Review of the Week: 9th-15th October 2003


As a high pressure system became established over Scandinavia and produced easterly winds the east coast was deluged in sprites, but the aftermath of last week's westerlies was to produce most of the rarer birds for the week.

A Savannah Sparrow was found on Fair Isle (Shetland) on the 14th, and was present to the 15th at least. This is only the 3rd British record, and is the first since one on the same island in 1987, with the first at Portland (Dorset) in 1987. Other Nearctic vagrants included a Swainson's Thrush on Unst (Shetland) on 15th, a Grey-cheeked Thrush on Tresco (Scilly) from 11th at least 15th, with a possible reported on Cape Clear (Co. Cork) also on the 11th. A Bobolink was on Cape Clear on the 11th and two Red-eyed Vireos were present on Scilly with one on St. Mary's from 11th-14th and another on St. Martin's from 13th-14th.

Pied Wheatear: A male on St. Mary's was the first of the autumn. (Photo: John Headon) Red-flanked Bluetail: Not the rarity they once were due to several obliging birds in the last decade, but still high on most birders' 'want to find' lists. (Photo: Mark Reeder)

A 1st-winter Taiga Flycatcher at Sandgarth (Shetland) from 12th at least 15th, as widely predicted, follows rapidly from the first British record at Flamborough Head (E. Yorks) in the spring. More will doubtless follow. Not surprisingly eastern vagrants took a prominent role in the headlines this week. A Red-flanked Bluetail was at Crail (Fife) from the 15th, a Hume's Warbler at Skinningrove (Cleveland) on 15th, with a probable at Sandgarth also on 15th, and an Isabelline Shrike at Donna Nook (Lincs) on 13th. A supporting cast included a 1st-winter male Dark-throated Thrush on Foula (Shetland) from 10th-15th, a male Pied Wheatear on St. Mary's (Scilly) on 15th, and Paddyfield Warblers at Kergord on 12th and Fair Isle on 14th. A Nutcracker was at Trimley Marshes SWT (Suffolk) from 10th-13th, but not subsequently. Had this bird remained it would have proved extremely popular indeed; it is as long ago as 1991 that one lingered long enough to attract an appreciative audience. A Short-toed Treecreeper was at Dungeness (Kent) on 14th; they must occur elsewhere - surely?

Isabelline Shrike: Donna Nook, Lincs. The 2nd of the autumn following one picked up dead on Out Skerries on 1st October. (Photo: Roy Harvey) Isabelline Shrike: Donna Nook, Lincs (Photo: Roy Harvey)

Dusky Warbler: Filey, N. Yorks. One of three reported during the week. (Photo: Chris Gomersall) Red-throated Pipit: Bass Point, Cornwall. A number of 'fly-overs' during the week, but none lingered for long. (Photo: Kris Gillam)

Olive-backed Pipits were reported from Polzeath (Cornwall) on 12th, Sumburgh (Shetland) on 12th, Unst on 13th and Fetlar (Shetland) on 15th. Several Red-throated Pipits were reported, but none lingered and a Siberian Stonechat was at Portland (Dorset) 13th. A Penduline Tit was at Land's End (Cornwall) on 15th. There were 6 typically elusive Radde's Warblers and three Dusky Warblers, including one at Filey (N. Yorks) from 13th-14th.

Yellow-browed Warbler: Spurn, E. Yorks. An excellent arrival of 'sprites' with Yellow-browed and Pallas's seemingly 'everywhere' along the east coast. (Photo: PR Baker) Great Grey Shrike: Bempton, E. Yorks. Around 16 were noted on the east coast. (Photo: Barry Byatt)

Richard's Pipit
Richard's Pipit: Parsonage Reservoir, Lancs. Two were noted inland, this bird in Lancashire and another in Cheshire. (Photo: Mark Breaks)

The easterlies brought sprightly jewels to birders along the east coast and beyond. The first Pallas's Warbler was noted in Highland on the 11th, but by the end of the week around 55 had been found, along with at least 140 Yellow-browed Warblers and smaller numbers of Firecrests. There were around a dozen Barred Warblers, Wrynecks just into double-figures, along with at least 14 Red-breasted Flycatchers, around 25 Richard's Pipits, four Little Buntings, four Red-backed Shrikes and four Hoopoes. Several Bluethroats were reported and just over a dozen Common Rosefinches. At least a dozen Rose-coloured Starlings were also present, all but one in the southwest. Associated with the arrival on the east coast were small numbers of Great Grey Shrikes. A Subalpine Warbler was at Crookhaven (Co. Cork), an Icterine Warbler on St. Mary's a Short-toed Lark at Polgigga (Cornwall) and Red-rumped Swallows on Scilly and briefly in S. Yorkshire. On the Northern Isles four Arctic Redpolls were present, all of the nominate form.

White-rumped Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper: Unst, Shetland. Three were noted; sadly this bird was later killed by a car. (Photo: Mike Pennington)

Pride of place amongst rare waders went to a Semipalmated Plover on Arranmore Island (Co. Donegal) from 10th-11th. There are just two previously accepted records of this subtle rarity, with most birders travelling to see the lingering bird in Devon in 1997 and 1998. Elsewhere, there were White-rumped Sandpipers on Unst on 10th, Fair Isle on 10th and Lewis (Outer Hebrides) on 12th. A Long-billed Dowitcher was at Lough Beg (Co. Londonderry) on 12th and a Lesser Yellowlegs was again at Rahasane Turlough (Co. Galway). A Broad-billed Sandpiper was briefly at Patrington Haven (E. Yorks) on 12th and Great Snipes were on Bardsey (Gwynedd) on 9th with probables reported on Barra (Outer Hebrides) and Bryher (Scilly). Three American Golden Plovers were reported in Ireland and dwindling numbers of Pectoral Sandpipers continued to be found.

Written by: Russell Slack