Rar­ity Round-up

Oc­to­ber saw the ap­pear­ance of a ‘first’ for the UK as well as a wel­come ‘sec­ond’

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents -

The best rare birds seen in the UK and Ire­land dur­ing Oc­to­ber

You’d think that a ‘first for the UK’ would com­fort­ably grab all the head­lines in any given month. But, not ev­ery­thing is black and white in bird­ing, and it was in­stead a grey, widely-twitched ‘sec­ond for the UK’ that was the real at­ten­tion grab­ber. Many bird­ers have painful mem­o­ries of the coun­try’s first Grey Cat­bird. It was found at South Stack, An­gle­sey, on 4th Oc­to­ber 2001, and spent al­most the en­tirety of the next two days buried in thick cover in front of the as­sem­bled crowds. Claims were made of brief sight­ings and counter claims were made that Dun­nocks and Black­caps were be­ing ‘strung’! To tick or not to tick? There were no such grey ar­eas with this year’s bird. First found on 15th at Treves­can, The Lizard, Corn­wall, this first-win­ter was a pos­i­tive show-off, com­pared to the 2001 scaredy-cat. Oc­ca­sion­ally, it even gave it­self up for some lovely pho­tog­ra­phy, and looked set for a very long stay. But it was last seen on 29th and has not been re­lo­cated since. Grey Cat­birds (or Gray Cat­birds if you pre­fer the Amer­i­can spell­ing) are dark-plumaged, black-capped, long-tailed, thrush-sized North Amer­i­can birds of the mimid fam­ily, which in­cludes the thrash­ers, trem­blers and mock­ing­birds. Af­ter the frus­trat­ing per­for­mance of the pre­vi­ous cat­bird, Oc­to­ber’s bird felt like a UK first for many. But when it was found on 15th, the bird­ing world (and cer­tainly the so­cial me­dia realm of it) was still reel­ing from a ‘gen­uine’ first for the UK (pend­ing its surely in­evitable ac­cep­tance), found on the pre­vi­ous day. It was a White-rumped Swift, at Hornsea, East York­shire. Ini­tially thought to be a Pa­cific Swift (it­self a ‘mega’, with fewer than 10 UK records; but who wants to rush into claim­ing a first for the coun­try?), it was soon re­alised that this bird was too small, of the wrong shape and with tell-tale white tips to the trail­ing edge of the sec­on­daries (all wrong for Pa­cific), and the cor­rect iden­ti­fi­ca­tion was re­solved. A big clue was also the weather sys­tem at the time, bring­ing winds from the south and so much more likely to be car­ry­ing a south­ern Euro­pean Swift (no mat­ter how rare) than one from Asia.

White-rumped Swifts are es­sen­tially sub-sa­ha­ran African breed­ers, with highly-lo­calised mi­gra­tory pop­u­la­tions in Morocco and south­ern Spain. So, pre­sum­ably, the Hornsea ju­ve­nile was from this ‘north­ern’ part of the swift’s range. What­ever, sev­eral bird­ers were able to con­nect on the af­ter­noon of 14th, though it was not re­found there the next day, and it is un­cer­tain whether re­ports of its re­find­ing over Spurn the next day were 100% re­li­able. Of course, it be­ing Oc­to­ber, there was the usual rush of very re­spectable back-up to the two su­per­stars of the month. From the same part of the world as the cat­bird came a Bal­ti­more Ori­ole, on Barra, Outer He­brides (17th to 21st), and there were also brief views of an Amer­i­can Robin on Lundy, Devon (26th), and Buff-bel­lied Pipit at Nan­jizal (29th and 31st). Other land­birds from the other side of the North At­lantic in­cluded a Swain­son’s Thrush on Yell, Shet­land (10th to 14th), as well as a nice Scilly haul of Grey-cheeked Thrush on St Agnes, Scilly (17th to 24th; later re­lo­cated on St Mary’s on 29th); plus a Bobolink briefly on St Mary’s (15th) and a Red-eyed Vireo on Bry­her (19th-24th). East­ern megas and more Partly ow­ing to its very con­ve­nient place­ment, a prob­a­ble Ste­j­neger’s Stonechat was one of the most pop­u­lar rar­i­ties, at Kelling, Nor­folk (19th to 29th). For­merly re­garded as a far­east­ern sub­species of Siberian Stonechat (or in­deed Stonechat), Ste­j­neger’s is now re­garded by the IOC (and hence the BOU) as a full species. DNA data will prob­a­bly (with luck) con­firm the iden­tity of the Nor­folk bird. What was ini­tially thought to be a Green­ish War­bler, on Lundy, Devon (7th), was rei­den­ti­fied from pho­to­graphs as a very likely Green War­bler, a closely re­lated species from the Cau­ca­sus re­gion. A Brown Shrike was at Wey­bourne (21st). East­ern Yellow Wag­tails were on Unst, Shet­land, and St Mary’s and Tresco, Scilly. Unst also saw a Pe­chora Pipit. No Shet­land au­tumn is com­plete these days with­out a Siberian Rubythroat, and this year, a crack­ing male was seen and pho­tographed on Fair Isle on 28th. A cou­ple of River War­blers made an ap­pear­ance on Shet­land. Firstly, there was one at Houl­land, Unst (1st to 3rd), then a cou­ple of weeks later one was found at Wester Quarff, Main­land, Shet­land (14th). Talk­ing of war­blers, a very de­cent ‘in­va­sion’ of Yel­low­browed War­blers looked to be on the cards early in the month, with per­haps a few hun­dred re­ported. But, af­ter an ini­tial prom­ise of Ybws for all, things started to peter out quite soon. Per­haps there will be more luck with an in­flux of Coues’s Arc­tic Red­polls which ap­peared to be tak­ing place at the end of the month and into Novem­ber. A nod must be given to the two Gull-billed Terns which spent

more than two weeks at Haughton Strother GP, Northumberland, as well as to the Rus­tic Bunting at Wanstead Flats (from 17th; with an­other on St Mary’s, Scilly, on 23rd). Also, there were at least 16 Lit­tle Bunt­ings, mainly in the south­west of Eng­land, in the third week of the month. Fi­nal men­tion must go to a less rare but very wel­come bird ap­par­ently ar­riv­ing in the north and east in num­bers: Waxwings are com­ing!

Grey Cat­bird, The Lizard, Corn­wall, 21 Oc­to­ber

Clock­wise from above left White-rumped Swift, Hornsea, East York­shire, 14 Oc­to­berProb­a­ble Ste­j­neger’s Stonechat, Kelling, Nor­folk, Oc­to­berJu­ve­nile Spot­ted Sand­piper, Jar­row, Co Durham, 17 Oc­to­berSwain­son’s Thrush, Yell, Shet­land, Oc­to­berTawny Pipit, Bry­her, Scilly, 9 Oc­to­berRed-flanked Blue­tail, Spurn, East York­shire, 7 Oc­to­ber

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