Weekly birding round-up: 18 - 24 October 2017
The weather continued its westerly pattern this week, with a relentless succession of deep low pressures and, thanks particularly to the arrival of ‘Storm Brian’ on 21st, a return to gale conditions in Ireland and western Britain. For those on the east coast there was a brief calmer ‘window’ (and even a few hours of easterly winds) on 18th and 19th but thereafter the south-westerly and westerly run quickly resumed. Unsurprisingly, the birds reflected the prevailing weather and, in what felt like a pretty meagre selection of new arrivals for the third week of October, it was American species which stole the headlines. In fact, the two best birds of the week both involved re-identifications of birds present last week.
Equal top billing goes to a female or juvenile drake American White-winged Scoter on Unst, Shetland, actually present from 16th but identified on 18th and then present to at least 22nd. This is of course a major rarity in Britain, the only previous record of the American taxon being the returning bird at Murcar, Abereenshire first seen in 2011. This is therefore yet another (and perhaps unexpected) new bird for Shetland and the rarest bird of the autumn for the archipelago. The only other British White-winged Scoter, at Musselburgh, Lothian in 2013, was not assigned to taxon whilst Ireland’s only record, at Rossbeigh, Kerry in 2011, was of the East Asian subspecies.
Sharing the limelight this week was last week’s Orphean Warbler which was reported again on St. Agnes, Isles of Scilly on 20th and may even still be present. I mentioned last week that its identification was still a matter of debate and that has certainly been the case this week. Forensic examination of the relatively poor record shots of the bird (nevertheless a credit to the photographers) has revealed clues in both the outer tail and undertail covert patterns which suggest that Eastern Orphean Warbler was the answer all along. This conclusion has now been endorsed by Lars Svensson who has commented that although the tail pattern seems to fall into a narrow overlap zone (though actually looking better for Eastern than Western), the undertail coverts pattern (with grey central streaks or blotches on the longer feathers) points conclusively to Eastern. If these arguments are persuasive enough for BBRC and BOURC this will become Britain’s first, all previous Orphean Warblers having been either assigned to Western or not identified to taxon.
Continuing the American theme set by the Shetland scoter, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo on St. Agnes, Isles of Scilly on 20th was also an excellent find although sadly (but not unexpectedly) it was in a moribund state, sitting motionless in the grass all day. Although taken into care at dusk, it died overnight. Such seems to be the fate of many American cuckoos in Britain. Despite their size, they seem to respond particularly badly to the transatlantic crossing. This is the fourth major rarity for St. Agnes this autumn, following on from Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Cedar Waxwing and now Eastern Orphean Warbler. The island has had some lean autumns in recent years so this little run is a very welcome return to form.
The week’s east coast highlight (albeit another Nearctic species) was the autumn’s second Cliff Swallow which flew south past Spurn, Yorkshire on the morning of 22nd. East coast Cliff Swallows are not quite the astonishing event they once were, indeed this was Spurn’s second, the first being on 22nd to 23rd and again on 28th October 1995. Other east coast birds have been at South Gare, Cleveland in October 1988 and, most recently, at Minsmere, Suffolk on 4th to 6th November 2016. Nevertheless, this was a magnificent find and surely caused a huge adrenalin rush.
As predicted last week, Grey-cheeked Thrushes came with the westerlies, with two birds in Ireland - at Galley Head, Cork on 19th to 22nd and Rosscarberry, also Cork, on 20th to 23rd.
Also predicted last week was Blackpoll Warbler so, pleasingly, one was found at Lochmaddy, North Uist, Western Isles on 23rd. This is the fourth Blackpoll for the Western Isles but the first for North Uist. The others were on Lewis in 1996 and South Uist in 2003 and 2005.
Breaking the American mould, a Fea’s/Zino’s Petrel (soon to be Fea’s/Zino’s/Desertas Petrel) passed North Ronaldsay, Orkney on 18th. Although peaking in August, these fabulous Pterodromas now have a good track record of October occurrences too with almost twenty occurrences in this month. North Ronaldsay also has good form, with previous records in 2010 and 2016. With no other Orkney records, its monopoly for the archipelago continues.
The Two-barred Greenish Warbler was still at St. Aldhelm’s Head, Dorset on 18th but not subsequently.
Also lingering into this week (and still present at its end) were the male Rock Thrush at Blorenge, Gwent and the Steppe Grey Shrike on Whalsay, Shetland, both still in situ on 24th.
The week’s best seabird was again a White-billed Diver in Norfolk – this time off Winterton on 21st and 23rd. This is doubtless the bird seen last week off Walcott and Hemsby and also off Corton and Lowestoft, both Suffolk, and may well also have something to do with the bird(s) seen on Blakeney Point earlier in the month and off Eccles in early September. If all the sightings do relate to the same individual, Norfolk’s waters have been hosting a White-billed Diver for over six weeks now. Another passed Papa Westray, Orkney on 23rd.
Turning to the more traditional definition of seabirds, the week’s strong winds prompted some better seawatching than of late. The best bird was a tardy Great Shearwater off the Bridges of Ross, Clare on 21st and there were some high counts of Balearic Shearwaters with 35 off The Lizard, Cornwall on 20th and 38 off Pendeen, Cornwall on 21st.
The week’s main feature, however, was a movement of Leach’s Petrels , peaking on 21st and 22nd. These were mainly in the west, with reports as far up the Channel as Hampshire and as far north as Morecambe, Lancashire. The peak counts were ten off Pendeen, Cornwall and 25 off Bridges of Ross, Clare on 21st and ten off New Brighton, Cheshire & Wirral and 12 off Steart, Somerset on 22nd.
Away from the west, singles were at Hoveringham, Nottinghamshire on 18th (when it was taken by a Peregrine), off Southwold, Suffolk and Hound Point, Lothian on 18th, Walton on the Naze, Essex and Spurn, Yorkshire on 19th, Frinton on Sea, Essex on 20th and Sheringham, Norfolk on 22nd. Another, at Frodsham, Cheshire & Wirral on 22nd, was also taken by a Peregrine.
Grey Phalaropes were also much in evidence, with around twenty-five widely scattered around Britain (including an inland bird at Blithfield Reservoir, Staffordshire still to 23rd at least) and a larger count of eight off Pendeen, Cornwall on 22nd. In Ireland, nine were off Bridges of Ross, Clare on 21st.
Late Long-tailed Skuas were off Skokholm, Pembrokeshire on 20th and, on 21st, off Dawlish, Devon, Bawdsey, Suffolk, Flamborough Head, Yorkshire and (two) Skomer, Pembrokeshire. Another was off Pendeen, Cornwall on 22nd.
Sabine’s Gulls were at Ballycastle, Antrim, Skokholm, Pembrokeshire and Kilcummin Head, Mayo (two), all on 21st, and Severn Beach, Gloucestershire, St. Ives, Pendeen (three) and Cape Cornwall (two), all Cornwall, Strumble Head, Pembrokeshire (two), Ramore Head, Antrim (three) and Bardsey, Gwynedd on 22nd. Four more passed Bardsey on 23rd. Finally, a sign of impending winter, two Little Auks were off North Ronaldsay, Orkney on 18th and singles off Tarbat Ness, Highland and Papa Westray, Orkney on 22nd and Filey, Yorkshire on 24th.
The goose line-up is already starting to look a little familiar, even before the end of October. Islay, Argyll hosted a Richardson’s Cackling Goose and up to three Todd’s Canada Geese , whilst a Richardson’s Cackling Goose was still at Budle Bay, Northumberland to at least 22nd.
Snow Geese were at Loch Leven, Perth & Kinross, North Uist, Western Isles and Loch of Skene, Aberdeenshire (two), with another south over Saltfleetby, Lincolnshire on 20th. The two Red-breasted Geese at Loch of Skene were still present to at least 21st.
Further south, the lone Taiga Bean Goose was again at Burnham Overy Staithe, Norfolk on 21st, with at least one Black Brant between Warham and Cley, Norfolk and another at Exmouth, Devon.
Turning to ducks, drake Green-winged Teals were on North Ronaldsay, Orkney to at least 22nd and at Carsington Water, Derbyshire to at least 24th. American Wigeons included a female at Grimley, Worcestershire on 20th to 24th and drakes at Udale Bay, Highland on 20th to 23rd, Rutland Water, Leicestershire to at least 23rd, North Uist, Western Isles to at least 22nd, Loch Gilp, Argyll to 24th and East Chevington, Northumberland on 24th.
The best diving ducks were Lesser Scaups at Tittesworth Reservoir, Staffordshire on 21st and Longham Lakes, Dorset on 23rd and 24th but others included the Ferruginous Duck still at Alloa, Forth to at least 22nd and Ring-necked Ducks on Yell, Shetland on 18th to 22nd, at Loch of Skaill, Mainland Orkney on 18th, at Colliford Lake, Cornwall on 20th to 22nd, on Lough Swilly, Donegal on 20th to 23rd and on Lewis, Western Isles on 21st.
The returning Black Scoter was at Rossbeigh, Kerry on 24th whilst the week’s two Surf Scoters were both in the far north of Scotland - on Unst, Shetland on 18th to 24th and on Harris, Western Isles on 20th.
The only Glossy Ibises of the week were at Routh, Yorkshire and Canvey Island, Essex on 21st and Old Hall Marshes, also Essex, on 22nd and 23rd.
Rare herons included the juvenile Purple Heron still at Leighton Moss, Lancashire to at least 22nd and the American Night Heron still in Shrewsbury, Shropshire to at least 18th.
Crakes included an at times showy Corncrake on St. Mary’s on 18th to 20th with another at Wanstead Flats, London on 22nd and a Spotted Crake at Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits, Hertfordshire on 20th.
A star find this week was a juvenile Red-footed Falcon at Kessingland, Suffolk on 21st. Juvenile Red-foots are rare indeed in Britain and for one to get here in the teeth of the relentless westerlies was certainly a surprise. More expected these days (though still a rare bird in Ireland) was a juvenile Pallid Harrier at Barrys Head, Cork on 21st.
Other raptor interest featured Rough-legged Buzzards at The Naze, Essex and Ewden Height, South Yorkshire on 18th and Seaham, Durham on 21st. With potentially only two birds accounting for these three records, there are no signs yet that this coming winter will feature an influx of this sublimely frosty northern Buteo. Finally, a late Honey Buzzard was over Holland Haven Country Park, Essex on 19th.
Despite the westerly run of weather there was no widespread arrival of American waders, with most reports relating to lingering birds. Most of the few new arrivals were of the two traditional October species – White-rumped Sandpiper and American Golden Plover.
Examples of the former were at Tacumshin, Wexford to at least 21st, Kilnsea Wetlands, Yorkshire on 20th to 21st and again on 23rd, Lough Swilly, Donegal on 21st to 23rd and Carrahane Strand and Black Rock Strand, both Kerry, on 24th, with American Golden Plovers at Loop Head, Clare, The Mullet, Mayo, Limerick, Co. Limerick and still at the Gann Estuary, Pembrokeshire on 18th, St. Mary’s, Isles of Scilly, South Uist, Western Isles and Heybridge, Essex to at least 21st, Beale Strand and Cashen, both Kerry, on 19th, Barmouth, Derry, Bannow Bay, Wexford on 22nd, North Uist, Western Isles on 22nd to 24th and Carrahane Strand, Kerry on 24th.
Other American waders included the apparently now confirmed Wilson’s Snipe on St. Mary’s, Isles of Scilly to 23rd, a Semipalmated Sandpiper at Clonakilty, Cork on 23rd, a Lesser Yellowlegs at Clarecastle, Clare on 22nd to 24th and the week’s only Pectoral Sandpipers at Loop Head, Clare on 18th, North Bull, Dublin on 20th, Carrahane Strand, Kerry on 24th and Austerfield, Yorkshire still on 24th.
Otherwise it was a case of lingerers – the Wilson’s Phalarope at Oare Marshes, Kent and Dorset’s trio of Stilt Sandpiper at Poole Harbour, Spotted Sandpiper at Abbotsbury and Lesser Yellowlegs at Lodmoor. Single Long-billed Dowitchers remained at Oare Marshes, Kent and Saltfleet, Lincolnshire, with duos at Tacumshin, Wexford and Banks Marsh, Lancashire.
Rare Palearctic waders were noticeably few, the best by far being a Pacific Golden Plover at Bannow Bay, Wexford on 18th to 20th. Also noted were a Dotterel on Dursey Island, Cork on 18th and Red-necked Phalaropes at Staines Resevoir, Surrey on 20th to 22nd and Pennington Marshes, Hampshire on 20th.
This week saw a slight increase in the number of white-winged gull reports – another sure sign of winter. Two Glaucous Gulls were on Fair Isle, Shetland on 19th with two on North Ronaldsay, Orkney on 21st and singles at Scatness, Shetland and Landguard, Suffolk on 20th, Cleggan, Galway on 22nd and 23rd, Lewis, Western Isles on 23rd and and Budle Bay and Bamburgh, both Northumberland, on 23rd and 24th.
The week’s six Iceland Gulls were at Tarbat Ness, Highland and Maidens, Ayrshire on 18th, on Sanday, Orkney on 19th, at Machrihanish, Argyll on 20th, Hunmanby Gap, Yorkshire on 22nd and Campbeltown, Argyll on 24th.
The week’s only Ring-billed Gulls were at Dundonnell, Highland on 18th and Dundalk, Louth still on 23rd with another at Stoer Head, Highland on 22nd.
The week’s best near-passerines were Pallid Swifts at Easington, Yorkshire on 20th and presumably the same bird at Flamborough Head on 22nd and Hunmanby Gap on 24th. Further up the east coast, the Bee-eater was still at Druridge, Northumberland to at least 22nd.
Turning to proper passerines, this was a poor week indeed for new arrivals and many of the top birds were leftovers from last week (or even earlier). The best discoveries of the week on Shetland were a Black-throated Thrush and two Hornemann’s Arctic Redpolls on Fair Isle on 23rd (with one to 24th), a Red-flanked Bluetail on Fair Isle on 18th to 19th, two Hornemann’s Arctic Redpolls at Melby, Mainland on 20th, a Hume’s Warbler on Foula on 22nd and another Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll on Unst on 24th.
Other highlights around the islands included a Coues’s Arctic Redpoll at Rerwick, Mainland on 18th, six Arctic Redpolls of an unspecified form on Unst on 24th, the Black-headed Bunting and Red-throated Pipit still on Fair Isle to 19th, a Dusky Warbler there on 19th to 22nd, an Olive-backed Pipit on Unst on 19th and the Blyth’s Reed Warbler and Siberian/Stejneger’s Stonechat at Sandwick, Mainland to 18th and 24th respectively.
Elsewhere, the best new birds were Coues’s Arctic Redpolls at Girdle Ness, Aberdeenshire on 18th and North Ronaldsay, Orkney on 21st, Olive-backed Pipits at Spurn, Yorkshire on 19th to 23rd, North Ronaldsay on 22nd, St. Brides, Pembrokeshire (the first for mainland Wales) on 22nd to 24th and Calf of Man, Isle of Man on 23rd.
Lingerers included the Arctic Warbler still at Kilnsea, Yorkshire to 18th and the Rustic Bunting still on Cape Clear Island, Cork to at least 23rd.
Radde’s Warblers and Dusky Warblers did their best in the slack conditions early in the week with singles of the former at Bempton, Yorkshire and St. Aldhelm’s Head, Dorset on 18th, Holkham, Norfolk, Southwold Suffolk and St. Margaret’s at Cliffe, Kent on 19th and Skomer, Pembrokeshire on 20th. The latter was represented by singles at Saltburn, Cleveland on 18th to 19th, Thorpeness, Suffolk and North Ronaldsay, Orkney on 18th, Stanford Reservoir, Northamptonshire (an excellent inland record) on 19th, Bamburgh, Northumberland on 20th and two on St. Mary’s, Isles of Scilly on 22nd, with one to 23rd.
The best of the rest were a Tawny Pipit at Mousehole, Cornwall on 21st, the Short-toed Lark at Sennen, Cornwall to 24th and Little Buntings at St. Agnes, Isles of Scilly to 24th, Nanjizal, Cornwall on 18th, Fair Isle on 18th to 22nd, Spurn, Yorkshire (two on 19th with one to 20th), Unst, Shetland on 19th to 22nd (when two present), Skateraw, Lothian on 20th to 22nd, Low Newton by the Sea, Northumberland on 20th to 23rd and St. Mary’s, Isles of Scilly on 22nd and 23rd.
As for scarcities, the same pattern prevailed, with a good variety of species logged but low numbers and many birds being hangers-on. Starting with Siberian species, Richard’s Pipits were on St. Mary’s, Isles of Scilly and at Harworth, Nottinghamshire and Porthgwarra, Cornwall on 18th, Warham Greens and Snettisham, both Norfolk, on 19th, Filey, Yorkshire, and Holme, Norfolk on 20th, Fair Isle, Shetland on 20th to 21st, Polgigga, Cornwall on 22nd and Hook Head, Wexford on 23rd. After last week’s first birds, a few more Pallas’s Warblers got through - at St. Abbs Head, Borders on 18th, Out Skerries, Shetland on 19th and 23rd, Filey, Yorkshire, Unst, Shetland, Whitburn, Durham and North Ronaldsay, Orkney on 20th (the latter to 21st), Scatness, Shetland and others on North Ronaldsay on 21st and Whalsay, Shetland on 22nd. Unless we get a sudden late surge in November, this looks like a lean autumn indeed for Siberia’s sprite.
Yellow-browed Warblers remained prominent with birds scattered liberally all the way along eastern and southern coasts and as far as Southwest Ireland. There were also a good number of inland birds, with records from London, Warwickshire Derbyshire, Northamptonshire, Berkshire and Hertfordshire. Birds were also recorded in Merseyside, Lancashire, Somerset, Glamorgan, Camarthenshire and, further north and west, in Galway and on the Western Isles.
From eastern Europe/western Russia, Red-breasted Flycatchers were at Wells, Norfolk and Rame Head, Cornwall on 18th to 22nd, Portland, Dorset on 18th to 19th, Barra, Western Isles and North Ronaldsay, Orkney on 18th to 22nd, Whitburn, Durham on 19th to 22nd, Galley Head, Cork on 19th to 22nd, Scarborough, Yorkshire on 20th, Kergord, Mainland Shetland on 22nd and Ainsdale, Merseyside on 24th. Barred Warblers were at Kilnsea, Yorkshire, Budle Bay, Northumberland and Dursey Island, Cork on 18th, Whitburn, Durham on 18th to 23rd, Inishmore, Galway on 19th, Boddam, Mainland Shetland on 20th, Girdle Ness, Aberdeenshire on 23rd and 24th and Unst, Shetland on 24th. Wrynecks numbered only six - at Long Eaton, Derbyshire and Knockadoon, Cork on 18th, Bolberry, Devon on 19th, Portland, Dorset on 21st, Bolberry, Devon on 22nd and Drift Reservoir, Cornwall on 24th.
There was just a single Marsh Warbler – at Lerwick, Mainland Shetland on 20th and only one Common Rosefinch too – at St. Abbs Head, Borders on 21st. A Red-backed Shrike was at Deerness, Mainland Orkney on 22nd. Bluethroats were on North Ronaldsay, Orkney on 20th and Out Skerries, Shetland on 22nd. Rose-coloured Starlings were at Selsey, Sussex on 18th, Easington, Yorkshire still to at least 21st and Marazion, Cornwall on 24th.
Last week’s impressive movement of Hawfinches continued with singles and small parties reported widely although mainly across southern England. The highest count came from the New Forest where over 100 were reported but other significant counts included 40 at Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, 37 on St. Mary’s, Isles of Scilly, 34 at Steps Hill, Buckinghamshire, 24 at Ringshall, Hertforshire, 19 at Arundel, Sussex, 18 at Effingham Forest, Surrey and 15 at Annesley Pits, Nottinghamshire.
Incoming Great Grey Shrikes were at Flamborough Head, Yorkshire on 19th, Fair Isle, Shetland on 19th to 20th, Scatness and Wester Quarff, Mainland Shetland, North Ronaldsay, Orkney, Winterton, Norfolk and Cleeve Common, Gloucestershire on 20th (the latter to 23rd), Newport, Yorkshire and Scalloway, Shetland on 21st, Out Skerries, Fetlar and Yell, all Shetland, and Cinderford, Gloucestershire on 22nd and Unst, Shetland on 23rd and 24th. Finally, 37 Waxwings were noted over Ardersier, Highland on 24th – the first of the season.
Further afield, the veritable avalanche of Nearctic passerines on Corvo, The Azores continued with Bay-breasted Warbler, Dickcissel, Magnolia Warbler, Ovenbird, Black-throated Green Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, two Hooded Warblers, Philadelphia Vireo, Tennessee Warbler, Swainson’s Thrush, two Black and White Warblers, three Common Yellowthroats, three Blackpoll Warblers, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, four Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Grey-cheeked Thrush and eight Red-eyed Vireos.
Nearby Flores recorded a Northern Parula and a Mourning Dove. Nearctic pickings were understandably slimmer elsewhere – just a Grey-cheeked Thrush on Ile de Sein, France and a Buff-bellied Pipit in Finland, the country’s first.
Looking east, there was a nice selection of rarities failing to get to Britain. These included a Caspian Plover in Poland, an Eyebrowed Thrush, a Western Black-eared Wheatear and an Isabelline Shrike in the Netherlands, a Black-headed Bunting in Norway, a Two-barred Greenish Warbler and a Pied Wheatear in Sweden, a White’s Thrush in France and an Asian Desert Warbler on Helgoland, Germany. Also on the near-continent was a Brünnich’s Guillemot in Denmark. Rubbing salt in the wound slightly was a good list of birds which somehow missed Britain and reached southeast Iceland instead - a White’s Thrush, the country’s first Hume’s Warbler and also its first and second Red-flanked Bluetails. Other Hume’s Warblers were in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Further south, a Pied Bush Chat in Italy was a top find.
Looking ahead, the weather looks stuck in a rut, with the westerly run continuing for the first part of the new week followed by a switch to a colder north-westerly or northerly flow. The window is still open (at least in theory) for American birds but a large ‘blocking’ anticyclone in mid-Atlantic does not look promising. For those on the east coast in search of late Siberian passerines things continue to look bleak, and with November just around the corner and the clocks going back next week, the end of a pretty dreadful autumn for continental birds draws ever closer. The switch to a cold northerly might prompt some Little Auk movements, however, or, as a long shot, a Brünnich’s Guillemot or a mainland Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll.
October 25th 2017
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