June saw a potential first for the UK and some very rare breeding birds
The best rare birds seen in the UK and Ireland throughout June
ANOTHER MONTH comes and goes and another potential ‘first’ appears, looking for admittance to the British List. June’s contribution to this trend was an Elegant Tern which was first seen on Hayling Island, Hampshire, on 7 June, then relocated to Church Norton at Pagham Harbour, West Sussex, on 10th. There, it settled with Sandwich Terns and was identified to a particular individual, by its coloured rings. However, it moved further west on 21 June, settling for a couple of days on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, Dorset. It was a colour-ringed and Dna-tested bird of known provenance, known as ‘Bird C’ aka Sterna 2, one of three proven ‘genetically pure’ Elegant Terns which have been visiting European waters since the turn of the Millennium. This individual, a male, was first seen at Bac d’arguin in France in 2002, and was colour-ringed in July 2003, and has bred with female Sandwich Terns over several years in France. Interestingly, its hybrid offspring have looked much more like Sandwich Terns than Elegant Terns, suggesting that the previous ‘Elegant-looking’ birds which have occurred in the UK and Ireland may well be true Elegant Terns, rather than hybrids. So, although this month’s bird will doubtless gain acceptance to the British List, perhaps further reviews may bump it down the pecking order of occurrence (after birds seen in 2002 in Devon, 2002 in Caernarfonshire and 2005 in Dorset). During the tern’s stay in Sussex, the south of the country enjoyed a bit of a heatwave, which is usually a signal to forget birdwatching and find some alternative pursuit. But this would have been a major error on the Pembrokeshire island of Skokholm on 18 June, as a singing male Yellowrumped Warbler had taken the stage at the courtyard, for one day only. A dozen or so watchers were able to connect with the immaculate American beauty before its presumed overnight departure. There have been about 20 previous records of Yellow-rumped Warbler in the UK, mostly in autumn and with only one having been in the country in June (on Fair Isle in 1999). With only eight very widely spaced previous UK records (but five of them being during June),
White-throated Needletail is another very rare and extremely desirable summer bird. Almost exactly four years since the famous Harris individual met its sad end after apparently crashing into a small wind turbine, another was found on the Outer Hebrides, this time on Barra, at Castlebay (22 June). It was only seen for one day, disappearing around midday and was not subsequently relocated. One bird which did get relocated, this month, however, was a Black-browed Albatross on the North Sea coast. You may recall that in mid-may a Black-browed Albatross was seen and photographed off Bempton Cliffs, East Yorkshire, reappearing a few times on subsequent days (13th-18th). Well, on 28 June (and perhaps 27 June), presumably the same bird was back at Bempton, even coming in to land among (and dwarf) the breeding Gannets, there. The next day, the albatross was seen passing sites in Durham, Northumberland, Borders and Lothian, but at the time of writing, in early July, has yet to be relocated yet again in British waters. A seabird from distant oceans which has also, for now at least, disappeared into unwatched seas, was a Sooty Tern which flew past Uisead Point, Argyll on 2 June. Perhaps by the time you read this, it will have reappeared somewhere around our coast… At least one tern appears to be engaged on a bit of a tour of sites scattered around the country. From 20 June, there were Caspian Tern sightings at Leighton Moss RSPB, Lancashire, Sker Point and Kenfig NNR, Glamorgan, and National Wetlands Centre WWT, Carmarthen, possibly all relating to
the same individual. At the beginning of July, presumably the same bird turned up at a couple of pits along the Nene Valley in Northamptonshire, before returning to Carmarthen via Chew Valley Lake, Somerset. And while we are still in the ball park of rare seabirds, mention must be made of the three first-summer Sabine’s Gulls found on the morning of 24 June at Belvide Reservoir, Staffordshire. It is an unusual enough age group of Sabine’s Gull in the UK, but at an inland site, in June, and three of them! One of the trio turned up a couple of days later at Nosterfield Quarry, North Yorkshire, where it hung around into July.
As noted last month, there was plenty of speculation that the publicly announced breeding pair of Black-winged Stilts at Welney WWT, Norfolk, was probably just the first of a few such announcements. During June, it was revealed that a pair of stilts had also bred at nearby Ouse Washes RSPB, over the border in Cambridgeshire. This pair had two chicks, with at least one of them surviving into July, though both may have been protected by the feisty parents. Further east in Norfolk, at the exciting site of Potter Heigham, a pair of Black-winged Stilts hatched four fluffy stilt chicks, which were still going strong into the first week of July. Even more exciting than breeding stilts, was the likely breeding of Bee-eaters at East Leake in Nottinghamshire (near the Leicestershire border, a bit north of Loughborough). The birds were first reported on 25 June, when there were three present at the quarry. By the next day, seven were seen, and parking arrangements were already being organised by the RSPB in a nearby field. In the first week of July, at least six were still present, and breeding was looking increasingly likely. By this time thousands of visitors had apparently made the pilgrimage to witness the magnificent birds. Bee-eaters only rarely try to nest in the UK. Recent breeding attempts have included a couple of pairs near Brampton, Carlisle, Cumbria in 2015 and two pairs in 2014 on the Isle of Wight.
Slavonian Grebe, near Aviemore, Highland, June
Bee-eater,East ABOVELeake, Nottinghamshire, 2 July Black-wingedç LEFT Stilt family, Potter26 June Heigham, Norfolk, ç BOTTOM LEFT Elegant Tern, Pagham Harbour, West Sussex, 17 June è RIGHT King Eider, Nethertown/carnsore Point Co. Wexford 22 June
Number of young 4 Black-winged Stilt youngsters at Potter Heigham, Norfolk
Total number of 0 accepted records of Elegant Tern in the UK
7 Maximum single count of the Nottinghamshire Bee-eaters
ABOVE (CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT) Red-footed Falcon, Frensham Common, Surrey, 11 June
Black-winged Stilt, Cley, Norfolk, 3 June
Great White Egret, Holkham, Norfolk, 26 May