Rar­ity Round-up

The spring rar­ity cir­cus has hit the coun­try, with stilts aplenty, a UK first and some great rare birds

Bird Watching (UK) - - Con­tents -

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

REG­U­LAR READ­ERS MAY re­mem­ber that last year was firstly a year of ‘firsts’, new birds for the UK, and sec­ondly, a year of rare thrushes. Well, this year, the open­ing up of the main spring mi­gra­tion sea­son, ie the com­ing of April, brought a bit of both. The first for the UK was a Red-winged Black­bird, found by Si­mon Davies of the North Ron­ald­say Bird Ob­ser­va­tory, Orkney, on 29 April (stay­ing to mid-may). It was a brown and streaky (but very hand­some) fe­male, quite un­like the black males with a splash of red and yel­low on the forewing which form the im­me­di­ate men­tal pic­ture on hear­ing the bird’s name; and so po­ten­tially a very bizarre and con­fus­ing sight on a Scot­tish is­land! Red-winged Black­bird is a mem­ber of the icterid fam­ily, a New World group, that in­cludes birds such as the New World ori­oles, grack­les, cow­birds, mead­owlarks, oropen­dolas, caciques, and, of course so-called ‘black­birds’. It is not closely re­lated to our Black­bird (a thrush) nor to our Red­wing (also a thrush), al­though the Orkney bird, with its pale su­per­cil­ium and streaked un­der­parts looked more like the lat­ter than the for­mer. They are ex­tremely com­mon birds across much of North Amer­ica, renowned for their won­der­ful voices fea­tur­ing on the sound­track of many Amer­i­can movies and TV pro­grammes, and also for their win­ter­ing flocks which may num­ber in the mil­lions! If ac­cepted, Red-winged Black­bird will join Bobolink, Brown-headed Cow­bird and Bal­ti­more Ori­ole among the icterids on the Bri­tish List. There have been claims of the re­lated species, Yel­low­headed Black­bird, in the past, which have been ‘dis­missed’ as es­capes. And now, on to rare thrushes. Of the 11 ac­cepted records of Her­mit Thrush in the UK, all bar two were in Oc­to­ber. The first ever UK Her­mit Thrush was on Fair Isle on 2 June 1975, and there was one on the same is­land on 13-16 May 2014. So, the find­ing of a Her­mit Thrush, on the is­land of Noss, Shet­land, by the war­den Craig Nis­bet on 19 April, was an ex­tremely rare event, both for its tim­ing and its lo­ca­tion (be­ing the first Shet­land Her­mit Thrush away from Fair Isle). Her­mit Thrushes are North Amer­i­can birds, one of the Catharus thrushes, which are small (no­tably smaller than a Star­ling) highly mi­gra­tory

thrushes, with the bulk of their breed­ing pop­u­la­tions in Canada. Con­tin­u­ing the thrush theme, a bird which is nearly as rare as a Her­mit Thrush, at least in re­cent years (with fewer than 30 ac­cepted UK records, but only three this mil­len­nium), is the Rock Thrush. Un­like Her­mit Thrush, though, Rock Thrushes come from this side of the At­lantic and pri­mar­ily turn up in spring, in­clud­ing five birds which have been here in April. How­ever, Rock Thrushes are still very rare birds, es­pe­cially males. So, when a lovely male turned up on St Martin’s, Scilly, on 10 April, it was quite a find! This was the first twitch­able male in the coun­try since the mid-1990s, so it proved pop­u­lar in its stay un­til 15 April. The Rock Thrush was found four days af­ter the very long-stay­ing Blue Rock Thrush (which win­tered at Stow on the Wold, Glouces­ter­shire) reap­peared, pre­sum­ably on its south­ward mi­gra­tion, at Beachy Head, East Sus­sex, for one day only (6 April).

Rare hang­ers-on

Away from thrushes, the rarest birds of April were all fa­mil­iar favourites, in­clud­ing the Shet­land Killdeer (last re­ported on 5 April); Pied-billed Grebe at Loch Fe­or­lin, Ar­gyll (into May); Royal Tern on Guernsey (into May); and Amer­i­can Coot on North Uist, Outer He­brides. While on the ‘mega’ theme, as well as the area of the Outer He­brides, men­tion must be made of a bird re­ported in April but hav­ing been found dead on St Kilda on 26 March, an Allen’s Gallinule. This colour­ful lit­tle African gallinule is a par­tially mi­gra­tory species which has been de­scribed as the only bird with a wholly sub-sa­ha­ran range in Africa to have oc­curred in the UK. The pre­vi­ous two ac­cepted records were both of ex­hausted, mori­bund birds, on at Port­land, Dorset in 2002 and one 100 years ear­lier on a fish­ing boat off the Suf­folk coast. Even if one ever oc­curs alive again, it will al­most cer­tainly be an­other sorry tale…

New rare and scarce birds

April al­ways sees a surge in rare and scarce species. In re­cent years, this has started to in­clude a newly-tra­di­tional surge in Black-winged Stilts. This year saw the trend con­tin­u­ing, with birds pre­sent at com­fort­ably more than a dozen sites across the coun­try in April, many of them records of mul­ti­ple in­di­vid­u­als. Up to five birds at Slim­bridge WWT, Glouces­ter­shire could well have been the five (and later six) which were at March Farm­ers, Nene Washes, Cam­bridgeshire on 29 April (a new county record count). With so many mul­ti­ple oc­cur­rences, there will doubt­less be breed­ing at­tempts at mul­ti­ple lo­cal­i­ties, which will, with luck and dis­cre­tion, re­main se­cret un­til fledg­ing oc­curs. This seems to be a species which is start­ing to estab­lish a foothold as a reg­u­lar breed­ing species in the UK. Other clas­sic April move­ments saw about 20 sites host­ing Red-rumped Swal­lows, mostly in the south­ern half of the county, but with a few York­shire birds. The in­land site of Ferry Mead­ows CP, Peter­bor­ough, Cam­bridgeshire, had its fourth Red-rumped Swal­low in the last eight years. Subalpine War­blers are an­other ‘ex­pected’ April bird, and there were at least 11 seen dur­ing the month. Sim­i­larly, there were eight or so Alpine Swifts in UK and Ire­land (in­clud­ing six in the UK), al­though some of the birds re­ported on dif­fer­ent days in the South East, es­pe­cially Kent, mid­month, could have been the same in­di­vid­u­als. Other ‘note­wor­thy’ rar­i­ties dur­ing April in­cluded a smat­ter­ing of Iberian Chif­fchaffs; a cou­ple of Dark-eyed Jun­cos, in gar­dens in Mel­rose, Bor­ders and Peters­field, Hamp­shire, and a

first-win­ter Amer­i­can Her­ring Gull at Liver­mere Heath, Suf­folk. On the sub­ject of North Amer­i­can gulls, Bon­a­parte’s Gull had an­other good month, in­clud­ing in­di­vid­u­als at Far­moor Reser­voir, Ox­ford­shire, Blash­ford Lake HWT, Hamp­shire, Ab­ber­ton Reser­voir Es­sex, Long­ham Lakes, Dorset and Loch of Strath­beg, Aberdeen­shire. Savi’s War­blers were singing at Mins­mere, Suf­folk (from 19th) and Hick­ling Broad, Nor­folk (from 20th). Fi­nal men­tion must go to the spec­tac­u­lar male Pal­lid Har­rier which has taken up ter­ri­tory at Dun­sop Bridge, Lan­cashire. A male was seen fly­ing north at Grim­ston, East York­shire, on 23 April and was per­haps the same bird that was first seen at Dun­sop on 26th. This mag­nif­i­cent bird was par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar, not least be­cause, come May, it started per­form­ing sky­danc­ing dis­plays. These may not have im­pressed any fe­male Hen Har­ri­ers which may still hang on in this district, but they cer­tainly im­pressed the view­ing bird­watch­ers. But that is a story for the next is­sue’s rar­ity roundup, which cov­ers the month of May.



Black-winged Stilt, Slim­bridge WWT, Glouces­ter­shire, 23 April


Her­mit Thrush, Noss, Shet­land, 19 April


White-billed Diver, St Mar­garet’s Hope, South Ron­ald­say, Orkney, 30 April

Night Heron, Din­gle Gar­dens, Shrews­bury, Shrop­shire 25 April

ABOVE (CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT) Red-rumped Swal­low, Ferry Mead­ows CP, Peter­bor­ough, Cam­bridgeshire, 17 April

Pal­lid Har­rier, Whi­ten­dale, Bow­land, Lan­cashire, 2 May

Fe­male Red-winged Black­bird, North Ron­ald­say, Orkney, 30 April

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