THE BEST RARE BIRDS SEEN ALL AROUND BRITAIN IN APRIL
The best rare birds seen in the UK and Ireland throughout April
Of course, April saw a dramatic increase in the number of scarce and rare birds, as it always does. This year, though, April’s main rarity headlines were dominated by three fish-eating species which had crossed the North Atlantic. The first of these headline birds was an American Bittern at Carlton Marsh, Suffolk. Initially photographed as a ‘Bittern’ (7th), the bird was re-identified as American Bittern almost as soon as the photos were posted on social media. Then, the twitch was on. Early adopters found the bird difficult to connect with in testing conditions, but it gave itself up to flight views on its ‘second day’, when it was seen flying with a Bittern. This was a precursor to a pattern of behaviour that lucky visitors were able to witness at respectable distances through scopes. It turned out that the American Bittern was looking for a mate, and the local female Bitterns would do in the absence of its own species. There was much flirting and the showing of bright white shoulder flashes and more pursuits. In early May, it finally started adding a bit of booming (American-style) to its repertoire of display moves. The American Bittern was certainly a male. Though, for the first several days the views were invariably distant, by the fourth week of the month, incredible shots of the lovely heron started to emerge online, showing itself wonderfully well and up close, to some lucky photographers. Twitching an MP’S garden But the American Bittern was not the only North American heron to provide astonishing views during April. On 28 April, Simon Hart MP (Conservative) discovered a Green Heron on one of the ponds in his extensive garden at Llan-mill, Pembrokeshire. Luckily, he was open to visiting birders coming and setting up outside his kitchen window to view the beautiful, little, first-summer heron, at least until the end of the first week of May, after which visitors were not welcome. Though the bird could on occasions prove very elusive, it was typically not particularly shy when it did appear for the expectant photographers. This was only the second record of Green Heron in Wales, after one at Red Wharf Bay, Anglesey in
A displaying American Bittern was the best bird of the spring so far, for many birders
November 2005. In fact, there have only been 10 previous accepted records, the last being a bird which stayed for nearly two months from October to December 2010, at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall. An eleventh record for the UK is not bad for a garden bird, is it?
A real Belter
The third of the fish-eating American birds was not a heron, but a kingfisher. What would be the fourth Belted Kingfisher this millennium (and ninth UK record ever), was found on St Mary’s, Scilly, on the afternoon of 18th, and relocated in the evening. But it was not seen since. The last UK Belted Kingfisher was initially found on 1 April 2005, at Tiall, Staffordshire, and widely thought to be an April Fool’s Day hoax at the time. But the next day, it reappeared at Eastrington Ponds, East Yorkshire; and the day after that it had found its way to Peterculter, Aberdeenshire (4th-8th). Though there was hope that Scilly’s April Belted Kingfisher would be similarly re-found elsewhere, it had not been discovered by the end of the second week of April.
Other selected rarities
Continuing the fishing birds theme, there was an unusual (to say the least) report of a Little Bittern on a windowsill at Tenby, Pembrokeshire, on 18th. Other rare birds encountered during April included the lingering American Horned Lark, at Staines Reservoirs, Surrey, which was last seen on the 14th. A couple of days later, a remarkable count of 32 White-billed Divers was made on a boat trip off the Aberdeenshire coast. The American White-winged Scoter was still off Musselburgh Lagoons, Lothian, throughout April and into May. The female Snowy Owl at St David’s Head remained until 7th. The next day one was at New Quay, Ceredigion. Another was on Sanday, Orkney, in the last week of the month. The Lincolnshire (and previously Norfolk) female Snowy Owl made an unexpected re-appearance at Tabb’s Head, near Frampton Marsh in early May. The third week in April saw a surge of Black Kite records, particularly in the east and southeast, with birds seen over Dorset, Kent, East Sussex and even wandering over London, plus the odd bird over East Anglia. There were at least nine records of Alpine Swift, during the month, mainly in the southern and eastern half of England. Up to three were together at Lizard, Cornwall (10th). There were also dozens of Hoopoes seen, mainly in the south, west and south-west of the country. Penduline Tits were at Lowestoft, Suffolk; and Tyttenhanger GP, Hertfordshire, a first for the county. Also a county first, was a Bonaparte’s Gull in Cambridgeshire, an adult initially seen at the Ouse Washes, then at RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes.
American Bittern, Carlton Marshes, Suffolk, April BOOM TIME!
Above:: Green Heron, Llan-mill, Pembrokeshire, 28 April