May saw two potential ‘firsts’ for the UK, plus many more extreme rarities, reports Lee Evans
Lee Evans reviews the rare birds seen in the UK and Ireland throughout May
MAY 2016 WAS exceptional – a long spell of south-easterly winds ensuring a long list of mouthwatering vagrants entering the country. From Shetland and the Outer Hebrides south to Cornwall and Scilly, no region was left untouched – the nation’s birdwatchers enjoying a glut of lost waifs. So much so that by the end of May, an unprecedented and quite incredible 388 species had been recorded in Britain and Ireland. Two highly controversial vagrants stole the limelight, both making ‘landfall’ in the South West: Dalmatian Pelican and Lammergeier; and both potential national ‘firsts’. Patch birder Paul Freestone was the first to encounter the pelican, as it flew over him at his local patch of Gwithian Sands (Cornwall) on 7th May. Next day, it visited St Ives Harbour, before making the short journey to Penwith and the valleys around Land’s End. For more than a week, it commuted between the tiny pools of Skewjack, Nanjizal, Trevorian, Sennen and Swingates House, before finally the fog lifted and it discovered Drift Reservoir. Photographic evidence confirmed that it was the same adult that had previously visited Germany and Poland in April, and later France, briefly in May, and as such was considered to be a genuine vagrant, rather than escape from captivity. Even more incredibly, a juvenile Lammergeier was photographed and videoed by the River Severn at Sudbrook (Gwent) on 12th May – the bird bearing no rings or evidence of it emanating from one of the many continental reintroduction schemes. It relocated to Devon and Cornwall, being seen by relatively few birders over two weeks, mainly around Dartmoor.
Divers to terns
Although the majority of our wintering Whitebilled Divers regrew their primaries and departed north-east, Tory Island in County Donegal managed to attract no fewer than four mid-month, with further late birds migrating past North Uist (Outer Hebrides) and Shetland. For the third year running, an adult Pied-billed Grebe took up territory in Argyll, pairing up with a Little Grebe from 5th. Keith Pellow could hardly believe his eyes on 28th, as embarking from the Good Shepherd in North Haven, Fair Isle, he saw an adult Blackbrowed Albatross in the bay! The bird then went on to traverse the island throughout the morning, treating those few present to some exceptional views as it explored the various geos. At least four barking Little Bitterns turned up, including one in south Devon and another at Barnes WWT (London) on 29th-31st, while four
Lee Evans is the UK’S most well-known and fanatical ‘twitcher’, having recorded 585 species in Britain and Ireland, 863 in the wider Western Palearctic and 386 in just one calendar year in the UK. He has written many ornithological publications and runs numerous birding tours throughout the year, including custom-led trips. Visit bbabirding.blogspot.co.uk and uk400clubrarebird alert. blogspot.co.uk Black-billed Cuckoo, Bayhead, North Uist, Outer Hebrides, May