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Old Wednesday 25th April 2012, 15:29   #1
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Rare Bird Alert weekly round-up: 18 - 24 April 2012

Welcome to the first of our new weekly round-ups on Birdforum.

Our FREE weekly round-ups are now THE ONLY weekly round-ups you will need to read.

Published every Wednesday and written by well known birder and writer Mark Golley, he gives a comprehensive account of the best birds being seen in Britain and Ireland. As well as having his finger on the pulse of everything that is happening currently he draws on his vast experience and knowledge and brings you a unique take on the latest finds whilst recounting some old records and stories from days gone by.

Illustrated with the latest photos as well as detailed statistics and maps from our Previous Records database and utilising new features from our iPhone app Bird Alert PRO they are a fantastic resource for all birders, and best of all they are COMPLETELY FREE.

We are delighted to be able to offer the main highlights each week, exclusively to Birdforum users, through their new weekly round-up forum. You can click on the link at the bottom of the highlights to take you to the full illustrated round-up on the RBA website.

We really hope you like the round-ups and find them useful and informative. If you have any photos or videos of the latest birds to be seen in Britain then please upload them to the Rare Bird Alert gallery and also Birdforum's Opus so we can include them in the review for others to enjoy too.

So now you know what they are all about here are the highlights from the first review, enjoy...

The Week's Highlights

Juvenile Thayer’s Gull starts the week in Lincolnshire
Greater Yellowlegs remains in north-east Scotland
Report of a drake Black Scoter in Highland waters
Sensational flock of 9 White Storks last week in Worcestershire, six in north Wales this week…

So another April week came and went with, pretty much, more of the same in terms of both birds and the weather.

Those long-term forecasts seemed to have got this one right ~ a procession of showers, driven along by wavering winds from, occasionally, the south-east or even east-south-east, but predominantly the west-sou’-west meant that it was pretty slow progress again for the expectant migrant and rarity hunter.

It is pretty hard not to sound like a broken record, but a change will come (admittedly it doesn’t look like it will come any time soon) and the migrants will continue to push towards us anyway. This week we’ve had a few new overshoots to keep some on their toes (though they weren’t quite of the calibre of Denmark’s Black-winged Kite or Sicily’s Bar-tailed Desert Lark) but it proves the point that however grotty the conditions are, the birds keep on coming.

Headline Birds
The top two birds this week have been among the top birds for a few weeks now ~ leading the way once again, the much-twitched juvenile Thayer’s Gull in Lincolnshire seen again near Elsham on the morning of 18th and reported there again early the next day. After that, nothing… long it lingers is anyone’s guess, but its as likely to have as much to do with the farmer ending his “drilling” in his fields as is it the migration urges of this impressive larid.

Fighting through all the debate regarding this particular bird’s identity has come a much wider (and potentially more far reaching), taxonomic discussion. The sub-specific/specific status of Thayer’s Gull has, of course, been a hot potato for decades but it looks like its about to be popped back in to the oven once again….

Initially named as a species in its own right, the first specimen was taken by Winthrop Sprague Brooks, a zoological collector, on a trip to Alaska and Siberia in 1913. That trip was funded by a group of Harvard graduates, including John Eliot Thayer, and Brooks named the new gull in Thayer’s honour.

Larus thayeriwas relegated by the American Ornithologist’s Union, in 1917, to being a sub-species of American Herring Gull and stayed there until 1973 when the AOU split Thayer’s Gull once again, based largely on work presented to them by Neal Smith. Smith’s work sparked much controversy ~ his research was often disputed ~ but Thayer’s Gull remains a good species to this day.

Now though, another change maybe on the cards ~ recent published work dealing with DNA alone, from almost 1,000 large white-headed gulls (nothing relating to morphology is used) is head-achingly tricky to negotiate with no scientific background but, through all the discussion of “Arctic clades”, “shared haplotypes”, “private haplotypes” and more, it seems as though Thayer’s Gull could be in for a rocky ride in the future. It really is evolving, in every sense, and the debate will run and run. But the lump looks more and more likely ~ all this for a species that’s still not on the British List of course…..

Coming in behind the Thayer’s is the first-winter Greater Yellowlegs which was still being seen at the Loch of Strathbeg RSPB reserve ~ present to 23rd at least. No problems with any taxonomic challenges here ~ it is just about the enjoyment of a delightful Tringa that remains a species that will always be the cause of a buzz of excitement whenever it appears.

Staying in Scotland along the north-east coast, to the north-east of the Cromarty Forth at Portmahomack, came a report of a drake Black Scoter, on the morning of 18th. The bird was still present later that day, along with a drake Surf Scoter, but the following day it was negative news that came forth ~ the Surfie remained but no Black and all that was mentioned was “an atypical Common Scoter with a predominantly yellow bill”.

The intrigue picked up once again when the drake Black Scoter was reported as being present on 20th.

This time last year, many people had a chance to enjoy the species off the coast of Northumberland, one present near Bamburgh from 14th-27th April, before what must have been the same bird became one of (a remarkable) five scoter species seen in the Blackdog flock, off the coast of Aberdeenshire, intermittently, from late June to early October, before appearing again off the coast of Northumberland for almost a month from the second week of October.

Before the roaming drake of 2011, most folk had only experienced the species some way off the coast of north Wales, a returning wintering drake was noted at Llanfairfechan from 1999 to 2006 (only becoming a BOU split in 2005 and therefore causing a bit of a kerfuffle for those who had been “taking it easy” where all things Melanitta americana had been concerned) and then, the Lancashire train line bird aside, nothing.

Not known for its headline making is White Stork ~ as has been touched upon here recently, these engaging birds are often (though not always) of suspect origin (as several recent birds have been). However, news emerged this week of an astonishing flock of nine birds (nine!) in the heart of Worcestershire at the end of last week. Seen feeding in deep furrows of a freshly ploughed field on April 17th, this extraordinary gathering were photographed on a mobile phone by farmer Mike Morris ~ birders travelling across Europe may be used to seeing foraging groups of White Stork but in Worcestershire?!?

They must have been an amazing sight ~ we can only speculate as to their route in to the country (you’d definitely think you were seeing things if nine of those flew over) and, of course, the significant question was “where have they gone?” No migrating flocks had been seen anywhere else during the week, so it seemed, and it was assumed that they made landfall, fed, and immediately re-calculated the overshooting issue and headed back to the continent. Then, on 23rd, six White Storks were sighted heading west over Colwyn Bay towards Llandudno ~ and it then turned out that they’d been seen the previous day in Flintshire. The hunt was on! Where’s the next stop going to be?

Goodness knows how far back in to the ornithological history books you have to go to find the last time there was this size flock of White Storks in the UK or Ireland (its certainly a modern day record) but what does seem to be accepted as gospel is that the only British breeding attempt came in 1416 when a pair attempted to bred on top of St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.

Finally, it seems as though we may have bid farewell to the Scilly Northern Waterthrush. As mentioned last week, the bird was still present on April 16th, but there’s been no news since. It seems that it may finally have moved, heading to goodness knows where ~ wherever it ends up, it will remain one of the star birds of 2011’s extraordinary mid-September. It could be some time before we have the chance to enjoy the next one.

Full illustrated review >>> HERE <<<
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Last edited by Rare Bird Alert : Wednesday 2nd May 2012 at 15:10.
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Old Wednesday 25th April 2012, 19:48   #2
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Originally Posted by Rare Bird Alert View Post
what does seem to be accepted as gospel is that the only British breeding attempt came in 1416 when a pair attempted to bred on top of St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.
If only they had tried the graveyard like everyone else...
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