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