Review of the Week: 4th-10th January 2002


The settled high-pressure system that had held much of the country in its icy grip since Christmas finally relinquished its hold last weekend. Since then, temperatures for many of us since have been less than spectacular and the sun seems but a distant memory. As a consequence many stretches of water remain frozen and species such as Bitterns and Water Rails have been relatively easy to see.

Easily the best bird of the week is the first record of Desert Wheatear for the Isle of Man from the 5th to at least the 8th (see www.birdguides.com/birdnews/article.asp?a=27 for more details) Although not unprecedented, January arrivals are certainly noteworthy, particularly so after an absence of records last autumn. Another exciting record was a white morph Gyr Falcon seen hunting Ptarmigan near Braemar, Aberdeenshire on the 6th. Unfortunately it has not been seen since the initial sighting, but would doubtless prove extremely popular if it was relocated. Other new arrivals have been thin on the ground, but last week's Great White Egret in Cheshire was relocated on the 4th, and although highly mobile it has settled for an area near Great Budworth over the past few days. A second bird was reported to us on the 10th from Riccall, 6 miles to the south of York in North Yorkshire for its third day. A White Stork in Derbyshire from 7th-8th was unusual, but as is often the case with this species the origin of such birds is perhaps debatable. Amongst many reports of the scarcer gulls, a 1st-winter American Herring Gull on North Ronaldsay was noteworthy.

The cold snap seems to have moved on many of the long-staying rarities that have been present for some time, though many lingered long enough to accommodate the most ardent of year-listers. In Ayrshire the Snowy Egret was last seen on the 7th, so many will be hoping that it has continued to move further south, perhaps to the northwest or north Wales? The Ivory Gull at Montrose was last seen on the 4th, leaving many weekend birders frustrated on the 5th. The Arctic Redpolls still remain at Titchwell, but have not been reported daily. The Redhead remains at Kenfig NNR, as does the Lesser Scaup in Dorset, and the Lesser Yellowlegs at Pembroke. In Cornwall the adult Bonaparte’s Gull continues to show well. Around the country good numbers of rare wildfowl are at large, with good numbers of Ring-necked Ducks and Ferruginous Ducks, plus Green-winged Teals and several American Wigeons. Black Brants are present in record numbers this winter and careful scrutiny of any Brent Geese flocks might well pay dividends.

The cold weather and the freezing of wetland areas has been of some benefit to birdwatchers, if not the birds. During the winter the Bittern is a secretive dweller of reedbeds and rank waterside vegetation, elusive at the best of times. Achieving good views can be extremely difficult, and often the best we can hope for is a brief flight view as a bird lifts above the reedbed only to drop down again a few seconds later. On the ground, its movements seem to be perfectly choreographed with its habitat as birds frustratingly 'melt' into the reedbed and out of view never to reappear. The numbers wintering in Britain are linked with the severity of the weather conditions at the time, as the cold weather prompts birds to move from breeding areas in northwest Europe. However, during freezing weather in Britain the detection of birds in their wintering habitat is made much easier, and with patience it is often possible to gain excellent views of this wonderful species out in the open. Since the 1st January we have documented records for 48 birds across Britain on Bird News Extra (see figure below), the majority of which have been in southern England. Some have been of birds at roost, but many have involved birds showing well for extended periods. So, whilst the ice persists, there might not be a better opportunity to get out and check your local wetland or overgrown waterway for the memorable sight of a wintering Bittern.

Distribution of Bittern records by county, 1st-10th January 2002

Bizarre event of the week was reported to us by one of our subscribers who was watching a party of Bearded Tits at Far Ings NR in Lincolnshire. A Water Rail was also present nearby and was watched to kill and eat one of the male Bearded Tits! Desperate weather calls for desperate times...

Written by: Russell Slack, BirdGuides