Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The TOP 20 listing birders in Britain and Ireland

As the 2009 autumn season swings into action, here is a timely reminder of the Top 20 positions in the world of combined British and Irish Listing. For a full listing of the Top 1,000 listers and of many other listings, become a member of the British Birding Association at


* Those marked with an asterisk are estimated list totals

Northwesterly winds induce an influx of 'Arctic' redpolls as well as the first PECHORA PIPIT of the year

The first PECHORA PIPIT of the year made landfall bang on cue on Fair Isle this morning (in fields near Kennaby) whilst the cool NW winds have induced a number of NORTHWESTERN and HORNEMANN'S ARCTIC REDPOLLS to appear, including three separate individuals on Foula.

Foula also attracted the first AMERICAN BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT of the year yesterday (Kevin Shepherd et al) following the influx of this species on Iceland during the past week

Tuesday, 29 September 2009


Plates 1-2 taken by Adrian Webb
Plates 3-5 taken by Steve Nuttall

A SANDHILL CRANE made landfall on South Ronaldsay (Orkney) on or about 12 October 2009 following a fast-tracking deep depression from the Atlantic which deposited a host of Nearctic birds in Northern Scotland including 3 BLUE-WINGED TEALS, an assortment of waders involving six species and a BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER.

The bird had been reported in the area by local residents as a ''crane'' and upon investigation of the report, local birder Paul Higson relocated the bird mid-afternoon on 22 September. It was feeding in a field just north of Liddle Loch at the extreme southern end of South Ronaldsay and after a double-take and a quick call to Chris Batty at RBA, Paul realised that he was watching Britain's third-ever SANDHILL CRANE Grus canadensis. The news went 'national' within minutes and being the first to grace the country since September 1991, twitchers from up and down the country were making plans for the gruelling trek north.

Half an hour into watching the bird, a ringtail Hen Harrier flew by and disturbed it, and it flew strongly west re-alighting in a stubble field 400m west of the loch. It remained there until evening and then flew to the neighbouring reedbed by the loch at ND 454 834 to roost. Paul was able to get some record shots (previously published) and over the next couple of hours, 20 or so Orkney birders came and went, utterly delighted and satisfied by this wayward bird.

Throughout the afternoon of observation, the bird favoured two areas - 1) a stubble field viewable only from the cottage ''Murray'' on the B9041 accessed along the Tomb of the Eagles road and visible from the first house on the right as you reach the ascent of the hill looking SE to the beacon on the Skerry and 2) a stubble field on the left hand side of the rough track west from the sharp left-hand bend at the bottom of the hill further along the same road as mentioned above.

At dawn the following morning, the bird flew from the loch and landed in the same general area of stubble fields a mile east of the Burwick Ferry Terminal. Overnight had seen some 60 or so birders drive to John O'Groats, the majority of which either boarding the foot passenger ferry or bringing their car via the Gills Ferry-St Margaret's Hope route. The bird remained present and by midday, a total of 63 twitchers had connected including Paul Chapman, Alan Amery, Julian Thomas, Alan Lewis, Peter Hutchins, Chris Batty, Stuart Piner, Anthony Brydges, Richard Bonser, Clive Johnson, Pete Davis, Stuart Elsom, John Archer, John Bernard Bell, Simon Cox, Steve Nuttall, Garry Bagnell, Lee Gregory, Adrian Kettle, Craig Holden, Richard Bayldon, Andy Clifton, Geoff Clewes, Matt Mulvey and Richard Baatsen. Jim Lawrence and Duncan Coates arrived via Luton/Aberdeen/Kirkwall flights having parted with over 500 notes and the celebrations continued on the way back. At dusk, the crane once again roosted in reeds on Liddel Loch.

Paul Higson was once again present at dawn on Thursday 23 September and very kindly provided RBA with an early update. This time, due to the continuing strong westerly winds, the bird flew further north and landed in a field being spread with silage. Large numbers of gulls also congregated in the field, the crane being visible at range from the isolated farmsteads at Flaws. A further 43 observers were visiting today including Alan Stewart and myself, Lol Carman, Bob Chalkley, Cliff Tack, Graham Ekins, Peter Walsh, Chris Lansdell, Glenn Collier, Mick Case, Tom Tams and Joe Dobinson. Most of us utilised the John O'Groats-Burwick ferry at £28 return but were unprepared for the walk of three and a quarter miles the other side. In what seemed like an age, I arrived just west of Flaws to find two observers in the fields, despite the fact that Paul and other islanders had made it clear to refrain from doing so, so as to not disturb the crane. As it was, no sooner had I latched on to its position and started to give directions to the few birders that had kept up with me, the two lads flushed it and it flew strongly eastwards being mobbed by gulls. I was fuming, particularly as the majority of the group had failed to get on to it. It had disappeared over the brow of the valley and despite searching frantically, it was not immediately obvious. A very kind local resident Jonny Thomson (grass cutter at the neighbouring golf course) offered to drive me around in an attempt to search previous fields where the crane had fed in recent days and we set forth leaving the others to continue scanning the valley. As it was, the bird had relocated the mile or two further east to Windwick and was visible distantly from the Flaws hamlet. It was feeding in short grass not far from the Windwick village and after driving around, the bird flew up and landed at the side of the ditch at the sound of the commotion caused. It then fed in this area for the rest of the day enabling all of those present satisfactory views. The fields were also attracting large numbers of Icelandic Greylag and Pink-footed Geese and in some ways the crane felt safer in their close company. The near gale force wind continued all day, the bird roosting again on Liddle Loch at dusk.

It was the same pattern on Friday 25 September when a further 35 birders visited including Paul Whiteman, Adrian Webb, Bob Bullock, Gary Pullan, Tony Forster, Ian Brittain, Richard Preston, Paul Riley, Chris Galvin, Steve Keightley, James Hanlon, James Hunter, Andrew Lawson and John Benham. The bird flew from its roost and returned once more to the large stubble field at Windwick where it showed well until late morning. It then flew south and relocated in another field near Liddle Loch and could be viewed from along the track running along the burn to ND 448 868. It stayed here all afternoon before roosting at the loch.

A further 170 birders made the long pilgrimage north over the weekend of 26-27 September including John Lees, Rob Lambert, James Walsh, Simon Eaves, David Ousey, Hugh Pulsford, Mike Robinson, Tom Lowe, Michael Hoit, Dan Brown, the year-listing Craig family, Lee Woods, Martin Palmer, Dave Ball, Dougie Barr and Alan Clewes. Fortunately, none was disappointed and the Sandhill Crane showed well still favouring the stubble and ploughed fields NE of Flaws.

The weather improved vastly on 28 September, with the wind direction switching to a much cooler Northwest. The bird became much more restless, flying on several occasions, but to the relief of another 27 observers, stayed put all day and again roosted on Liddle Loch at dusk. Temperatures plummeted overnight and by day on Tuesday 29 September (reaching just 10 degrees C) and although it flew to its much favoured field at Windwick at dawn, it had relocated to just NW of Liddle Loch by 0925. At 1012 hours, Lancashire birder Pete Marsh was on the phone exclaiming that the bird was flying SSE out to sea and was approaching the Pentland Firth - it was finally going after spending two weeks on the archipelago.

Tom Lowe and Dan Brown were in the Wick area after staying overnight in the hope of getting better views of an UPLAND SANDPIPER that they had stumbled on just prior to dark 4.5 miles NNW of Wick. They had failed to relocate the Nearctic wader by 0922 but on hearing news of the flying Sandhill intercepted it as it flew at fairly low level parallel to the southbound A9 at Sarclet, 3 miles south of Wick. It was averaging some 37 miles per hour and was migrating SSE with a light NW tailwind. They continued to keep on the bird as it tracked its way southwards - observing it as it passed over Latheronwheel at 1115, circling high over Dunbeath at 1135, over Helmsdale at 1155 and then finally over the Brora ridge at 1216. It was then lost as it veered inland just west of Brora (Sutherland) at 1225, two hours after it had initially taken flight. It was not seen again all day and sadly those that had opted to take their cars on to Orkney today all failed to reach South Ronaldsay in time before it departed.


During its stay, several observers obtained an excellent selection of photographs of the bird, particularly Adrian Webb and Steve Nuttall (see these published above). Although similar in size to Common Crane, it differed mainly from that species in its extensive bright red crown, white in the lower face and extensive rusty patches in the grey plumage, liberally scattered from the neck-sides to the mantle and throughout the wing-coverts. The overall plumage was grey with longish dark legs.


The bird was an adult but soliciting expert advice from North America resulted in the following comments. Peter Pyle suggested that it was at least two years old, based on the extent of red skin showing on the crown. First-winters are still entirely feathered in the head at this time and do not show the red colouring. The brown colouring in the plumage is staining and feather oxidation and is not part of the original feather pigmentation. The amount of staining is highly variable within adults. Juvenile feathers have distinct buff tips and some juvenile primaries, secondaries and wing-coverts can be retained for up to two body moults.

Meanwhile, Mike Boyd of Vancouver, British Columbia, stated ''The images of the bird all show bright red bare skin above the eye which is only present in adults (from second fall onwards). The rust-coloured wing-coverts and neck patches are 'rust stains' acquired from the iron present in the mud and which the crane will utilise in preening the plumage. Individual birds can be aged up until their fourth year but this is based on detailed analysis of the upperwing feather patterning''


Sandhill Cranes breed in North America and eastern Siberia. The northern populations winter further south in the United States and Mexico. There have been three previous records in Britain and Ireland and a further Western Palearctic occurrence of a female at Akrabergi, Faeroe Islands, on 14 October 1980 (see Birding World 4: 355).

1) The first record involved a bird at Galley Head (County Cork) from 11-14 September 1905 when it was shot (Irish Naturalist 16: 209-211; British Birds 1: 90; 65: 427; Hutchinson 1989)

2) A first-summer was on Fair Isle, Shetland, on 26-27 April 1981. It departed to the NE mid-morning (British Birds 75: 498; 76: 105-109, plate 43; 80: 533; Scottish Bird Report 1981: 26; Ibis 126: 422)

3) An apparent first-summer was present in the Exnaboe area, Sumburgh, Shetland, from 17-25 September 1991 and was fully documented in Birding World 4: 322-323 and Evans, Rare Birds in Britain 1991: 56). It eventually departed Shetland at midday on 27 September when it was seen to fly off high out to sea to the southeast (see also British Birds 85: 105, 522, plate 40). What was presumably the Shetland bird relocating was at Lauwersoog, Friesland, in the Netherlands from 28-30 September 1991 (Dutch Birding 15: 1-6).

A chance encounter or exceptional fieldsman?

Tom Lowe and Dan Brown driving back from the Pentland Firth ferry discovered an UPLAND SANDPIPER last night shortly after leaving John O'Groats (Caithness). The bird was in fields 4.5 miles NNW of Wick and 1.8 miles north of Reiss east of the A99 in the second field north of Quoys of Reiss Farm and viewable from the layby at ND 331 577. This just goes to show what's out there and lurking - waiting to be found. Nearly 500 birders have driven past that particular field in the past six days and Tom and Dan are possibly the first observers that have actually stopped and looked. The fields in this vicinity are full of recently arrived European Golden Plovers and I counted 7,000 or more birds when I briefly checked them, mainly after stopping to get good views of untainted Rock Doves in this area. The Wick area is grossly underwatched and full of opportunity with a history of major finds between the town and John O'Groats.

Despite being found at 1850 hours and watched until virtually pitch dark, photographs were taken of the bird and subsequently posted (see Rare Bird Alert website). There was no sign of it this morning however with a great improvement in the weather. The latter also induced the SANDHILL CRANE to migrate south, moving from South Ronaldsay (Orkney) just after 1000 hours to Caithness, where it was still continuing ESE over Sarclet, 3 miles south of Wick, at 1054 hours. Dave Hirsthouse, now is your chance to unblock this true mega !

Monday, 28 September 2009

LEACH'S PETREL in BEDFORDSHIRE - first 'twitchable' inland sighting of 2009

LEACH'S PETREL on Stewartby Lake, Bedfordshire, 26 September

Peter Smith located a LEACH'S PETREL on Stewartby Lake on Saturday morning, 26 September 2009 ,constituting the first county record of this highly pelagic species since October 1989. Despite an extremely noisy Power-boating event, the bird remained on site until early evening, allowing over 85 visitors to connect during its stay. Local birder Mark Thomas was very kindly taken out on the lake by boat where he was able to obtain these outstanding images reproduced above.


The first county record of Leach's Petrel involved a bird picked up exhausted at Wilstead Park on 16 November 1877, quickly followed the following year by a male found alive near The Grove, Bedford, during the last week of December 1878. Steele-Elliott in 1904 then goes on to state that a flock of 7 birds was observed along the Goldington River on 2 November 1880.

In more modern times, a 'wreck' of 5 individuals occurred in late autumn 1952, with singles at Turvey on 29 October, Bromham on 30 October, Stewartby Lake and Thurleigh on 8 November and in Leighton Buzzard on about 8 November; all dead or dying birds.

This was followed by a further four records between 1970 and 1987, with singles at Stewartby Lake on 4 October 1970, 1 October 1978 and 4 September 1983 and another at Kempston on 18 October 1983 (Paul Trodd & David Kramer 1987, The Birds of Bedfordshire).

On 12 September 1988, a first-winter was picked up alive on Thurleigh Airfield and taken next day to the Norfolk coast and released, followed by the first real twitchable bird at Brogborough Lake on 29 October 1989

400 Species barrier now surpassed in 2009

The total number of species recorded in 2009 has now risen to at least 403 species, with recent weeks adding a further 11 species including a first record - TUFTED PUFFIN - as well as MADEIRAN STORM PETREL (certainly 1 but probably two records, both off Pendeen Watchpoint, West Cornwall), RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD (an 'at sea' record off SW Ireland), SANDHILL CRANE (Orkney bird), YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO (one-dayer on Orkney), BOOTED WARBLER (3 records), TAIGA FLYCATCHER (on Fetlar, Shetland), SAXAUL GREY SHRIKE (first record for Scilly), HORNEMANN'S ARCTIC REDPOLL (Foula), BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER (on St Kilda) and BLACK-HEADED BUNTING (two records)

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Near-adult NORTHERN GANNETS posing identification problems with Black-browed Albatross claims

Bob Bullock very kindly emailed me several images depicting third and fourth-year NORTHERN GANNETS resembling adult Black-browed Albatross in appearance. The first three images depict the bird seen from the ferry between Gills Bay and St Margaret's Hope on Friday 25 September - the same bird I had seen on Thursday 24.
These individual Gannets are a major pitfall both on pelagic trips and seawatches as they superficially resemble Black-broweds; a very similarly plumaged bird was seen on one of the Scillonian pelagic trips in the late 1990's (Lee G R Evans)

Megas left, right and centre

This is the UK400 Club Rare Bird Alert for Sunday 27 September 2009, issued at 2200 hours and published in association with Rare Bird Alert Pagers (see and utilising additional information gleaned from the Regional Birdlines, local email groups and websites, individual observers and BirdGuides.

The latter half of September 2009 has been an exceptionally busy one rare birdwise with some outstanding occurrencies, mainly with a bias towards Nearctic origin. Pride of place goes to the second-winter or adult SANDHILL CRANE - the third record for Britain - which now enters a third week on Orkney after being finally identified last Tuesday. It has now got into a well-rehearsed routine of roosting on the lochan and feeding by day in stubble to the NE of Flaws at Windwick. South Ronaldsay is easily accessed from John O'Groats in Caithness via the foot passenger ferry departing 0900 hours and returning 1730 (£28.00 return ticket) whilst alternatively you may travel by car on the neighbouring Gills Bay ferry (0945 departure and 1700 return) (£26 return per passenger plus £140 car return).

It has now been seen and twitched by at least 363 observers. Meanwhile, a party of 3 COMMON CRANES are present for their fourth day SE of Tain (Highland) at Hilton of Cadboll in fields at NH 867 773.

On Friday 25 September, a first-winter YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO showed well from mid-afternoon until dusk on the east side of Deerness (Orkney Mainland) in ditches in the quarry at The Gloup enabling 15 delighted observers to connect. It had presumably arrived in association with the strong westerly airflow.

At the opposite end of the country, rare shrikes have been the order of the day. The very first SAXAUL GREY SHRIKE for the Isles of Scilly - a first-winter - made landfall on St Martin's on Friday 25 before relocating to Higher Moors, St Mary's, on Saturday, whilst a very elusive and heavily skulking first-winter BROWN SHRIKE was located by Tony Blunden on The Lizard (Cornwall) on Saturday 26 and seen again today (in scrub west of the A3083 and north of the road midway between Lizard village and Kynance Cove). West Cornwall today also harboured a single GLOSSY IBIS at Marazion Marsh RSPB (Cornwall), an elusive juvenile WOODCHAT SHRIKE at the seaward end of Nanquidno Valley, a MELODIOUS WARBLER at Land's End and a juvenile ROSE-COLOURED STARLING at Treen (with 1-2 also on St Agnes, Scilly). A RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER was on St Martin's (Scilly).

A first-winter TAIGA FLYCATCHER is present for a fifth day on Shetland in the Manse Garden at Tresta on Fetlar (please view only from the road), constituting only the third record for Britain.

Although the FAN-TAILED WARBLER (initially seen flying along the River Stour at TR 343 583 by Dylan Wrathall on 25 July, 64 days ago) was not seen today, it performed excellently on Saturday morning flitting between Saltgrass 85 yards east of the Pegwell Bay car park (Kent) and the small reedbed adjacent to the coastal footpath. The bird is a moulting adult and perhaps the first sign of colonisation by this Mediterranean species as it expands northwards in range.

News of an AQUATIC WARBLER in the West Midlands finally reached a wider audience early evening after being watched by a number of observers throughout the day at Salford Priors GP, west of Broom (Warks) - it was present in the field beyond the pond until dusk (location between the public footpath at Marsh Farm and the embankment west of the A46).

There are now two juvenile LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS on No.2 Lagoon at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB (Cheshire) (showing well from the hide) whilst the confiding bird at Chew Valley Lake (Avon) continues to feed on the ever-increasing exposed mud just to the north of Herriott's Bridge. A further juvenile remains on Tresco (Scilly) where it continues to commute (often with a juvenile PECTORAL SANDPIPER) between the Abbey Pool and Pentle Bay.

In the best year ever for GLOSSY IBIS occurrencies, a first-winter remains for a second day at Bell's Pond and environs, Cresswell Pond NWT (Northumberland) with a rare Scottish appearance of a juvenile at Tayrallach (Argyll) on 25 September relocated at Loch Sween on 26 and still present today. The three individuals, including a ringed bird previously seen in Carmarthenshire, that were ranging the Stoke Holy Cross area south of Norwich (Norfolk) until 23rd have now split up with one visiting Colney GP this morning and another Breydon Water at Burgh Castle Marshes. One flew north over Ogston Reservoir (Derbyshire) at 1115 and may well have been the bird present earlier at Langford Lowfields RSPB (Notts) and that seen later in flight at New South Moor, Hatfield Moors (South Yorks), whilst the five juveniles continue to roam between the ARC Pit and Boulderwall Farm Pools at Dungeness RSPB (Kent). There are still three juveniles frequenting the pool north of the track east of Banters Barn Farm at Boyton Marshes RSPB (Suffolk) with a further bird in Somerset at Ham Wall RSPB.

The juvenile BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER is still present with 5 juvenile Ruff in short grass to the east of the Back Saltholme Pool RSPB (Cleveland) (view either from the layby or from the reserve hide), whilst nearby, the presumed returning adult drake BLUE-WINGED TEAL is still present with Shoveler on the Allotment Pools in the SW corner of the reserve. The adult WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER (incidentally ringed and most likely the adult trapped at Montrose Basin LNR, Angus, in August of this year) continues to show well at Abberton Reservoir (Essex) favouring the extensive mud to the east of the Layer Breton causeway. An excellent crop of AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVERS includes two moulting adults at the Grindigar Crossroads on Deerness (Orkney), another on Skaw, Unst (Shetland) and another at Sandaig, Tiree (Argyll). A juvenile SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER spent the day (on Saturday 26) on the River Severn viewable from the raised seabank at New Passage (Gloucs) with a BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER with Golden Plovers showing well at Ringasta, Quendale (Shetland).

The first COMMON ROSEFINCH for Leicestershire - a juvenile - remains for a second day in Thornton village, visiting the birdtable and feeders in the back garden of 283 Main Street, where it was trapped and ringed at 0930 hours on Saturday morning. The bird is feeding with Greenfinches and shows regularly, often devouring Elder berries in the well vegetated gardens. It can be seen from the adjacent back garden of 281 Main Street, where a resident birder has very kindly allowed access this past weekend (please note that there is no access during the week).

Shetland saw its first HORNEMANN'S ARCTIC REDPOLL of the autumn arrive today with a first-winter on Foula, with a scattering of Common Rosefinches and Yellow-browed Warblers on the archipelago. The long-staying ARCTIC WARBLER was still present in the large wooded garden along Lovers Lane at Scalloway.

RICHARD'S PIPITS have appeared early this autumn, despite the westerly dominance in the weather, with 1-2 lingering in fields between Land's End and Porthgwarra (Cornwall), 1-2 on St Mary's/St Agnes (Scilly), flying west at Sheringham (Norfolk) at 0745 then Stiffkey Fen at 1035 and one flying west with Meadow Pipits at Barton-on-Sea Golf Course (Hants) early morning.

A GREATER SHORT-TOED LARK was discovered near St David's Airfield (Pembs) today on the south side of the Whitchurch/St David's Road junction near Nine Wells

A long-staying BARRED WARBLER remains in thick Buckthorn at The Warren, Spurn Point (East Yorks), with 1-2 Lapland Buntings at the Point, with further BARRED WARBLERS on Harris at Tarbert (Outer Hebrides) RED-BACKED SHRIKES include juveniles at Dorman's Pool (Cleveland) whilst WRYNECKS continue to be in short supply with just two reported - at Durlston CP (Dorset) and at West Bexington (Dorset). A EURASIAN HOOPOE was a nice find as it fed on the grass verge by Broughton Towers school and housing estate, Broughton-in-Furness (Cumbria) this morning

A very confiding SPOTTED CRAKE has been thrilling admirers to Bishop Hide, Cley NWT (Norfolk) with another from the Dulverton Hide on the north side of the main lake at London Wetland Centre WWT, Barnes (London) and a more elusive individual at Ladywalk NR (Warks) (permit access only).

The very long-staying GREAT WHITE EGRET remains at Chard Reservoir (Somerset) with an even longer-staying individual at Meare Heath (Somerset) with additional birds at Humphrey Head (Cumbria), Leighton Moss RSPB (Lancs) and at Island Mere, Minsmere RSPB (Suffolk) and the returning colour-ringed adult at Blashford Lakes HWT (Hants).

A juvenile DOTTEREL is present for its 6th day in a ploughed field east of the car park at Bolberry Down (South Devon), with 2 PECTORAL SANDPIPERS on Meare Heath (Somerset) and at Wigtown Harbour Pools (Dumfries & Galloway) and further singles on the Pool of Virkie (Shetland), on the Visitor Centre Pools at Loch of Strathbeg RSPB (Aberdeenshire), Filey Dams YNT (North Yorks), Pennington Marshes Butts Lagoon (Hants) and a very confiding bird at Hayling Oyster Beds (Hants). The long-staying adult LESSER YELLOWLEGS continues to consort with up to 44 Common Redshanks either side of the wooden bridge on the estuary inlet at Aberlady bay NNR (Lothian)

An adult BONAPARTE'S GULL was seen briefly at Traeth Dulas (Anglesey) whilst the very confiding and long-staying juvenile SABINE'S GULL continues by the bridge at the west end of Blenheim Park Lake (Oxfordshire).

The female Hooded Merganser of unknown origin returned to the main Satltolme Pools RSPB (Cleveland) today, with 3 RUDDY SHELDUCK at Radipole Lake RSPB North Hide (Dorset)


An adult female BLUE-WINGED TEAL remains south of the causeway on North Bull Island (Co. Dublin), whilst a first-winter CITRINE WAGTAIL continues for a second day at Abbeyside, Dungarvan (Co. Waterford). A single juvenile GLOSSY IBIS was showing well today at the Forgotten Corner at Tacumshin (Co. Wexford) with a juvenile AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER on mud at Muckross, Inchydoney Bay (Co. Cork), two more at The Spit at Ballykelly, Lough Foyle (Co. Londonderry) and another at Clonea Strand at Ballinclampoer (Co. Waterford). A BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER is still present on the Myroe Levels Lawn Fields (Co. Londonderry), with three juvenile PECTORAL SANDPIPERS at Kinsale Marsh (Co. Cork). An eclipse pair of AMERICAN WIGEON are on The Gearagh (Co. Cork).

Mizen Head (Co. Cork) yielded a single EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVE and YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

SANDHILL CRANE well and truly 'unblocked'

With the only previously twitchable SANDHILL CRANE in Britain being on Shetland in September 1991, the 18-year gap has ensured a wave of incoming twitchers have not seen one. This morning that all changed, as Paul Higson's adult is still showing well in its favoured field NW of Burwick. A total of at least 60 intrepid travellers have 'scored' and are currently enjoying good views of the bird as it feeds in the stubble. The bird has actually been in the area for at least 11 days and was most likely associated with the deep depression that carried across the influx of Nearctic waders, a trio of Blue-winged Teals and a Blackburnian Warbler at that time. This was one of those 'real' blockers and follows the likes of 'Philadelphia Vireo' and 'Scarlet Tanager', both of which perfomed well in Ireland last year after a lengthy absence (LGRE)

Taxonomy of 'Greater White-fronted Goose'


I've pasted below the Taxonomy summary for Greater White-fronted Goose from our book "Birds of Nebraska", Univ Nebraska Press, 2001 (Sharpe, Silcock, Jorgenson).

Hope this is of some help.


Ross SilcockP.O. Box 57Tabor, IA 51653New Zealand Land and Pelagic Bird Tours

Taxonomy of this species in North America is in a confused state (for a discussion, see Banks 1983). It is generally agreed that the most numerous subspecies, breeding on arctic tundra from northeastern Siberia eastward to Hudson Bay, is A. a. frontalis (AOU 1957; Ely and Dzubin 1994). Most frontalis migrate through Nebraska to winter in southeastern Texas and northeastern Mexico, although southwestern Alaska breeders migrate along the Pacific Flyway (Ely and Dzubin 1994).

Some authors (Palmer 1976) use the name gambelli (the case for spelling this name gambeli is made by Banks 1983) for birds breeding in North America (except for southwestern Alaska) and wintering in Texas and Mexico. This name was first applied by Hartlaub (1852) to large, dark individuals collected during winter in Texas and thought to be representative of interior North American White-fronted Geese. However Swarth and Bryant (1917) used the name gambelli for the large, dark birds wintering in California as they assumed that, because these birds were rare in California, their main breeding range was eastward in Canada and thus they were the same as the birds described by Hartlaub (Banks 1983). Delacour and Ripley (1975) named the California birds A. a. elgasi (Tule Goose) on the assumption that they were the westernmost of 2 taiga-breeding populations distinct from the vastly more numerous frontalis, a tundra breeder, and gambelli for the eastern birds.

The western and eastern taiga-breeding populations use separate breeding, migration, and wintering areas (Palmer 1976) with minimal crossover between flyways (Ely and Dzubin 1994), and so a case can be made that they are genetically isolated from each other. Very little is known about the eastern population, but it is thought to breed near the MacKenzie River delta (Palmer 1976).

Some current authors (Banks, Ely, pers comm) believe these birds to be within the range of variation of frontalis and thus not separable from them. There have been sightings of large, dark ("chocolate-colored") White-fronted Geese in the North American interior (Nick Lyman, Martin Reid, pers. comm.) which may be referable to gambelli (per Hartlaub). A large, dark individual was with a flock of 400 in Hamilton Co 30 Mar 2003 (JGJ).

Of interest are band recoveries in Kansas and south-central Texas in the early 1980s of Tule Geese banded in the Pacific Flyway; these recoveries (4 out of about 300 birds banded) suggest a crossover of migrants from the Pacific to Central Flyways of about 1% (Ely, pers. comm.)

Expert opinion on 'Booted Eagle'

I solicited a second opinion from raptor expert Dick Forsman on yesterday's Booted Eagle images and he responded by stating

''Hi Lee, No doubt, it is a moulting Black Kite. Not that easy to pinpoint any specific characters in these images, it is just a spot on BK jizz-wise. However, important things worth noting, are the overall dark remiges with a pale carpal crescent by the leading edge, a normal BK feature, as well as the moulting, half-grown outer tail feathers, which show the pointed tip of BK. Even in this light a dark Booted would have shown clearly paler inner primaries and the silhouette of Booted shows shorter wings and longer tail compared to this bird, Dick''

Putative Booted Eagle in East Kent

Fortunately, Bob Gomes managed to get a selection of images of today's Dungeness 'Booted Eagle' and he has posted two flight shots up this evening on Surfbirds.

The bird is clearly in heavy moult and is missing and regrowing both tail and primary feathers. From the limited amount of detail that I can see from the two shots, my impression is of a transitional-plumaged BLACK KITE - a species frequently mistaken for Booted Eagle in autumn, particularly in Turkey and Israel. This fits in with verbal accounts of its appearance I received from at least 15 observers today, whom saw it well from the bridge as it flew up from the field.

Ray Turley had already sprung alarm bells whilst watching it, and others confirmed 'discrepancies' as we observed the ARC Glossy Ibises, stating that they had clearly seen 'unfeathered' tarsi and obvious yellowish legs.

Autumn raptors (or raptors in general) are notoriously difficult to identify and heavily worn individuals such as this magnify by many times the complexities and difficulties involved in making an accurate identification in the field. Bob is to be highly commended for obtaining the images that he did. Once again this highlights the fact that many of the rare birds claimed in this country are actually NOT those species when reasonable photographs are obtained. European Honey Buzzard is perhaps the biggest victim of this - a large percentage of those photographed in Britain are actually Common Buzzards.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009


Well, the bird has hopefully roosted in the reed bed at Liddell Loch, South Ronaldsay this evening after showing well for most of the day.
PLEASE could anyone coming to see it take heed of the following.
The bird moves between a stubble field ONLY viewable from the cottage "Murray" on the B9041 at HY584843 - take the turn signposted Tomb of the Eagles and this is the first house on your right as you get to the top of the hill. Park there and look SE to the beacon on the Skerry and the bird should be on the skyline in the stubble field. If not there go to the sharp left bend at the bottom of the hill after following the signs to the Tomb of the Eagles, at HY 456838, park sensibly, and walk West along the rough track until you reach a stubble field that suddenly appears on your left. The bird spends time in this area with loafing gulls; find the gulls here and the crane should be with them.
Please don't try to get too close, please don't try to get better photos than mine (published above!) - remember, there are other people on their way to see this bird after you (Paul Higson, finder of the 4th-ever Sandhill Crane to make landfall in Britain and Ireland)

Those Megas just keep coming - SANDHILL CRANE on ORKNEY

For those of you without an ear to the ground, an adult or 1st summer SANDHILL CRANE is currently present on South Ronaldsay, Orkney at the south end in a field just north of Middle Loch, constituting the 3rd record for Ireland and Britain after singles in:

1991 Shetland Exnaboe, Mainland, first-summer to second-winter, 17th to 25th September; same, Sumburgh, 26th September, photo.
1981 Shetland Fair Isle, first-summer, 26th to 27th April, photo.
1905 Cork Galley Head, 12th to 14th September when shot, now at National Museum, Dublin.

This birds arrived in the wake of a deep transatlantic depression that brushed the Northern half of the UK and Ireland last night and also apparently dumped a SOLITARY SANDPIPER at Annagh Head in Mayo, where incredibly a BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS was also seen this morning! Coupled with an as yet unconfirmed Booted Eagle in Kent (best credentials for a genuine vagrant to date if it is one) this will no doubt leave pro-twitchers reaching for their wallets and asprin in equal measure. Stick or twist? Notwithstanding the fact that an arrival of three Buff-bellied Pipits (if not from Greenland) could signify the arrival of more mega Nearctic vagrants and there are several more depressions on the same track due to arrive over the course of the next couple of days. Lewis anyone? Good luck to one and all....Alex Lees

Further help in identifying White-fronted Geese-types

Phil Barnett has very kindly emailed me the following links regarding White-fronted Geese identification and research

Ageing and Sexing of Asian Chats

It is rare that I get excited about identification papers these days as much of the information is either regurgitated or irrelevant but I must say that when I recently received on my desk the latest September 2009 edition of the journal British Birds I was most impressed.

Paul J Leader has produced a brilliant article on the ''Ageing and sexing of Asian chats'' (BB 102: 482-493) detailing the moult strategy and ageing criteria of four fairly closely related vagrants to Britain - the Siberian Rubythroat, Siberian Blue Robin, Rufous-tailed Robin and now annually occurring Red-flanked Bluetail. The paper is very well laid-out, written in a style that is easily understandable and liberally illustrated with a first-rate choice of full colour and accurately-reproduced photographs. It is absolutely brilliant and I must commend Paul for this outstanding and highly educational and well overdue synopsis.

Paul brings together in the 12 pages his wealth of knowledge and experience gleaned from his many years now in the Far East and he utilises his vast library of in-hand photographs to illustrate and highlight the salient pointers enabling for an identification and ageing process to be safely worked out in the field

This will be one issue of British Birds that I shall be forever browsing - this is a 'must-have' addition. Excellent stuff (Lee G R Evans)

For details of subscriptions or to obtain this particular issue, email Hazel Jenner on

Sad end to Whale occurrence in Dorset

The NORTHERN BOTTLENOSE WHALE, or 'Gilbert' as he was affectionately nicknamed (after Gilbert-Smith, a RNLI lifeguard who first spotted it), which was seen off Bournemouth beach and in Poole bay (Dorset) from 13-18 September was sadly washed up on a beach in Bournemouth last night.

Related Articles in the Telegraph newspaper

The following excerpt was published in yesterday's Telegraph

''Members of the public were warned not to go on to the beach out of fear the mammal had a contagious disease. The spokesman said: ''Unfortunately Gilbert the bottlenose whale has been washed up on a beach in Bournemouth and is dead. Officers from British Divers Marine Life Rescue are with the whale and a marine biologist will be attending in the morning. They request that members of the public do not attend the beach as it is not known at this stage if Gilbert died of any contagious diseases.''
Fears for Gilbert's well-being had been expressed because the whale would not be able to feed in the area. The species of whale would normally travel around Scotland and the west coast where it would have access to its normal food source of squid. Without this food it was feared it would starve and dehydrate.
Sue White, of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR), said that the Northern Bottlenose could have become dehydrated without water from the squid. She said it was not known why Gilbert was in the area and that he might have taken a wrong turn into the Channel. She added: ''It is very unusual to have a Northern Bottlenose on the south coast.
''The northern bottlenose are deep divers and they get the water they need from the squid they eat and can get dehydrated without that.'' Ms White added that the BDMLR had received an increase in reports of Northern Bottlenose Whales stranding or coming close to the UK shore.
She said the organisation, which began in 1988, had not received any reports prior to the whale that swam up the Thames in January 2006 but had since received about eight to 10 reports of sightings or strandings. She added: ''We do not know why this happens, they may have taken a wrong turn, it may be there are more of them since whaling was restricted.''


Investigations are ongoing into the origin of these two geese, photographed here by Adam Hartley with one of seven Bar-headed Geese and a single Snow Goose all part of a 500+ throng of moulting ornamental or non-naturalised geese surviving in Blenheim Palace Park.
Did they arrive as wild birds in spring 2004 and merely end up joining these local geese or did they escape from captivity in the first place?

Monday, 21 September 2009


(with Phil Barnett, Paul Wren and partner)

The two adult PACIFIC WHITE-FRONTED GEESE, initially seen in Oxfordshire at Otmoor during the spring of 2004, were present for their fourth day today, showing extremely well along the access road at the far west end of the Palace Lake. They were consorting with the large moulting flock of ornamental geese, predominantly Atlantic Canada, but also including 55 Greylag and 7 Bar-headed Geese. The birds were very distinctive and interestingly vocal and perhaps the wariest individuals in the flock (see Adam Hartley's image above)

The juvenile SABINE'S GULL was still present and viewable from the bridge whilst the long-staying GARGANEY, a single COMMON SHELDUCK, an impressive 157 GADWALL, 4 NORTHERN PINTAIL, 42 Common Teal, 15 Shoveler and 11 Eurasian Wigeon were noted. There was also a large pre-roost of Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

The pair of White-fronted Geese had previously visited Otmoor RSPB as first-winter birds from 3-22 May 2004 (Graham Coleman, Phil Barnett, et al). Both birds (perhaps a pair) are large and long-billed, approaching Greylag in size, with particularly thick legs and neck. The bill colour is predominantly pale pink but with a distinct orange tone to the base of the gander's. The white frontal shield of both birds was extensive and wide (especially above the forehead) whilst both birds exhibited a thin yellowish-buff eye-ring, more pronounced on the male. The general body plumage was greyish on the face and foreneck, with a darker crown (the lower edge of which cut through the eye) and hindneck. Also, the black band behind the white blaze formed a very broad vertical line running from the lores, down to the chin, where it broadened to a rhick dark throat line.

The upperparts were drab grey, with typical pale grey fringes to many of the feathers, with paler sepia-brown underparts heavily marked with bold black patches. The tail was extensively dark brown but significantly tipped with a narrow white terminal band

The legs and feet were orange and noticeably thick.


The White-fronted Goose complex occupies a circumpolar breeding range. In the Palearctic, it breeds from the Kanin Peninsula in NW Russia eastwards to far east Siberia, whilst in the Nearctic, it nests in Alaska and Arctic Canada eastwards to NW Hudson Bay, with an isolated population in western Greenland. All forms of White-fronted Geese are highly migratory and spend the winter in comparatively mild latitudes well south of the breeding ranges.

Generally speaking, there are six widely recognised forms of White-fronted Goose and instead of being based on morphological characters alone, recent taxonomists and researchers have proposed that subdivision based primarily on the geographical distribution of the main populations is perhaps more preferable. On this basis for example, Mooij & Buckler (2000) in their ''Reflections on the Systematics, Distribution and Status of Anser Albifrons'' published in Casarca 6: 92-107 recognise the form albicans as a separate type. Currently, the UK400 Club utilises the following treatment, recognising three separate forms

1) EURASIAN WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (Anser albifrons) which breeds in Russia tundra, from the Kanin Peninsula to the Tamyr Peninsula and winters in Europe.

2) PACIFIC WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (Anser albicans) consisting of several 'sub-species' although the taxonomic position of C and D is unclear and they may well relate to an additional closely-related species-pair - TAIGA AMERICAN WHITE-FRONTED GEESE-:

A) ASIAN WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (Anser albicans albicans) breeding in Siberia tundra between the Khatanga River and the Bering Strait and winters in SW Asia

B) NORTH AMERICAN WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (Anser albicans frontalis) which breeds on tundra in western and northern Alaska eastwards to at least Queen Maud Gulf and winters in western North America, Mexico and Texas. This form may be legitimately segregated into three sub-populations; one breeding from northern Alaska to Canada (and wintering from Texas to eastern Mexico), another breeding in western Alaska and wintering in California and a further breeding in SW Alaska and wintering south to western Mexico.

C) GAMBEL'S WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (gambeli) breeding in NW Canada, from the Old Crow Flats to Repulse Bay and wintering in eastern Mexico, Louisiana and Texas.

D) TULE WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (elgasi) breeding in at least the Cook inlet in southern Alaska and wintering uniquely only in central California. Also distinctly, it breeds on taiga.

3) GREENLAND WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (Anser flavirostris) breeding in western Greenland and wintering in Ireland and Scotland. It favours glacial plains and alpine bogs on high plateaus to nest.

In all reality, it is most likely that the two Blenheim Palace Lake birds are GAMBEL'S WHITE-FRONTED GEESE, an individual of which has been previously identified in Britain at Slimbridge WWT, Gloucs, between January and March 1977 (Peter Scott et al).

Phil Barnett, utilising much input from Richard Millington, Ian Lewington and Martin Reid, documented the 2004 Otmoor occurrence in detail in Birds of Oxfordshire 2004: 90-96. Two birds meeting the same criteria had previously been seen in Portugal that winter and it was considered at the time that these had migrated north to Oxfordshire in late spring.

We now have the dilemma of not knowing where these two birds have been in the intervening five years since their initial finding. Have they been in Oxfordshire all of this time moving between private locations with ornamental geese or are they merely returning birds from elsewhere? Were they not escaped birds from a local collection all along? Enquiries within the wildfowl trade suggest that Taiga White-fronted Geese are almost unknown in captivity (Lee G R Evans).

Once In A Lifetime Treat - BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS reappears after two months in the English Channel

Fisherman out today off of the ISLES OF SCILLY relocated the sub-adult (probably second or third-winter) BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS first seen in the English Channel 11.5 miles SW of Salcombe (South Devon) on 23 July and later seen flying slowly west past Gwennap Head, Porthgwarra (Cornwall) on 26 July.

The bird was sitting on the sea and flying short distances about two miles WSW of Penninis Head, St Mary's. Fortuitously, a pelagic trip was already scheduled for today, and at 1800 hours, following a tip-off, several local birders and a few visiting birders were able to get to within 100 yards of the bird as it remained in the same area of water. Although very distant, Tom Lowe and others were able to 'scope the bird from both the Garrison and Penninis Head this evening and the bird remained on view until dusk, still sat on the sea. There is every possibility it will be 'twitchable' tomorrow, particularly as it has been lingering in the area for almost two months.

In the interim period, there has been reports of it being seen off St Martin's (Scilly) on 27 July and off Porthgwarra on 2 August.

Since the departure of the long-staying Hermaness (Shetland) adult and its subsequent relocation to the remote and largely inaccessible Sula Sgeir (Outer Hebrides), this highly pelagic species has become extremely difficult and extremely expensive to see and today's relocation represents perhaps the best prospect yet of seeing this incredibly rare and difficult-to-connect-with vagrant

Friday, 18 September 2009

Weekend promises a bumper offering of drift migrants from Scandinavia

American Black Duck x Mallard hybrid, Musselburgh Esk River Mouth, Lothian, 18 September (Mike Thrower); Juvenile Glossy Ibis, Boyron Marshes, Suffolk, 18 September (Chris Upson) and Greenish Warbler trapped at Landguard NR, Suffolk, 17 September (Scott Mayson)

A first-winter GREENISH WARBLER remains at Landguard NR (Suffolk) for a second day, favouring the Poplar trees at the back of the Observatory Compound (see images above), whilst an ARCTIC WARBLER arrived at Marrister, Whalsay (Shetland) this morning following the bird on Fair Isle (Shetland) of yesterday (and still present today) (Fair Isle also has Richard's Pipit, Common Rosefinch and Yellow-browed Warbler).

It has been a good week for RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHERS with a first-winter showing well still in the NW corner of The Dell at Wells Woods (Norfolk) and another in Sycamores at Stiffkey campsite Wood (Norfolk). A much more elusive individual is present for a fifth day at Thorpeness former caravan park (Suffolk) with fresh arrivals at Minsmere RSPB (Suffolk) (in bushes by the picnic table pond), Flamborough Head (East Yorks), a second in Wells Woods from mid-afternoon and at Freiston Shore RSPB (Lincs) in bushes on the inner sea bank along the Wetland Trail.

There was no sign of yesterday's PADDYFIELD WARBLER on Bardsey Island (Gwynedd) this morning (just a BARRED WARBLER at Nant).

On the Spurn Point peninsula (East Yorks), a BARRED WARBLER was trapped and ringed at Kew early morning and released in the Crown & Anchor car park at Kilnsea, with the juvenile WOODCHAT SHRIKE still showing well in hawthorns by the car park at Sammy's Point, Easington. A juvenile RED-BACKED SHRIKE is in the Point Dunes, along with a WRYNECK, whilst a RUSTIC BUNTING trapped at The Warren early afternoon was later relocated after release in the field between the seaward end of Clubley's Field and the fence to the Warren. A second BARRED WARBLER was still in dense Buckthorn at Post 62 and later in the afternoon, a RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER in Kilnsea Churchyard.

Another juvenile WOODCHAT SHRIKE is present at the seaward end of Nanquidno Valley (Cornwall), with at least 1 mobile TAWNY PIPIT in the Sennen area (Cornwall), whilst an ORTOLAN BUNTING on Marazion Beach (Cornwall) was flushed by dogwalkers and flew west. On the Isles of Scilly, the juvenile ROSE-COLOURED STARLING and juvenile RED-BACKED SHRIKE remain on St Agnes, along with a RICHARDS PIPIT, with a WRYNECK on Peninnis Head, St Mary's.

The Northeasterly winds have seen a small arrival of YELLOW-BROWED WARBLERS with one for a second day at Shingle Street allotments (Suffolk) and others at Marsden Quarry (County Durham), Flamborough Head (East Yorks) (2), and at Lound Water Works (Suffolk).

A juvenile WOODCHAT SHRIKE is also present on Shetland, favouring the burn 140 yards up from the farmhouse at Skaw, Unst, with 2 BARRED WARBLERS nearby at Norwick, along with 2 COMMON ROSEFINCHES and a EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVE. A further first-winter COMMON ROSEFINCH is present in a 'tatty' crop at Virkie Willows. On neighbouring Orkney, a juvenile RED-BACKED SHRIKE is present at Evie and a COMMON ROSEFINCH on North Ronaldsay.

A juvenile RED-BACKED SHRIKE remains for a second day on the Sandwich Bay Estate (Kent), with a BARRED WARBLER in Marsden Quarry (Durham) and an ICTERINE WARBLER in the hedgerow (with a second bird by the Observatory) along the entrance road to Sea View Farm, Rimac (North Lincs). A EUROPEAN BEE-EATER flew north over Tolleshunt D'Arcy (Essex) at 1705

The six GLOSSY IBISES remain on the Ouse Washes (Cambs) on Willow Wash Pool, about a mile north of Mepal, whilst the flock of 10 in Wales which visited the Alaw Estuary (Anglesey) yesterday, circled Bardsey Island (Caernarvonshire) at 1030 hours and by late afternoon were at St Dogmaels Quay (Pembs). An additional juvenile remains on saltmarsh near the Webley Hotel on the Teifi Estuary (Ceredigion). The long-staying juvenile continues to show well on the flash north of the footpath east from Banter's Barn Farm, Boyton Marshes RSPB (Suffolk) (at TM 389 475) whilst Norfolk got in on the act with a juvenile showing well close to the second dyke on the right adjacent to the main track at Buckenham Marsh RSPB.

A LESSER YELLOWLEGS remains for a second day at Loch of Strathbeg RSPB (Aberdeenshire) (visible from the Starnafin Farm centre) with the long-staying adult at Aberlady Bay (Lothian) whilst the adult WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER remains very distantly on the island visible from the Roy King Hide at Abberton Reservoir (Essex). The long-staying but mobile juvenile BAIRD'S SANDPIPER continues to dodge the windsurfers on Marazion Beach (Cornwall) whilst the juvenile LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER continues to show well in the NW corner of Ballo Reservoir (Fife) close to the Little Ballo Farm (access from the Holl Reservoir car park at NO 225 045). The two BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS remain on Tiree (Argyll) at Loch a'Phuill. A juvenile PECTORAL SANDPIPER remains on Porthellick Pool, St Mary's (Scilly) with others at Wombwell Ings (South Yorks), Draycote Water Toft Bay (Warks) (accessed from the CP car park - £2.00 parking charge), South Walney Central Marsh (Lancs), Loch of Strathbeg RSPB (Aberdeenshire) and the Ythan Estuary (Aberdeenshire). A juvenile RED-NECKED PHALAROPE is preesent for a second day at Martin Mere WWT (Lancs).

A GREAT WHITE EGRET was south of Freckleton (Lancs) at Freckleton Naze Pool early morning, with another frequenting ditches and dykes at Otmoor RSPB (Oxfordshire). Meanwhile, a further bird flew over Christchurch Harbour (Dorset) mid-morning and was later relocated on Brownsea Island, Poole Harbour. What was most likely the Freckleton bird was at Crossens Marsh (Lancs) from mid-afternoon with a long-staying bird still at Meare Heath (Somerset) and one of the recent Cambs birds at Kingfishers Bridge WCT Reserve, NW of Wicken. A CATTLE EGRET still remains on Court Lake at Frampton-on-Severn (Gloucs)..
The SPOTTED CRAKE was still showing well at Edderthorpe Flash in the Dearne Valley (South Yorks) today, with the Bradiford Water (Devon) bird seen again at the edge of the scrape and a new bird at Ladywalk NR (Warks). A further bird remains at the London Wetland Centre Reserve at Barnes (London).

The eclipse drake KING EIDER is still to be seen from the Cut End Hide (Lincs) with a drake SURF SCOTER again in Inganess Bay (Orkney) on Thursday. In Lothian, a Mallard x American Black Duck hybrid was on the River Esk at Musselburgh today (Colin Davison et al)

A GREAT SHEARWATER flew past North Ronaldsay (Orkney) this morning whilst the juvenile SABINE'S GULL first discovered on 15th was still present this evening on Blenheim Park Lake (Oxfordshire).

It has been a good autumn so far for TREE SPARROWS, with two vagrant individuals frequenting the feeders at Titchfield Haven NNR (Hants) and a good passage at various East Coast and South Coast promontories.

In IRELAND, a juvenile BAIRD'S SANDPIPER continues at Black Rock Strand (Co. Kerry), along with a juvenile SPOTTED SANDPIPER, with two juvenile BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS on Webb's Field at Kilcoole (Co. Wicklow).

Thursday, 17 September 2009

BBC at the TUFTED PUFFIN twitch


I was so deflated in dipping this once-in-a-lifetime mega that I could hardly find any words to describe the occurrence as the BBC interviewed me as I sat freezing looking out to sea. Trevor Davies made up for me and did a good take - I see JT got in on the act too

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

TUFTED PUFFIN, yes TUFTED PUFFIN, in NORTH KENT - the FIRST record for Britain

Adult summer Tufted Puffin, The Swale off Oare Marshes NR, North Kent, 16 September 2009 (Murray Wright)
Oare Marshes regular Murray Wright had to do a double take this morning when he came face to face with a very odd-looking seabird which he eventually worked out was a TUFTED PUFFIN (Lunda cirrhata). Murray had been seawatching from the sea wall hide 450 yards east of the end of the Oare Marshes hide during the morning and after watching a Leach's Petrel battling with the near gale force NE wind had got on to three skuas flying in towards The Swale.

Whilst scanning, the TUFTED PUFFIN suddenly swam into view from the right, perhaps swimming out of Faversham Creek, at about 1055 hours. Remarkably it was just 50 yards offshore and full of excitement and panic, Murray rattled off as many images as he could whilst the bird was in close view. It was being pushed west by the fierce wind and after a short while flew west but landed again after 200 yards on the sea. It quickly drifted on the high tide towards the Oare Marshes approach road and 'pier' but after a period of time, when a further six observers visiting the reserve and fortunate to be in the area managed to get on to it, it flew again at 1110 hours and flew strongly west into The Swale and out of view.

During all of the commotion, Murray had managed to inform Birdline South East of his find as well as other local birders and within a very short time indeed, the dramatic and almost unbelievable news had travelled widely and nationwide. However, virtually as soon as birders were leaping into their cars, the bird had already disappeared out of view. The hope was though, that like many Little Auks before, the bird would simply fly back east and out of the Swale on the ebbing tide.

Geoff Burton was the first on the scene, but despite being just 15 minutes away, he missed the bird. Soon, birders from all over Kent were arriving, closely followed by those travelling from farther afield. It was not long before a crowd of 100 or more had gathered and the Oare Marshes warden had to very kindly organise special parking arrangements by opening up an adjacent field. A vigil was then kept by an army of watchers, with the Swale being well and truly scrutinised from one end to another during the afternoon and evening. By nightfall, there had been no further sign of this remarkable and perhaps legendary bird.

As such, it represents the first British record of this highly pelagic species. There has been just one previous Western Palearctic record of an adult in SWEDEN at Lagans mynning, Laholmsbukten, on 1 and 8 June 1994 (VFaS 22: 136, 1995), although an adult was seen this summer in Greenland (details awaited).

The species is kept in captivity where at least 5 are on show on the artificial cliff-face at the 'Living Coasts' Wildlife Park in Torbay (South Devon) but I do not know of any other collections either in Britain or on the Continent that harbour this bird. The Park was contacted today and they confirmed that none of their birds had escaped.

Tufted Puffin is one of the most abundant and conspicuous seabirds of Alaska where Sowls et al in 1978 estimated the population to be in the region of 4 million individuals. In terms of breeding distribution, the species is restricted to the North Pacific Ocean, breeding from NE Siberia and Cape Lisburne in the Chukchi Sea south through the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands to the Farallon Islands and Hurricane Point Rocks in northern California. In winter, birds range widely and often solitarily, often far out to sea, ranging as far south as Honshu in Japan and to Baja California.

Todays Kent individual was in adult breeding plumage, retaining its bill-sheath and red bill and long pale cream crown plumes (see Murray's photographs).

Interestingly, two days ago, a local birder was seawatching off Canvey Island (on the Essex side of the River Thames) late evening when he had an auk fly past at distance which he described as small, dark and heavy at the rear, with a different jizz to a Guillemot or Razorbill and an odd flight action. At the time the observer thought it was a Puffin and being a very rare visitor to the SOG area, he alerted several birders that evening. In retrospect, there is every possibility his strange bird was this Puffin and could suggest it has been in the Thames Estuary since the near gale force NE wind set in.

The colour-ringed GLOSSY IBISES in County Wexford, IRELAND

There were two ringed GLOSSY IBISES among the initial flock of 12 birds at Killag, both with white darvic rings but neither was read. A few days later, when 8 occurred at Tacumshin one was ringed - the inscription reading: NUV , traced as being ringed as a juvenile at the Coto Donana in the summer of 2009. Last Friday I saw five birds back at the original field in Killag where the original twelve had first appeared. There was one ringed bird - PW4, and this too was ringed as a juvenile in summer of 2009 at the Coto Donana. A photograph I obtained of the bird is attached above (Killian Mullarney)

Tuesday, 15 September 2009


A RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD was seen and photographed on 8 September from a boat 25kms off Old Head of Kinsale (County Cork) (per Quentin Dupriez)


Following the deep depression that crossed the Atlantic and swept through the Outer Hebrides last Tuesday (8 September), a number of Nearctic waders (including 2 American Golden Plovers, 2 Buff-breasted Sandpipers, 1-2 Baird's Sandpipers, a juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher and a juvenile Hudsonian Whimbrel) and more recently a flock of 3 Blue-winged Teals appeared on the Outer Hebrides. The ace card in the pack however was saved for the highly remote and often inaccessible St Kilda island where Britain's third ever BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER made landfall.

The bird was found by researchers Will Miles and Sarah Money and was showing well in the Irisbed close to the island's helipad. It appeared to be a first-winter female and was still present on Sunday morning (13 September) when the two observers searched briefly. The news was released Saturday morning but due to birding politics, was not released more widely until yesterday afternoon, at the site of the Blue-winged Teals on the Howmore River.

There are just two previous records of this beautiful bird in Britain, both occurring in the first week of October - on Skomer Island (Pembrokeshire) on 5 October 1961 (British Birds 56: 205; 83: 489; 85: 337-343; Ibis 133: 220) and a first-winter male on Fair Isle (Shetland) on 7 October 1988 (fully documented by Jack Willmott in Birding World 1: 355-356; see also British Birds 83: 489; Scottish Bird Report 1988: 45; 1989: 42; Ibis 133: 220) - and just one other Western Palearctic record - on board a ship off of the north coast of Iceland in October 1987.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Mega...Mega......Mega..BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER on St Kilda

A female BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER was present on St Kilda (Outer Hebrides) over the weekend (12-13 September) frequenting sparse vegetation around Hirta village. It was last seen at 0900 hours on Sunday.

Galleria of Recent Sightings

Plate 1) Snowy Owl at Mangersta, Lewis, Outer Hebrides (Martin Scott)
Plate 2) Juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper at Fowlmere RSPB, Cambs (Dave Hatton)
Plates 3-4) First-winter Arctic Warbler at Landguard NR, Suffolk (Bill Baston)
Plate 5) Spotted Crake at Greylake RSPB, Somerset (Rob Laughton)
Plates 6-7) Juvenile Baird's Sandpiper at Davidstow Airfield, Cornwall (Rob Laughton)
Plates 8-9) Juvenile Baird's Sandpiper at Davidstow Airfield (Gary Thoburn)
Plates 10-12) Juvenile Rose-coloured Starling at Stone, Staffordshire (Dave Kelshall)
Plates 13-15) Juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper, Draycote Water, Warks (Dave Hutton)
Plates 16-17) Juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper, Draycote Water, Warks (Richard Hawkins)
Plates 18-19) Near-adult Pallid Harrier, Near Willingham, Cambs (Richard Bayldon)
Plates 20-21) Near-adult Pallid Harrier, Aldreth Fen, Cambs (James Hanlon)
Plates 22-25) First-winter Ortolan Bunting, Cley East Bank, Norfolk (Christopher Upson)
Plates 26-27) Grey Phalarope, Blenheim Palace Lake, Oxfordshire (Adam Hartley)
Plates 28-32) The 5 Glossy Ibises at Sutton Gault, Cambs (Mark Stirland)
Plates 33-35) Juvenile Dotterel, Sandwich Bay, Kent (Marc Heath)
Plates 36-37) Juvenile Baird's Sandpiper, Traeth Dulas, Anglesey (Ron Marshall)
Plates 38-40) Juvenile Baird's Sandpiper, Marazion Beach, Cornwall (Brian Field)
Plates 41-42) Juvenile North American Black Tern, Farmoor Reservoir, Oxon (Kevin DuRose)
Plates 43-46) Juvenile White-winged Black Tern, Farmoor (Mike Lawrence)
Plates 47-50) Juvenile North American Black Tern, Farmoor (Mike Lawrence)