Yorkshire (Flamborough on 11th and Spurn on 12th), London (Beddington Sewage Farm on 12th) and Norfolk (Whitlingham Country Park on 13th), while Dungeness (Kent) claimed what could well be its fourth of the spring on 13th. What was possibly the same Alpine Swift was seen over Staines Reservoirs (Surrey) on 12th and Ascot Racecourse (Berks) on 15th.
Extralimital Great White Egrets were seen at East Chevington and Hauxley (Northumberland) to 10th, Loch of Strathbeg (Aberdeenshire) from 12th and over Barmston (E Yorks) on 14th. A Cattle Egret at Minsmere (Suffolk) on 11th was also seen at North Warren, while Anglesey claimed a new bird near Llanfachraeth on 14th–15th. The Kent bird was at Grove Ferry to 11th before seemingly relocating to Shorne Marshes on 14th, and the County Down bird was again at Hillsborough Lake on 12th. A Black Stork was very accurately described by a local bus driver from fields near Llanffair Dyffryn Clwyd on 9th.
Abnormally for an adult, the male Red-footed Falcon extended its stay at Lakenheath Fen (Suffolk) throughout the week and offered visitors some great photo opportunities. A Black Kite was as far north as Kirkwall (Orkney) on 9th and another roosted near West Hartford (Northumberland) on 14th–15th; others were noted in Powys, East Sussex and Kent. The male Snowy Owl was again seen in the Solas area of North Uist from 13th. Migrant Montagu's Harriers included only the fourth for Northern Ireland — a beautiful male — at Lough Cowey (Down) on 12th–14th at least. Several Honey Buzzards were also recorded.
The excellent run of Bonaparte's Gull records continued with new birds at Kilshannig (Kerry) on 13th–15th and Siblyback Reservoir (Cornwall) on 15th in addition to remaining birds at Tacumshin (Wexford) to 13th and on the Exe Estuary (Devon) to 14th at least. At least one second-summer Ring-billed Gull was on the Down/Antrim border, with two first-summers at Whitehouse Lagoon on 12th and the third-summer also still at Groomsport. On Shetland, the first-summer was still near Hillwell.
At least five White-billed Divers were seen from a boat trip out of Buckie (Moray/Nairn) on 12th, when the South Ronaldsay bird was also still present; others were off Burghead on 9th–14th and at Evie (Orkney) on 9th. The King Eider remained on the Ythan Estuary (Aberdeenshire) while, of the four Surf Scoters, one was new: a drake off Bamburgh (Northumberland) on 14th. Two Black Brants — an adult and first-winter — were on Kirton Marsh (Lincs) on 13th. A drake Lesser Scaup was at St. John's Loch (Highland) on 10th–13th, with other drakes lingering at Saltholme (Cleveland) and Anglers Country Park (W Yorks) to 10th. A new drake Ring-necked Duck was on Inch Island Lake (Donegal) on 9th; others were still at Tophill Low (E Yorks) and again at Chew Valley Lake (Somerset) from 13th, where a drake Ferruginous Duck was also found (the female was still at Minsmere on 9th).
A drake American Wigeon was new in at Cuskinny Marsh (Cork) on 12th–15th. Drake Green-winged Teal were at Dungeness (Kent) on 12th–14th and Daliburgh, South Uist (Outer Hebrides) on 15th, in addition to birds again in Leicestershire and Cumbria. In Clyde, the Blue-winged Teal was still at Bridgend Farm Pool on 11th.
Bee-eater, Greece (Photo: Jamie MacArthur)
Jamie MacArthur is well established as a BirdGuides photo contributor with over 600 uploads, over 30 Notables and now his third Photo of the Week. Jamie travels far and wide with his camera and this week, having just returned from his annual trip to the Greek island of Lesvos, he has uploaded an amazing selection of the images he brought back. As we've come to expect from Jamie, the standard of these images is so high that any of them could have been included in our weekly round-up. In the end, though, we selected a stunning portrait of a Bee-eater that captures the wonderful beauty of this exotic species. Even with the advanced photo editing tools available today, it can be surprisingly difficult to convey naturally the vivid colours of species such as Bee-eaters, but shooting this bird in direct sunlight against a drab backdrop and carefully handling the colours in post-processing shows how well it can be done. A minimalist composition with strong diagonals and an appealing 'over-the-shoulder' pose complete an aesthetic image with real impact.