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Friday, 8 January 2010

The Deep Freeze continues

Last night, the overnight temperature in Altnaharra in Sutherland reached an alarming minus 22.3 degrees - the coldest night for many a decade. This extreme winter weather has already cost the lives of many thousands of starving birds and with it expecting to continue until 10 February, this could well lead to one of the biggest catastrophies to ever besiege the birdlife of Britain and Ireland. Most of Britain is blanketed by snow and ice, making access to many sites hazardous and very difficult.

As we enter the weekend, I provide below the latest Rare Bird Alert from the UK400 Club.......

A LITTLE BUNTING that has been present in a birder's garden for several weeks was still being attracted to grain this morning in the largely snowbound hamlet of Dunnet (Caithness) whilst a female BLACK-THROATED THRUSH was in the SE corner of the 'Nitten Field' in the Mewslade Valley at Middleton on the Gower Peninsular (West Glamorgan) briefly this morning. One EUROPEAN SERIN continues to survive at the west end of the seawall at Rainham Marsh RSPB (London)

An apparent juvenile ASIATIC BLACK-EARED KITE of unknown origin continues to join upwards of 420 Red Kites at the Gigrin Farm Feeding Station near Rhyader (Powys), visiting daily in the afternoon from around 1300 hours (beware of very dangerous driving conditions in this area of Central Wales)

Two CATTLE EGRETS have survived the freeze in Somerset, showing well at Shapwick Heath NNR this morning, with a GREAT WHITE EGRET hanging on at Lawford Heath Lane (Warks).

On the Isles of Scilly, the drake NORTH AMERICAN BLACK DUCK visited St Mary's briefly this morning with Mallards, whilst the Lancashire drake RING-NECKED DUCK was today on Fleetwood Marine Lake. In Berkshire, the first-winter female FERRUGINOUS DUCK remained for a second day on the only ice-free patch of water on the British Airways Pit at Wraysbury (it flew off south early afternoon) whilst large numbers of RED-CRESTED POCHARDS have been displaced from the frozen Midlands and have appeared all along the South Coast, from Sussex west to Dorset (including 11 in Christchurch Harbour), as well as at Stewartby Lake (up to 30) and Grafham Water (up to 23), the latter site still hosting a first-winter drake VELVET SCOTER. Single drake SURF SCOTERS are off Ruddon's Point, Largo Bay (Fife) and Llandullas (North Wales), with the returning adult female off Dawlish Warren (South Devon), with a drake AMERICAN WIGEON briefly on the Crouch Estuary at North Fambridge (Essex) on 4 January.

Following yet another poor breeding season in the Arctic, ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARDS are at a premium, with one yesterday over Graemeshall (Orkney Mainland) and wintering birds at Coveney (Cambs) and at Chedgrave/Haddiscoe Levels (Suffolk/Norfolk border), whilst Orkney's grey morph juvenile GYRFALCON was seen again near Stromness on 6 January. A male SNOWY OWL was again on Lewis (Outer Hebrides) on 5 January.

Rare waders include the SPOTTED SANDPIPER on the Exe Estuary at Topsham (South Devon), the BAIRD'S SANDPIPER at White Sands Bay, Dunbar (Lothian) and a LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER again at Loch Gruinart RSPB, Islay (Argyll).

Smew are in evidence around the country but with small water bodies now frozen over, becoming harder to locate, whilst Eurasian Bitterns are very prominent as they skid about the ice at many locations throughout the country, including as many as four together. The weather has also seen a sudden upsurge in BOHEMIAN WAXWING reports, with 40 seen during the week and two today in Warsett Crescent, Skelton (Cleveland).

IRELAND has been fairly uneventful in recent weeks but a drake BAIKAL TEAL of unknown origin was seen at Tacumshin (Co. Wexford) on 6 January (with the long-staying first-winter GLOSSY IBIS still there that day), with the female BLUE-WINGED TEAL at North Bull Island (Co. Dublin) and the adult winter FORSTER'S TERN at Nimmo's Pier, Galway Harbour (Co. Galway). A blue morph LESSER SNOW GOOSE was at Lough Swilly (Co. Donegal), CATTLE EGRET at Great Island (Co. Cork) and a host of lingering RING-BILLED GULLS, including 3 at Sandymount Strand, Dublin. An apparent NORTH AMERICAN EIDER was again off Fanad Head in Glasagh Bay on 2 January.