Rar­ity Round-up

A re­view of the rare birds seen through­out the UK in De­cem­ber and into Jan­uary

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents - COM­PILED BY: MIKE WEE­DON

THE YEAR 2016 can be called many things. For birders, it will be re­mem­bered as a year of many firsts for the UK. These in­cluded such as­ton­ish­ing birds as Lam­mergeier and Pur­ple Gallinule, plus, of course, Siberian Ac­cen­tors galore. But, per­haps even more than this, 2016 will be re­mem­bered by many bird chasers as the year of the rare thrush. And as De­cem­ber came along, the year hadn’t fin­ished with the rare thrush theme. Far from it. Things kicked off early in the month (4 De­cem­ber), with the ap­pear­ance of pho­tographs show­ing a Dusky Thrush, snapped at Bee­ley, Der­byshire (near Bakewell). The next day, the twitch was on, and a month later, the thrush was still at the same site, mak­ing an early ap­pear­ance on many birders’ 2017 lists. Up to this year, there have been just 11 of­fi­cially ac­cepted records of Dusky Thrush in the UK, from a very wide range of coun­ties, in­clud­ing Kent, Devon, Greater Manch­ester, Cleve­land, West Mid­lands and Shet­land, plus the first record of a bird shot in Not­ting­hamshire in 1905. In 2016, there was one pho­tographed on St Mary’s, Scilly, in late Oc­to­ber, be­fore promptly dis­ap­pear­ing, then this well-watched Der­byshire bird, com­ing to ‘un-grip’ the rest of the birding pop­u­la­tion who de­sired it. But, even then, the year of the rare thrush still had a cou­ple of tricks up its sleeves. A fe­male Black-throated Thrush was found at St As­aph, Cl­wyd on 16 De­cem­ber, stay­ing to New Year’s Eve (but not seen since!). An­other Black-throated Thrush was found at Whit­tle Dene Reser­voirs, Northum­ber­land on 2 Jan­uary, 2017, but that is a story for an­other year... Even more as­ton­ish­ing than the Der­byshire Dusky, was the news of a male Blue Rock Thrush in a gar­den at Stow-on-the-wold, Glouces­ter­shire, which first leaked out on 27 De­cem­ber, though the bird may have been present for a week, by then. For many UK birders, this was their last twitch of 2016 (and one of the first of 2017). Hun­dreds of birders went to pay homage to the sub­tle blue bird dur­ing the Christ­mas pe­riod, hop­ping about on rooftops (the bird that is), de­spite a cer­tain amount of in­evitable de­bate about the bird’s ori­gins. Most were happy to ac­cept the thrush as wild, choos­ing to use roofs as

sub­sti­tutes for its ‘nat­u­ral’ do­main. But one or two less eas­ily con­vinced birders pointed out there has been a his­tory of cap­tiv­ity of the species, and that some as­pects of the bird’s ap­pear­ance were not quite right. But it will be up to the rel­e­vant rar­ity com­mit­tees to fully as­sess the record, af­ter look­ing at all the ‘ev­i­dence’. In the mean­time, most were happy to get the ‘insurance tick’. There have only been six ac­cepted records of Blue Rock Thrush, all be­ing on the west side of the coun­try (the first be­ing in June 1985, on Tiree, Ar­gyll), most re­cently from April, 2007, in Elan Val­ley, Rad­nor­shire.

‘Gar­den’ birds

Talk­ing of birds seen on rooftops in res­i­den­tial ar­eas, the UK’S first Masked Wag­tail, first seen on 29 Novem­ber, at Cam­rose, Pem­brokeshire, re­mained in the area un­til Box­ing Day. And con­tin­u­ing the un­ex­pected gar­den bird theme, a male Dark-eyed Junco (a strik­ing grey, sort of North Amer­i­can ‘spar­row’) was seen in a gar­den in West Mersea, Es­sex, on 8th, but not again. Pre­sum­ably, this was one of those Amer­i­can passer­ines which ar­rive in the au­tumn then meld into the back­ground be­fore show­ing them­selves months later. Per­haps more will still emerge. Turn­ing back to thrushes for a mo­ment, or rather the smaller end of the thrush scale, the chats, late 2016 will also be re­mem­bered as an amaz­ing time for East­ern Black Red­starts. Look­ing like a mix between a the bright­est or­ange male Red­start and a Black Red­start, they are star­tling and lovely birds. The long-stay­ing Skin­ningrove, Cleve­land, first-win­ter male stayed into the New Year. An­other male was found at Tor­ness Power Sta­tion, Lothian, on 1 De­cem­ber, stay­ing to at least the 22 De­cem­ber. But the in­flux was not over, with fur­ther male East­ern Black Red­starts turn­ing up at the in­land sites of Rip­ple GP, Worces­ter­shire, and at the abbey in Tewkesbury, Glouces­ter­shire (11 De­cem­ber). And a week later, an eighth EBR of the au­tumn/win­ter was found at Mouse­hole, Corn­wall, on 18th, and was still present into the New Year. Be­fore we leave the sub­ject of a record-break­ing year for chats, the Is­abelline Wheatear con­tin­ued its pro­tracted beach hol­i­day in the dunes of Burn­ham Overy, Nor­folk, un­til at least 10 De­cem­ber, and an­other was on Is­lay, Ar­gyll, un­til 3rd. The first-win­ter male Desert at Norman’s Bay, East Sus­sex, was last seen on 9 De­cem­ber. The other long-stay­ing Desert Wheatear, at Thurle­stone, Devon, stayed to into Jan­uary, de­spite wor­ries ex­pressed by some birders (es­pe­cially in the rar­efied at­mos­phere of the odd par­al­lel world of so­cial me­dia) that it might aban­don its favoured site af­ter be­ing ringed on 12th. An­other treat for birders in the south-west of Eng­land came in the form of an oblig­ing and, by its species’ stan­dards, showy Blyth’s Pipit, at Blag­don Lake, Som­er­set (from 14th to 31st), a first record of the species for the county.

More ‘megas’

Ar­guably the most ex­cit­ing of the re­main­ing ‘megas’ in De­cem­ber was the first-win­ter Killdeer at Sand­wick, Main­land, Shet­land. It re­mained in its favoured stub­ble field into Jan­uary. Although it is a very fa­mil­iar bird in North Amer­ica, there have been fewer than 60 records of this ‘stretch limousine’ ver­sion of a Ringed Plover, with an ex­tra stripe (and those spread back as far as 1859). Also from the ‘mega’ end of the rar­ity range, De­cem­ber saw the con­tin­u­a­tion of the Hud­so­nian Whimbrel’s res­i­dence in Corn­wall. In fact it re­mained at Per­ranuth­noe into Jan­uary. And De­cem­ber also saw the wel­come re­turn of the

Pen­zance/mount’s Bay Pa­cific Diver, also be­ing seen into the New Year. As­sum­ing (surely with jus­ti­fi­ca­tion) that this is the same bird that ap­pears ev­ery year, Fe­bru­ary will see the tenth an­niver­sary of its first dis­cov­ery in the Bay, when it was just the third ever seen in the UK (the first two com­ing in the same month in North York­shire and Pem­brokeshire). And on the sub­ject of po­ten­tially re­turn­ing birds, an Amer­i­can Coot was still at Bal­ranald RSPB, North Uist, Outer He­brides (for the third win­ter run­ning). It is hard to be­lieve that the first in the UK was only as re­cently as just over 20 years ago (the Stod­marsh, Kent, bird in the se­cond half of April, 1996). There can be few UK lis­ters who have not checked out at least one of the eight sub­se­quent records. Just when this year of shocks and firsts (and rare thrushes) was wind­ing down nicely, there was a ma­jor post-christ­mas sur­prise, at least for in­land bird­watch­ers, with the find­ing of a first-win­ter Surf Scoter off the dam at Rut­land Wa­ter. Ex­ceed­ingly rare in­land, it was also a first record for Le­ices­ter­shire and Rut­land, pleas­ing vis­i­tors at the turn of the year.

New Year birds

Early Jan­uary al­ways sees a wave of ex­tra keen birdfind­ers turn­ing up some­thing ex­cit­ing to kick start year lists. This year’s came in the form of a bird which had pre­sum­ably been lurk­ing un­de­tected for a while (like those hid­den North Amer­i­can passer­ines). Surely ar­riv­ing as part of the record au­tumn in­flux of Pine Bunt­ings, a fe­male was found at Venus Pool, Shrop­shire on New Year’s Day. An­other bird which was dis­tinctly lack­ing in colour, was a lin­ger­ing grey-brown and white stonechat at Dun­geness, Kent, present since Novem­ber, which was con­firmed by DNA anal­y­sis to be of the northern and cen­tral Asian sub­species of Siberian Stonechat called Ste­j­neger’s Stonechat. If such a colour­less stonechat can turn out to be of this form, some Lon­don birders have asked, then is a sim­i­larly washed out in­di­vid­ual present at Rich­mond Park of the same form? Per­haps DNA tests will let us know one way or the other. Will DNA birding be the rare bird theme of 2017? Only time will tell. If this year is any­thing like 2016, then it will cer­tainly be dif­fi­cult to pre­dict. One ex­cit­ing year ends, and per­haps this one will prove to be equally ex­cit­ing. Happy New Year. Good birding.

Male Blue Rock Thrush, Stow-on-the-wold, Glouces­ter­shire, 28 De­cem­ber The best rare bird sto­ries of De­cem­ber into early Jan­uary

ABOVE (LEFT TO RIGHT) Dusky Thrush, Bee­ley, Der­byshire 7 De­cem­ber

Amer­i­can Wi­geon (closer bird), Clach­na­harry, In­ver­ness-shire, 11 De­cem­ber ê BE­LOW RIGHT Masked Wag­tail, Cam­rose, Pem­brokeshire, De­cem­ber

ABOVE (CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT) Blyth’s Pipit, Blag­don Lake, Som­er­set, 24 De­cem­ber

Red-breasted Goose, Dock­ing, Nor­folk, 21 De­cem­ber

Fer­rug­i­nous Duck, Titch­well, Nor­folk, 23 De­cem­ber

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