Rar­ity Round-up

Un­ex­pected win­ter­ing Bluethroat in Lin­colnshire was eas­ily the most pop­u­lar rare bird of Fe­bru­ary

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents -

The best rare birds seen in the UK and Ire­land through­out Fe­bru­ary

FE­BRU­ARY WAS A month when many or even most of the rarest birds of the win­ter de­cided it wasn’t quite time to de­part quite yet. Three new ‘megas’ were found to add to the high qual­ity ar­ray present across the coun­try, for those will­ing to travel. But it was a bird which isn’t nor­mally associated with the term ‘mega’ which was prob­a­bly the most pop­u­lar, and cer­tainly the most pho­tographed bird of the month. This was a Bluethroat, a bird which is gen­er­ally thought of as an in­creas­ingly scarce spring and au­tumn pas­sage mi­grant, with (very rarely) the odd male hang­ing on to sing. Win­ter­ing Bluethroats are al­most un­heard of. So, the dis­cov­ery of one along the en­trance track of Wil­low Tree Fen LWT, South Lin­colnshire by vis­it­ing bird­watcher/pho­tog­ra­pher Alan Meloy was un­ex­pected to say the least, on a snowy and grim Fri­day (10 Fe­bru­ary). In­deed, the find­ing drew some un­founded scep­ti­cism on so­cial me­dia, with one or two even ques­tion­ing whether the bird had been pho­tographed at this site and at this time (the pho­tos which ap­peared be­ing un­mis­tak­ably a Bluethroat). Such ex­cit­ing news had to be checked out, though, and the next day, news broke of the first-win­ter male Bluethroat ap­pear­ing in the same spot, halfway along the grass and reed fringed en­trance track. And it was re­put­edly show­ing very well. The twitch was on, and even early pho­to­graphs demon­strated quite how tame the lit­tle chat could be, ap­par­ently ap­proach­ing to within a cou­ple of feet of some lucky pho­tog­ra­phers, as it fed on in­ver­te­brates (cater­pil­lars and worms) in the damp verges. Hun­dreds of bird­watch­ers from around the coun­try vis­ited south Lin­colnshire to watch and pho­to­graph this lit­tle beauty and it was present through­out the month, into March, when it even started to do a bit of singing (or at least sub-singing). Its ap­pear­ances for the wait­ing crowds of pho­tog­ra­phers be­came less fre­quent later in the month, how­ever, as it had taken to binge­ing on meal­worms be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing into the reeds for ex­tended pe­ri­ods to digest. Some vis­i­tors also dis­graced them­selves by pur­su­ing it into the reeds, break­ing tape de­signed to stop them tram­pling habi­tat and lead­ing the man­age­ment team to

in­stall ugly orange fenc­ing… By mid-march, it had started to de­velop its blue throat, but had also started mak­ing odd con­vul­sive head move­ments, as it if were chok­ing. Let’s hope this doesn’t spell the end for this bird. And let us also hope that the ‘chok­ing’ was not (as spec­u­lated by some ob­servers) brought on by the ex­ces­sive pro­vi­sion of meal­worms…

New ‘megas’

The rarest ‘new­com­ers’ dur­ing Fe­bru­ary were a Royal Tern on Guernsey, a newly dis­cov­ered Siberian Ac­cen­tor in the High­lands and a new Pacific Diver in Devon. The first-win­ter Royal Tern was first seen at Miel­lette Bay, Guernsey, Chan­nel Is­lands, on 5 Fe­bru­ary. It was still present a month later, oc­ca­sion­ally show­ing ex­tremely well. In the UK, there have only been five ac­cepted records of Royal Tern (with three in Wales, one in Corn­wall and one in Loth­ian). So, many Uk-based bird­ers are hop­ing that the Guernsey tern will make the cross­ing to the Bri­tish main­land some­time soon. Va­grant Royal Terns po­ten­tially come from pop­u­la­tions on either side of the At­lantic, with birds breed­ing in North Amer­ica and Africa. Last sum­mer, a bird proved (by DNA sam­ple) to be of African ori­gin (of the sub­species al­bidi­dor­salis) was in Co. Mayo, Ire­land. But it is sus­pected that the Guernsey bird is of Amer­i­can ori­gin, which may be con­firmed from DNA in a fae­cal sam­ple which has been col­lected. The Siberian Ac­cen­tor would have been a big­ger story had it not have been on pri­vate land, at In­ver­gor­don, High­land (from 8 Fe­bru­ary at least). As you will doubt­less know, Siberian Ac­cen­tor was un­heard of in the UK un­til Oc­to­ber last year, when there was a well doc­u­mented ‘in­va­sion’ across western Europe, in­clud­ing a dozen or so in­di­vid­u­als in the UK. Most were in Scot­land, es­pe­cially in the North­ern Isles, and the fur­thest south was at Eas­ing­ton, East York­shire. It had long been spec­u­lated that there was a pos­si­bil­ity of one or more over­win­ter­ing; and the Fe­bru­ary’s bird is most likely to have done just that. Devon’s Pacific Diver was a ju­ve­nile (like the showy Northum­ber­land bird), which was first found off Broad­sands on 16 Fe­bru­ary and ‘still show­ing’ (very in­ter­mit­tently) into the sec­ond week of March.

Lin­ger­ing rar­i­ties

Very rare birds hang­ing on from Jan­uary in­cluded the other win­ter­ing Pacific Divers: in Corn­wall (re­turn­ing adult off Pen­zance) and the Druridge Bay, Northum­ber­land, ju­ve­nile. The Blue Rock Thrush in Glouces­ter­shire, Dusky Thrush in Der­byshire and Eastern Black Red­start in Cleveland also ex­tended their stays by an­other month. The Desert Wheatear at Thurle­stone, Devon, also stayed into March (at least to 7th) and the Red-flanked Blue­tail in Caer­philly, Glam­or­gan was last re­ported on 21 Fe­bru­ary. Sim­i­larly, the ever-lin­ger­ing Killdeer stayed put in Shet­land and the North York­shire Pine Bunting (at Dun­ning­ton) was present well into March (when it even started show­ing rea­son­ably well). Need­less to say, the ‘Cor­nish’ Hud­so­nian Whim­brel also stayed through­out Fe­bru­ary. Will it

Num­ber of 5 ac­cepted records of Royal Tern in the UK

16 Num­ber of Cattle Egrets roost­ing to­gether in Corn­wall dur­ing Fe­bru­ary.

3 Num­ber of species of ac­cen­tor which have oc­curred in the UK

still be present at this time next year when the BOU will of­fi­cially ‘lump’ it back with the Whim­brel as a sin­gle species? In Dorset, Port­land’s Hume’s Leaf War­bler, which has been present since De­cem­ber, was still go­ing strong into March. In the same county, the Lesser Yel­lowlegs present at Lytch­ett Bay since mid-septem­ber stayed put into March. Mean­while, south Devon’s long-stay­ing adult Bon­a­parte’s Gull was still about un­til 17 Fe­bru­ary. The strik­ing male North­ern Har­rier on North Ron­ald­say, Orkney, also re­mained in place through­out the month.

New rar­i­ties on the block

Ri­valling the Orkney North­ern Har­rier in the (fic­ti­tious) best-look­ing rap­tor com­pe­ti­tion, was ju­ve­nile har­rier pho­tographed at New Holkham, Nor­folk on 24 Fe­bru­ary, which was iden­ti­fied as a Pal­lid Har­rier. It was later seen at sev­eral sites in north Nor­folk, though favoured the New Holkham area, some­times show­ing ex­tremely well, to mid-march. Fe­bru­ary saw a con­sid­er­able in­flux of Cattle Egrets across the coun­try, but par­tic­u­larly in the South West, in­clud­ing a flock of 11 with cows near Ply­mouth, in south Devon. There were also up to 16 Cattle Egrets com­ing to roost at Hel­ston Loe Pool, Corn­wall dur­ing the month. In­di­vid­u­als were present at at least 30 sites around the coun­try dur­ing Fe­bru­ary. A Lit­tle Bunting at Great Bar­ford GP, Bed­ford­shire (from 2 Fe­bru­ary) was a great find for the county. It was still present into March. Other Lit­tle Buntings in Fe­bru­ary in­cluded birds in Trin­ity Hill, Devon, Ports Down Hill, Hampshire, and Nan­jizal Val­ley, Corn­wall. Jan­uary’s singing male Serin at Tide Mills, East Sus­sex, was still at the ru­ins un­til at least 26 Fe­bru­ary.

First-win­ter male Bluethroat, Wil­low Tree Fen LWT, Lin­colnshire, 14 Fe­bru­ary

ABOVE (CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT) Eastern Black Red­start, Skin­ningrove, Cleveland, 5 Fe­bru­ary

Amer­i­can Wi­geon, Dale, Pembrokeshire, 18 Fe­bru­ary

Desert Wheatear, Leas­foot Beach, Thurle­stone, Devon, 4 March

ABOVE White-billed Diver, Wood­hall Spa, Lin­colnshire, Jan­uary

RIGHT Ju­ve­nile Pal­lid Har­rier, Holkham area, Nor­folk, Fe­bru­ary

BE­LOW Ju­ve­nile Pal­lid Har­rier, Holkham area, Nor­folk, Fe­bru­ary

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