Tuesday, 30 March 2010

A remarkable early run of vagrants bolsters the 2010 total

The adult male LESSER KESTREL at Minsmere (Jan Hein Steenis) and ALPINE and PALLID SWIFT in Suffolk (Andrew Easton)

The total number of species recorded in Britain and Ireland as of today has increased to 282 species, quite exceptional in just three months. Near gale force southerly winds last week saw a record arrival of twitchable Alpine Swifts and amongst them a few Pallid Swifts. Most exceptional however was an overshooting adult male LESSER KESTREL in Suffolk.

The SEVEN new additions since my last update are -:

The aforementioned LESSER KESTREL, Yellow Wagtail (8 birds so far), Common Nightingale (a very early songster in Berkshire), Common Redstart (6+), FAN-TAILED WARBLER (an all-too brief stayer at St Margaret's-at-Cliffe, Kent), Sedge Warbler (45+) and TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL (a well-twitched female in Bedfordshire at The Lodge RSPB, Sandy)

Monday, 29 March 2010

WOODCOCK slaying

Appalling crimes committed by gamekeepers against WOODCOCKS

Unprecedented numbers of WOODCOCKS, in terms of modern-day counting, arrived in Britain this winter, following the longest and harshest winter in western Europe for at least 50 years. Woodcock are a fascinating, intriguing and delightful resident of the dark forests and I am appalled to hear the story of one estate in Lothian, Scotland. One keeper boasted of hastily arranging a hunt just a day before a National Ban on hunting was scheduled and glorifying in the fact that his 'men' had shot and killed 91 Woodcocks, many of which were too tired and exhausted to escape from the ground. The Woodcock corpses were later sold on to a butchers at just 47 pence per head.

What national body in this day and age allows the continual carnage of Woodcock? This is as bad as killing Song Thrushes in Malta as far as I am concerned and should be outlawed.

Lee Evans (with contribution from Sonia Graham)

Only the 6th GENUINE LESSER KESTREL in Britain since 1950

Jan Hein Steenis, Barry Reed and Bill Last were on site shortly after Andy Cook discovered the bird and were able to enjoy these crippling views before it spooked. Jan quickly managed these shots.


Alan Shearman managed to get to the bird before it flew further inland and obtained these images as it perched on the fenceposts

Overshooting Spanish steppe Kestrel causes a major stir

The ALPINE SWIFT invasion - this bird photographed by Brian Field as it drifted back and forth over Marazion Marsh RSPB in West Cornwall

Essex bird photographer Andy Cook could hardly believe his eyes when he came face-to-face with a stonking adult male LESSER KESTREL at Minsmere RSPB reserve (Suffolk) yesterday afternoon. The bird was hopping from fence post to fence post in fields along the access road and was showing unbelievably well. Andy raced back to the RSPB shop and centre and got hold of Birdline Wales operative Alan Davies, who just happened to be by the centre at this time, and showed him pictures of the bird he had just found.

Minutes later and Alan and others were watching it - still showing to 65 yards in the field. News was then quickly relayed to RBA, sparking a major invasion of twitchers from all around. First on the scene were many daytrippers at the reserve, including a 52-strong coach party from the Midlands, and then, shortly later, many of those that were already in the county, due to the continued presence of both Alpine and Pallid Swifts.

Sadly, the commotion caused by incoming twitchers inadvertently frightened the Kestrel and it took flight. LGRE and others intercepted it as it flew north along the access road and made its way slowly west towards Westleton and as a female Common Kestrel set off in hot pursuit after it, it slank away to the north and went out towards Westleton Heath. Fortunately, one intrepid soul later relocated it, where it had taken refuge at the edge of Scottshall Covert at cTM 463 685, and here it was to remain until dusk, roosting in a dense Holm Oak at 1845 hours. By this time, 350 or so observers had connected.

It was a beautiful adult male and represented the first record in Britain since the immature male on the Isles of Scilly in 2002 (on St Mary's from 13-21 May - British Birds 95: plates 226 & 227 and 96: plates 342-343).

The bird roosted overnight and was present again today in exactly the same area, delighting a further 300 or so observers, often perching on gorse clumps, dead Elders and the Holm Oaks. Andy Cook obtained some absolutely stunning images when first found, whilst Jan Hein Steenis and others also managed to get good shots before it flew.

The population of Lesser Kestrel in Europe has undergone some recent dramatic increases following a very successful nestbox campaign in both southern France and in Spain. Previous to this, the species had been in serious decline. The bulk of this population migrates north from wintering grounds in Senegal and The Gambia from late February, with mid to late March being the peak arrival of this species (the Minsmere bird therefore fitting very neatly into this arrival pattern).

Lesser Kestrel is a mega-rare vagrant to Britain with perhaps only six authenticated records since 1950, including a first-summer male at St Ives Island, Cornwall, on 30 May 1968, a male on Fair Isle on 23 June 1987, a male found dead in an outbuilding at Dover, Kent, on 20 April 1989 and a male over Hampstead Heath, London, on 31 May 1992.

Suffolk certainly has been the centre of attention in the past few days with a long-staying PALLID SWIFT attracting large crowds at Kessingland, often flying in the company of an ALPINE SWIFT over the caravan park, sewage works and allotments since Thursday morning. A record gathering of ALPINE SWIFTS in the county has also seen two long-staying birds lingering over the promenade between the Claremont Pier and the CEFAS Laboratories complex, often showing down to just a few yards overhead and frequently roosting on the buildings.

The first TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL in Bedfordshire since January 1890 involves a female consorting with up to 43 Common Crossbills at The Lodge RSPB, Sandy. Initially found and photographed by Alan Crofts and Mike Lawrence on Saturday as it came in with the flock to drink at the main pond, it has been ranging the main heath north of the shop and gatehouse and showing intermittently in the tall conifer trees and isolated stands of deciduous trees. Again, a presumed migrant reorienting from an unknown wintering area, perhaps in Britain.

So, with such mouthwatering birds to enjoy, what else has Britain currently to offer -:

A FAN-TAILED WARBLER put in another repeat brief performance at St Margaret's-at-Cliffe (East Kent), pausing briefly on the clifftop near Bockhill Monument before bounding off north, whilst the three overwintering PENDULINE TITS are now performing daily, frequently visiting the bumper crop of Bulrush 75 yards west of the Hanson Hide along the boardwalk Willow Trail on the ARC Pit Reserve at Dungeness.

It really has been ALPINE SWIFTS which have been breaking all of the records and making headlines, with twitchable individuals in addition to the 3 of 7 recorded this past week in Suffolk being at Marazion Marsh RSPB (West Cornwall), in the Seaton area (South Devon), at Radipole Lake and Lodmoor (Dorset), at Crossness LNR (London) and in North Norfolk at both Cromer and Hunstanton. Over 25 birds in all were considered to have been involved in the influx.

A GREAT WHITE EGRET is today at Blacktoft Sands RSPB (East Yorks) (showing from the gate at Ousefleet Hide), whilst the CATTLE EGRET continues for a third day by the River Frome at Wareham (Dorset)

A migrant drake RING-NECKED DUCK remains for a second day at Kenfig Pool NNR (Glamorgan) (from South Pool Hide), the drake FERRUGINOUS DUCK is at Chew Valley Lake (Avon) (along with the first-winter drake LESSER SCAUP), the very confiding adult drake AMERICAN WIGEON on the Whooper Pond at Caerlaverock WWT (Dumfries & Galloway) and several GREEN-WINGED TEALS including the regular bird at Eyebrook Reservoir (Leics). The dapper drake BUFFLEHEAD was still present on The Fleet at Abbotsbury Swannery (Dorset) on 28th.

At Dunnet Bay in uppermost Northern Mainland Scotland, the male LITTLE BUNTING (now in song) continues to visit the feeding station in a birder's garden, whilst nearby a first-year drake KING EIDER was off Castlehill, with two other drakes still consorting with Common Eiders off of the Roseisle Beach car park west of Burghead (Moray)

The adult BONAPARTE'S GULL was still visiting the north end of the River Taff by the Sailing Club Activity Centre in Cardiff Bay (Glamorgan) as recently as yesterday, with the LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER widely ranging Lancashire and the Northwest visiting Marshside Marsh RSPB on 28th, a cracking white morph male GYRFALCON on Rhossili Down, on the Gower Peninsula (West Glamorgan) on 27th, a lingering PURPLE HERON at Dyfftyn Mill (Pembs) until at least 27th, an early BLACK KITE over Unthank Road, Norwich (Norfolk), on 26th (Clive Byers) and a RED-RUMPED SWALLOW at Sennen Cove (Cornwall) on 25th.

Migrant activity has been in full swing with an excellent number of northbound OSPREYS, several EURASIAN HOOPOES including well-watched birds at Portland and Langton Herring (Dorset), many FIRECRESTS and BLACK REDSTARTS, with an exceptionally early singing male COMMON NIGHTINGALE for its second day at Searles Farm Lane GP (Berkshire), the odd early COMMON REDSTART and a number of early SEDGE WARBLERS.

The wintering SHORE LARKS remain in Holkham Bay (North Norfolk) (13-18 birds), with two more migrants at Skateraw (Lothian).

The adult winter PACIFIC DIVER continues to be the greatest attraction in IRELAND, where it continues to show well off Finavarra Point (Co. Galway), with the adult FORSTER'S TERN still lingering on Claddagh Beach, Galway Harbour, and the PIED-BILLED GREBE occasionally showing at Lough Atedaub (Co. Clare). A HOOPOE was west of Ballycotton at Churchtown South on 27th.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

WHITE-TAILED SEA EAGLES continue to increase and expand their range in Holland

In 2006 White-tailed Sea Eagles started to breed in The Netherlands (in the Oostvaardersplassen near Lelystad). This pair bred successfully at the same location from 2006 to 2009. The same pair is present again this year, whilst other pairs are present at a few other locations too. Mating has been seen in the Lauwersmeer area, and whilst 3 birds are still present in Biesboschand, news was forthcoming today that there is a breeding attempt at Zwartemeer north of Zwolle.

It is likely that the White-tailed Eagle will increase rapidly in The Netherlands during the years to come. A rapid increase was also noticed in Denmark, after the first breeding took place in 1995. This population increased to 22 pairs in 2008. There is a similar situation in the western states of Germany: in Schleswig-Holstein 7 pairs in 1990 increasing to 63 pairs in 2009, in Niedersachsen 0 pairs in 1990 and 22 in 2007. The total population in Germany increased from 127 in 1980 to an almost unbelievable number of 570 pairs in 2007 (information from several sources).

Despite the enormous increase in numbers and the rapidly expanding range there are still plans to reintroduce the White-tailed Sea Eagle into East Anglia! The nearest pairs in The Netherlands are now at a distance of about 230 kilometers (or 150 miles) from the East Anglian coast. This distance is exactly the same as the distance between the nearest pair in Germany and the place where the first pair bred in The Netherlands.

I sincerely hope that the natural range-expansion of the White-tailed Sea Eagle will not be disturbed and spoilt by the unnecessary and irresponsible reintroduction project in East Anglia. Hopefully this project will be cancelled soon. (contributed by Trinus Haitjema of Estonia)

SEMICOLLARED FLYCATCHERS arriving in force in SE Europe

A record influx of SEMICOLLARED FLYCATCHERS is currently being witnessed in SE Europe (Italy, etc), exceptionally early and perhaps a signal that the first wave of Pied Flycatchers expected here (mid April) may well be worth more serious scrutiny

Monday, 22 March 2010

Spring now livening up, with revised total now hitting 275

Recent days have seen a wave of fresh arrivals of trans-Saharan migrants moving north, with the total number of species now recorded in Britain and Ireland as high as 275 species. The 11 new additions are as follows -:

1) LITTLE BITTERN - a male briefly in Easebourne, Sussex;

2) PURPLE HERON - a showy individual in Carmarthenshire all day today;

3) Osprey - over 35 migrant birds in the past 5 days;

4) Stone Curlew - at least 25 birds back in Breckland and a single in Ireland;

5) EURASIAN DOTTEREL - very unusual March occurrence in Scotland on Tiree, Argyll, with European Golden Plovers;

6) PALLID SWIFT - one photographed in South Wales on 21 March;

7) ALPINE SWIFT - bumper influx in recent days involving at least 10 individuals, including one in Ireland;

8) RED-RUMPED SWALLOW - early migrant in West Cornwall;

9) House Martin - at least 15 reported;

10) RUSTIC BUNTING - photographed female in birder's New Forest garden constituting first Hampshire record;

11) WHITE STORK - presumed genuine spring migrant in Ireland

Friday, 12 March 2010

This weeks Irish Rarity Gallery

The PACIFIC DIVER off County Clare last weekend (Dermot Breen), and Lough Atedaun PIED-BILLED GREBE and Galway Harbour FORSTER'S TERN (Matthew Deans)

As Week 10 comes towards a close, the first OSPREY makes 263

The exceptionally confiding drake LESSER SCAUP at Hogganfield Loch (Mike Thrower)

The bird of the moment - drake BUFFLEHEAD on The Fleet (Dorset) (Alan Lewis)

The best Norfolk has to offer at present: ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD, juvenile GLAUCOUS GULL and SHORE LARKS (Adam Hartley)

A total of 263 species has now been recorded in Britain and Ireland this year, with a trickle of incoming spring migrant additions (Northern Wheatear, European Barn Swallow, Sand Martin, White Wagtail, Willow Warbler, Little Ringed Plover and Common Tern), an Atlantic Puffin at Portland Bill, an early Osprey at Hornsea Mere and the Dorset BUFFLEHEAD and Lincolnshire AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER.

The star attraction of the past week has been the beautiful drake BUFFLEHEAD on The Fleet off Langton Herring (Dorset). The bird is associating with Red-breasted Mergansers and after first being seen at West Bexington and Abbotsbury last Sunday, has spent all of its time on The Fleet between Herbury Gore and the end of Lighthouse Road south of Langton Herring. It represents the 10th considered 'genuine vagrant' Bufflehead in Britain since 1950. It is the first record for Dorset.

An adult winter BONAPARTE'S GULL has also been a crowd-puller, returning for a second successive spring to the River Taff in Cardiff (Glamorgan), showing very well opposite the slipway of the Cardiff Bay Water Activity Centre in Jim Driscoll Way. Two wintering LESSER SCAUPS are nearby, with an adult drake on the Eastern Lake of Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, south of Penarth, and a female at the south end of Eglwys Nunnydd Reservoir.

In Somerset, a CATTLE EGRET remains in Sharpham Park, with up to 3 GREAT WHITE EGRETS in the Shapwick Heath area, the 3 first-winter GLOSSY IBISES at Ham Wall RSPB, with the drake LESSER SCAUP still on Bodmin Moor at Dozmary Pool (Cornwall) and an adult drake RING-NECKED DUCK on Roadford Reservoir (Devon). A drake LESSER SCAUP visited Chew Valley Lake (Avon) on Sunday and Monday, whilst the juvenile PALLID HARRIER reappeared at Mulfra Hill, Zennor, on 9th (Roy Phillips).

One of last autumn's bumper crop of LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS has reappeared at Banks Marsh (Lancs), favouring the pool opposite Old Hollow Farm (view from the seawall)

In North Norfolk, a juvenile GLAUCOUS GULL has been favouring Sheringham seafront throughout most of the past week, often roosting on the beach breakwater groynes, with 50+ Snow Buntings still in Salthouse Beach car park, 40 Twite at Titchwell RSPB and 3 adult Black Brants at Wells Harbour. A lone ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD is still present on Thorpe Marshes, between Haddiscoe and St Olaves

In North Wales, the three drake SURF SCOTERS were located offshore today at Old Colwyn (Conwy) (best viewed from the A55 Rainbow Footbridge at SH 877 786), with the long-staying SHORE LARK nearby between the Point of Ayr and Gronant Beach (Clwyd). In Mid Wales, the juvenile BLACK KITE of unknown origin is still visiting Gigrin Farm Feeding Station, Rhayader (Powys), along with 175 Red Kites, 45+ Common Ravens and 70 Common Buzzards.

A TUNDRA BEAN GOOSE remains with Pink-footed Geese on Cockerham Moss (Lancs), with 2 along Plex Moss Lane (Lancs), with the drake AMERICAN WIGEON again at Martin Mere WWT (from the Ron Barker Hide).

A few BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS linger, including the Finchley (London) first-winter, six in Plover Road, Ipswich (Suffolk), the four opposite the health centre by the Shelton Street/Hockley Road roundabout in Wilnecote, Tamworth (Staffs), four in Panton Street, Cambridge (Cambs) and several small flocks in Scotland.

NORTHERN GREY SHRIKES remain on territory in the Clocaenog Forest, at Dalton Crags (Cumbria), at Waddington Fell (Lancs) (SD 716 459), near Usk Reservoir (Powys), on Teifi Marshes NR (Pembs), near Welbourn (Lincs) and in the New Forest at Burley (Hants) (Burbush Hill car park).

In Scotland, an adult drake AMERICAN WIGEON continues to afford exceptional views on the Whooper Pond at Caerlaverock WWT (Dumfries & Galloway), as does a drake LESSER SCAUP at Hogganfield Loch, Glasgow (Clyde), the 3 SNOW GEESE remain with Pink-footed and Greylag Geese at the NE end of Nigg Bay (Highland), adult RING-BILLED GULL at Dingwall Leisure Centre, an adult BONAPARTE'S GULL at Thurso River Mouth (Caithness) and drake KING EIDER off Roseisle car park (Moray). Meanwhile, the LITTLE BUNTING is still visiting the feeding station in Dunnet (Caithness)

On the Outer Hebrides, the resident male SNOWY OWL was showing well today at Borve, Lewis, sheltering by the pine plantation north of the A857 at NB 426 579.

Migrants today include perhaps 8 Northern Wheatears, a few Little Ringed Plovers, a trickle of Sandwich Terns, the odd Garganey, numerous Black Redstarts and Firecrests, a European Barn Swallow at Wroot (Lincs), Red Kites and the first OSPREY of the year, at Hornsea Mere (East Yorks)

Both Hooded Mergansers of unknown origin remain, with the adult drake at Radipole Lake (Dorset) and a first-winter drake at Saltholme Pools RSPB (Cleveland), whilst a Golden Eagle roams Luccombe Down on the Isle of Wight for a second day.

A drake RING-NECKED DUCK remains at Lough Gara (Co. Sligo), with 1-2 SMALL CANADA GEESE (hutchinsii) with Barnacle Geese at Ballintemple/Raghley (Co. Sligo), a vagrant CANADA GOOSE (parvipes) at Trawbega Bay (Co. Donegal), a female Ruddy Shelduck still at Culleenemore Strand, Sligo Harbour (Co. Sligo) and the drake NORTH AMERICAN BLACK DUCK at Sruhill Lough (Co. Mayo). Up to 3 RING-BILLED GULLS remain in Cork at Cuskinny Marsh, with the adult FORSTER'S TERN at Mutton Island Causeway, Galway Harbour. The Lough Atedaun (Co. Clare) PIED-BILLED GREBE was present until at least Wednesday.

There has been no sign of the Clare PACIFIC DIVER this week despite searching, although up to 86 Black-throated Divers were located offshore, several Red-throated and several hundred Great Northerns.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Spring is in the air - 254 species now recorded in 2010

The total number of species now recorded in Britain and Ireland in 2010 has now risen to 254 species, with the addition of six new species in the past week.

1) PIED-BILLED GREBE: only the 6th for IRELAND and the first twitchable in over ten years, frequenting Lough Gur in County Limerick since 25 February;

2) Sooty Shearwater: off Dungeness, Kent, 27 February;

3) Manx Shearwater, off Dungeness, Kent, 27 February;

4) Little Ringed Plover: two early migrants with singles in Middlesex and Notts;

5) AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER: in Lincolnshire;

6) European Turtle Dove: wintering individual in garden in County Cork

Wintering EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVE in Ireland

This EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVE was discovered in IRELAND in late January and was still to be found this past weekend, frequenting a private garden at Ardralla, Church Cross, Skibbereen (County Cork). It represents the first of the year in Britain and Ireland (per Elaine Draper)