Thursday 23 November 2017

Weather dominates October (article for Sunday Independent column 12th Nov)

The weather dominated proceedings in October.  As expected, hurricanes Nate and Ophelia eventually tracked across the Atlantic and duly deposited many North American and Canadian vagrants on these shores.  By Monday 23rd, an astonishing 27 Nearctic passerines had reached Ireland and Britain this Autumn.  Some don't survive the exhausting trans-Atlantic flight though.  A Yellow-billed Cuckoo arrived on St Agnes, Scilly on the 20th but died the following day.  Scilly has had a remarkable golden spell, with Nearctic highlights being a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Cedar Waxwing (4th UK record), Wilson's Snipe and Cliff Swallow.  Eastern rarities included an Isabelline Wheatear, Wryneck, Rosefinch, Lapland Bunting and three Bee-eaters.  The undoubted mega rarity was an Eastern Orphean Warbler on St Agnes.  Initially thought to be a Western Orphean Warbler, a series of good photos led to this bird being reidentified as an Eastern Orphean.  Quite a haul.

Cornwall has hosted three Red-eyed Vireos, all seen in the far west of the county.  On Saturday 7th October, a Cliff Swallow put in an all too brief appearance at Porthgwarra.  Photos were taken by the single observer and pending acceptance, will be the county's first record.  Given that the last sighting of the Scilly bird was on the 6th October, presumably both sightings refer to the same bird.  Perhaps the most remarkable record was the third Blyth's Reed Warbler trapped and ringed this year at a private site at Nanjizal, near Land's End.  The finder has now found all four county records in his ringing nets! 

The UK's most elusive finch is the Hawfinch.  Its a rare breeding bird in the west country and is completely absent in Cornwall.  This autumn though has seen a remarkable influx across the UK.  Scilly has recorded up to 50 birds with groups of up to five also flying around west Cornwall.  The species is occasionally prone to irruptions where big numbers move out of continental Europe in search of food.

Hawfinch at Nanquidno.
Ex-hurricane Brian hit the UK and Ireland over the weekend of 18th/19th October.  Originating from the Azores, the expected high numbers of seabirds were blown ashore.  Skua numbers were high with Great Skua reaching three figure counts.  Lesser numbers of Pomarine Skua, Arctic Skua and a single Long-tailed Skua were logged off Pendeen.  Close views were also had of Sabine's Gulls, Grey Phalaropes and Leach's Petrels. 

Looking forward, the Autumn migration is far from over.  We can look forward to more Nearctic waifs and if the wind shifts to the east, some exotic Asian vagrants would be very welcome.

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