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The Very Best of British and Irish Birding - 2003 Review

(roll your cursor over each image for a summary of the month's highlights -and click on
any image for a larger version. For non IE users click here for a full account of the year)

An overwintering Pallid Harrier in Norfolk, a Blyth's Pipit in Nottinghamshire and a Forster's Tern in Argyll kept most birders happy. Perhaps the highlight of the month however was the arrival of a Two-barred Crossbill in Buckinghamshire at the end of the month. With overwintering goodies including the returning Redhead and Black Scoter in Wales, along with Ross' Goose and half a dozen Lesser Scaups the month held a typical winter fair. Most popular birds of the month were a dark-breasted Barn Owl in Norfolk and a Lesser White-fronted Goose in Gloucestershire. Irish birders were luckier however with a Thayer's Gull in Donegal and a Killdeer in Cork. North Yorkshire birders recorded a couple of White-billed Divers. Elsewhere, a Black Kite in Hampshire, a Little Bunting in the Forest of Dean and a Two-barred Crossbill in Buckinghamshire continued to over-winter. An influx of Cranes in the early part of the month signalled that birds were on the move again. Two Sardinian Warblers arrived in Norfolk, but bird of the month was to be a fine male Pallid Harrier that arrived for two days in Cornwall at the end of the month. Other good birds continued to linger from the winter including the Buck's Two-barred Crossbill and the Norfolk Dark-breasted Barn Owl whilst London birders were enjoying a fine Lesser Scaup in Regent's Park. Bird of the month was a male Taiga Flycatcher in East Yorkshire - a first for Britain. The county also scored with a male Pallid Harrier on the 1st. Quality birds elsewhere included a Little Swift over the Isles of Scilly, a Crag Martin in Sussex and a White-headed Duck in Buckinghamshire. Good numbers of Alpine Swifts, Red-rumped Swallows and Black Kites put winter firmly behind us.
January 2003
February 2003
March 2003
April 2003
May 2003 was as good as ever with Britain's first Audouin's Gull gracing Kent for 3 days. But the outlying islands scored with Thick-billed Warbler, Slate-coloured Junco, White-throated Sparrow and Scops Owl all choosing Shetland whilst Ireland scored with its first White-crowned Sparrow. A second White-throated Sparrow turned up on the Wirral for birders less inclined to travel north. Five Pallid Harriers, five Little Bitterns, and five Thrush Nightingales were more than a handful for most birders! Another first for Britain - a long awaited Black Lark stayed for over a week on South Stack, Anglesey. With a Turkestan Shrike in Somerset and a Steppe Grey Shrike on the Isle of Man birders could have been forgiven for thinking they were 'birding the central asian republics'. A White-throated Sparrow on Fair Isle and a Lesser Grey Shrike in Norfolk topped a supporting cast that also included the likes of Iberian Chiffchaff in Devon and two Black-headed Buntings on Skomer and in the Highlands. English birders enjoyed a superb summer plumaged Lesser Sandplover in Hampshire. But the english did not have it all their own way with a Bridled Tern in Angus for the scots and a first ever Redhead on Cape Clear Island for the Irish. Back on the mainland a juvenile Great Spotted Cuckoo took a two week vacation at Spurn. Other good birds included Solitary Sandpiper on Scillies, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper in County Cork, Steppe Grey Shrike on the Isle of Man and a Scops Owl at the month's end on Fair Isle. A male Snowy Owl arriving mid-month on the Outer Hebrides certainly kept photographers happy although a Least Sandpiper in Hertfordshire was equally obliging and certainly higher up the rarity status. County Clare produced some great seawatching with Fea's Petrel and multiple Wilson's Petrels on the 21st-22nd. By the month-end a Booted Warbler in Norfolk and an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler in Dorset were a signal of the hastening passerine migration.
May 2003
June 2003
July 2003
August 2003
Shetland delivered a fistful of 'sibes' with White's Thrush, Red-flanked Bluetail, Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler, Lanceolated Warbler and Olive-backed Pipit as well as nearctic Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrush whilst Orkney landed a Sykes Warbler. But perhaps the best bird of the month was Britain's third Two-barred Greenish Warbler on Scilly. Accompanying these rarities were multiple Yellow-breasted Buntings, Booted, Paddyfield and Blyth's Reed Warblers and an invasion of 150+ Pectoral Sandpipers. Nearctic vagrants dominated as Britain's third Savannah Sparrow, Blackpoll Warbler and Myrtle Warbler arrived in the Northern Isles whilst Northern Parula and Common Yellowthroat graced Irish shores.Britain's second Taiga Flycatcher on Shetland and fourth Siberian Rubythroat on Fair Isle topped the cast of vagrants from the east that also included 3 Black-throated Thrushes, 4 Pied Wheatears, 3 Pechora Pipits and a White's Thrush. The second American Black Tern of the autumn was identified in Wales. Highlights included a long awaited but short staying American Robin on Bardsey. An American Coot on Shetland was another great find. As many as nine Desert Wheatears were joined by a brief untwitchable Desert Warbler. Two wintering Sardinian Warblers settled down to enjoy the entertainment at Skegness, Lincolnshire. A Pied-billed Grebe arrived on Scilly, a Forster's Tern in Ireland and two Redheads, the returning Welsh bird, and a female identified on the Outer Hebrides. So the predictor finally got it right ! And not just once but twice. Oxfordshire birders were the toast of the country when they found a Baltimore Oriole in a suburban garden, whilst a fungal foray in Cornwall turned up the winter's second American Robin and, staying through to 2004, was the first to be twitchable on the mainland for many a year. With a Rufous Turtle Dove in Highland and many of November's long stayers settling down, there was hardly time for any Christmas shopping.
September 2003
October 2003
November 2003
December 2003

Photos from top left: Ross' Goose copyright Jim Lawrence; Dark-breasted Barn Owl copyright Nigel Blake; Lesser Scaup copyright Adrian Webb; Taiga Flycatcher copyright Brett Richards; Audouin's Gull copyright Nigel Blake; Black Lark copyright Barry Stewart; Lesser Sand Plover copyright Jim Lawrence; Snowy Owl copyright Paul Hackett; Sykes Warbler copyright Tony Disley; Yellow-rumped Warbler copyright Alan Clewes; American Coot copyright Paul Sclater; Baltimore Oriole copyright Adrian Webb.

You can search thousands of photos from 2003 and earlier for other rare birds - simply go to any gallery and use the search feature on the left hand bar. Many thanks to all the photographers who have 'showcased' their work on surfbirds in 2003.