Analysis: Britain and Ireland
The bumper summer for rarities rolled into July, with a wealth of jaw-dropping finds the length and breadth of Britain and Ireland. Josh Jones reports.
The bumper summer for rarities rolled into July, with a wealth of jawdropping finds the length and breadth of Britain and Ireland. Josh Jones reports.
July continued where June left off, with the first half of the month particularly outstanding for major finds. Although things tailed off slightly as the days passed, this was by no means the quiet month that it can be in some years.
The opening day of July provided what will arguably be bird of the year for many, when Britain’s first Soft-plumaged Petrel was tracked between Flamborough Head, East Yorks, and Bamburgh, Northumberland (page 9). Although initially reported as a Fea’s-type, the bird thankfully came close enough for reasonable record shots to be taken, which helped to clinch the ID as a much rarer visitor from the Southern Hemisphere.
One bird the petrel will be rivalling for ‘Rarity of the Year’ is the Black-browed Albatross, which was in the Bempton Cliffs RSPB, East Yorks, area for much of the month. Although it could spend several days away from the seabird cliffs, there was a noticeable change in behaviour towards the end of the month, with it spending more time settled on the cliffs and seemingly now feeling rather at home there – we expect to hear of its return in 2022.
A staggering July record from Easington, East Yorks, concerned an Oriental Turtle Dove of the
meena subspecies from 2nd.
It is, unsurprisingly, the first summer record for Britain, with most being found in the late autumn and winter period.
Rather more typical of the month, but nonetheless still a blockbuster find, was an Elegant
Tern in the famous Sandwich Tern colony at Cemlyn Bay, Anglesey, on 4th. Lingering until 30th, it joins a long list of rare terns seen at this spot over the years and also transpired to be the same individual which frequented a colony on the French island of Noirmoutier, where a pair of Elegant Terns has raised two chicks this summer. With no sign on 31st, it wasn’t a huge shock to hear that it had been relocated among post-breeding Sandwich Terns at Formby Point, Lancs, that evening.
The opening week of the month also produced Ireland’s fourth Short-billed Dowitcher (page
10). A second-calendar-year bird, it was discovered at Ring Estuary near Clonakilty, Co Cork, on 3rd, and hung around there until at least 27th. Meanwhile, adult Long-billed Dowitchers were discovered in Cheshire and Norfolk – both on 25th.
The former was at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB and remained into August, while the latter was found well inland at Dickleburgh Moor, where it stayed for a day before moving north to Potter Heigham Marshes on 26th and then Hickling Broad from 28th.
In the same county as the dowitcher, a Semipalmated Plover was sound-recorded flying over Lissagriffin in the early hours
of 2nd – another example of how noc-mig is broadening the horizons of our understanding of vagrancy.
The Least Tern spent all month on the east coast of Ireland (pages 8-9), although it did appear to become increasingly mobile as July wore on. It transpired to be visiting the colony at Baltray, Co Louth, as well as its ‘original’ locality of Portrane, Co Dublin, although was back at the latter site by the end of the month.
Ireland had a truly excellent month, with the undoubted highlight being the appearance of the adult Egyptian Vulture in Co Donegal, near Dunfanaghy New Lake, on 14-15th. Where it has been in the intervening month since its stop at Scilly is anyone’s guess, but logic would suggest that the good weather of 15 June encouraged the bird to make a direct crossing to Ireland from St Mary’s, and it has been in the Emerald Isle ever since. There was a later report of an Egyptian Vulture from Avoca, Co Wicklow, on 19th, although it was best treated as unconfirmed.
A fabulous breeding-plumaged Western Sandpiper was found among the masses of returning waders at Snettisham RSPB, Norfolk, on 23rd. Although tricky to see at times, it offered great views to those birders patient enough to give it time and is just the second for Norfolk and 11th for Britain.
Meanwhile, belated news emerged of a Short-toed Snake Eagle photographed at an undisclosed Sutherland site on 20 June. A first for Scotland and fifth for Britain, it was seen during survey work at a sensitive and remote locality.
A drake Black Scoter was discovered off Blackdog, Aberdeens, on 1st. It was reported intermittently to 28th, with a Surf Scoter also there. Others of the latter species were off Ulrome, East Yorks, on 9th and Kinnaber, Angus, on
20th. The only King
Eider was the male on Unst all month.
In Kent, a Black Stork was seen over numerous sites between 9th and 17th; it also made a foray into East Sussex on 15th, when it flew over Rye Harbour NR. Aside one on the
Isle of Wight at the beginning of the month, the only Purple Heron of July was at Kingfishers Bridge NR, Cambs, on 17th.
Seawatching was a bit of a nonevent for most of July, although a Fea’s-type Petrel flew past Kilcummin Head, Co Mayo, on 19th and a Wilson’s Storm Petrel did the same past Pendeen, Cornwall, on 29th, with a few of the latter seen in Irish waters and one as far north as St Kilda, Outer Hebrides, on 15th. Wilson’s began to build in numbers at the month’s end, though, with up to 12 seen from Scilly pelagics on 31st. A decent movement in the
North Sea on the final day of
July produced records of Great and Cory’s Shearwater between Northumberland and Norfolk, plus a few Balearic Shearwaters and Long-tailed Skuas.
July is often a fine month for terns, and so it proved this year. No fewer than four Caspian Terns were logged. Two were still visiting Southfield Reservoir, South Yorks, to 2nd, on which day the Finnish-ringed bird initially seen in South Wales was seen at St Aidan’s RSPB, West Yorks, before relocating to Middleton Lakes RSPB, Staffs, on 15th. Further individuals were in Co Cork on 10-11th and at Saltholme RSPB, Cleveland for four days from 23rd.
Two Gull-billed Terns were found on 22nd: one was briefly at Chartham, Kent, with another at Cress Marsh, Lincs. Perhaps one of these birds fleetingly visited Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk, on 26th, before relocating north to Carlton Marshes SWT.
Surprising news from Northumberland concerned the reidentification of a summering marsh tern as Britain’s first breeding-plumaged American Black Tern. Spending most of its time at the Long Nanny colony, it is now present for the second summer running and was still there to 22nd. The month’s only White-winged Tern was a moulting adult at Ashton’s Flash, Cheshire, for a day on 21st.
In Kent, the adult Bonaparte’s Gull returned to Oare Marshes for the ninth summer running on 16th. Elsewhere, immatures hung around on Unst, Shetland, and at Lough Beg, Co Antrim. An adult Ring-billed Gull was once again back at Nimmo’s Pier, Co Galway, on 25th.
A good month for Pacific Golden Plovers, July produced at least four different birds. Two were seen in Norfolk, with that at Hickling Broad on 3rd relocating to Cley the following afternoon, lingering intermittently to 10th. One at Snettisham on 16th seemingly relocated to Titchwell RSPB on 17th and then Burnham Norton from 23-27th. One at Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincs, on 19th stuck around till the end of the month, with another at Malltraeth, Anglesey, from 27th. Bucking the trend was an adult American Golden Plover on Unst, Shetland, on 26th.
Shetland also scored a Whiterumped Sandpiper, at Pool of Virkie from 22-24th. Two were seen in Norfolk (at Cley and Snettisham), another spent six days at Minsmere RSPB from 19th and a further individual was at Lough Corrib, Co Galway, on 27th.
The Snowy Owl continued on St Kilda, Outer Hebrides, all month, with another on Inishmore, Co Galway, on 18th.
Suffolk’s popular European Roller was still near Icklingham on 1st, but disappeared thereafter. Five Hoopoes included a bird in a garden at Formby, Lancs, on 20th, which was perhaps the bird seen the next day on Hilbre Island, Cheshire. A cluster of European Bee-eater records came from Norfolk and Suffolk, likely involving the roving party of up to nine birds which was seen at several sites in June. Others were in Kent and Cornwall.
Rare passerines were few and far between in July, although a Western Bonelli’s Warbler spent three days at Kenidjack Valley, Cornwall, from 23rd. Five Melodious Warblers were seen in south-west England between Portland and Land’s End, while a notable record for the North-West came from Hilbre Island on 20th.
There was a noticeable ebb in the Rosy Starling influx, with almost all having departed by mid-month – but not before some 53 sites logged the species in July, most of which were in the north and west of Scotland, and Ireland. Three Common Rosefinches were in Cornwall and a fourth was on the Isle of Bute, while European Serins were noted in Dorset, Kent and Suffolk.