Rare Bird News

Details of rare birds from around Ireland, compiled by Stephen McAvoy

July, August and September 2016

  • First Irish record of Greater Sand Plover
  • Second Brown Booby of the year
  • Semipalmated Plover at Tacumshin
  • Royal Tern visits Mayo and Kerry

The bird news of late summer and early autumn 2016 was dominated by an extraordinary variety of waders recorded across Ireland. Tacumshin in Co. Wexford once again grabbed the headlines with some of the rarest birds recorded during the three months, most notably the long awaited first record of Greater Sand Plover. Discovered early on the 20th July, it was seen by one observer for 20 minutes before it departed and could not be relocated despite extensive searching. However, what was most likely the same bird was seen in northern Spain several weeks later. The nearest population of Greater Sand Plover lie in central Turkey and it breeds extensively in central Asia.

Six days later, Tacumshin hosted its and Ireland's second Semipalmated Plover of the year. Like the Greater Sand Plover, it was present for only one day and was an adult in breeding plumage, in contrast to the first-summer individual noted in May and June. This would be the fourth Irish record, with all sightings having ocurred since September 2011.

Further very rare waders at Tacumshin came in the form of a Western Sandpiper present from the 23rd to 26th July and a Least Sandpiper on the 13th August. Formerly very rare, Terek Sandpiper is now almost annual in Ireland, with six records in the last seven years. One took up residence at Tacumshin from the 21st to 23rd August and another was seen at Bull Island, Co. Dublin on 16th July. Also in August, a Long-billed Dowitcher was present on the 5th and a Pacific Golden Plover on the 14th, the latter following a sighting of the same species on the 20th to 2nd July. Finally, the site also hosted an American Golden Plover, a Buff-breasted Sandpiper, two Lesser Yellowlegs and no fewer than three Red-necked Phalaropes.

Elsewhere in the country, the highlight was probably the double act of Solitary and Least Sandpiper at Cloghaun Marsh, Co. Clare from the 15th to 20th August, when the former was last reported; the Least Sandpiper remained for a further five days. These birds were part of a larger influx of North American waders in August that included 10 records of Baird's Sandpiper, at least 15 Semipalmated Sandpipers and three White-rumped Sandpipers. American Golden Plovers were noted in Cork, Galway, Kerry and Wexford, while a total of five Buff-breasted Sandpipers was reported, with three of these in Co. Galway. Also in Galway, a Long-billed Dowitcher spent three days in Rusheen Bay and another Long-billed Dowitcher toured several sites in County Waterford. Finally, single Spotted Sandpipers were reported from Cape Clear, Co. Cork and Skellig Michael, Co. Kerry.

A Royal Tern was found near Louisburgh, Co. Mayo on the 16th August, only the second time this species has been recorded in Ireland. It was present for only a few minutes the next morning before flying off. Interestingly, this bird was still in full summer plumage, which is considered to be highly unusual this late in the season; in addition, the bird was noted to have an injured right leg. Just under a week later, the Royal Tern was rediscoverd at Beale Strand in County Kerry, where it remained until the 28th August, occassionally crossing the Shannon estuary into Carrigaholt, Co. Cork. Royal Tern has a widespread range in North and South America, as well as along the coast of western Africa. Surprisingly, analysis of a DNA sample shows this bird may have originated from the west African population rather than the North American.

Other rare terns and gulls included the regular Forster's Tern making an appearance in Galway Bay on the 7th July, as well as taking up residence in Dundalk from early August into October. A Bonaparte's Gull was noted in Cork Harbour on 2nd July, while another was present at Quilty, Co. Clare on 20th September.

Highlights from seawatches around the country included seven records of Fea's Petrel, with four these from Co. Cork. Further single sightings were made in Counties Kerry, Clare and Waterford; the latter represents the second county record. Wilson's Petrels were noted regularly on pelagic trips, though only three were reported from land-based observations. Notable counts of large shearwaters included 824 Cory's Shearwaters and 1,479 Great Shearwaters past Galley Head, Co. Cork on the 3rd September. On the same day, 725 Cory's and 2,245 Greats were seen a little further west along the coast at Cape Clear. All in all, there were 7 days where more than 100 Cory's Shearwaters were logged at seawatching spots and 4 days of 100+ Great Shearwater passage. The highest count of Balearic Shearwaters was 8 at the Bridges of Ross, Co. Clare on the 20th August. The rarest seabird of the three months inevitably was the Brown Booby which was seen on a fishing boat off Co. Kerry, co-incidentaly also on the 20th August. A dead Brown Booby was found in Co. Cork last January, so this would constitute the first live sighting of the species in Ireland.

In terms of passerine migrants, it was more a case of quality than quantity. The highlight was probably the Western Bonelli's Warbler present on Galley Head on the 15th and 16th September. Single Icterine and Melodious Warblers were noted at opposite ends of the country. The Icterine was on Great Saltee, Co. Wexford on the 14th August, while the Melodious Warbler spent two days on Tory Island, Co. Donegal in mi-September. Cape Clear hosted a Rose-coloured Starling on 15-16th September and a Common Rosefinch a week later. Besides the Western Bonelli's Warbler, Galley Head also hosted an Ortolan Bunting on 6th September and a Short-toed Lark from the 17th September onwards. The only Barred Warbler to be reported was present on Hook Head on the 25th September, while the first Yellow-browed Warbler of the season was found at Bolus Head, Co. Kerry on the same day. Scarcer passage migrants included three Wrynecks, a single Hoopoe in Portlaoise, Co. Laoise and just two Turtle Doves. A Nightjar was a good find on Cape Clear on the 13th September.

From across the Atlantic, a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak took up residence at Garinish, Co. Cork from the 29th September until mid-October. This would be only the 9th Irish record, with all, bar two, having been found in Co. Cork. Red-eyed Vireo is the most frequently-recorded vagrant passerine of North American origin in Ireland and is recorded in most years. There were two records in the three months covered: singles on Inishbofin, Co. Galway and Mizen Head, Co. Cork, with the Inishbofin vireo found on the 29th September and the Mizen bird discovered a day later.

Finally, rare ducks noted included the now long-staying drake King Eider, first discovered in Sligo last winter touring various sites in Donegal Bay. A female or immature Surf Scoter was present on Lough Gill, Co. Kerry on the 25th September. The Cattle Egret remained at Tacumshin throughout, while a Great White Egret was seen at Kilcolgan and Rahasane Turlough, both in Co. Galway. Glossy Ibises were present in Counties Armagh, Dublin and Louth. The only notable bird of prey were reports of single Black Kites from Waterville, Co. Kerry on the 15th August and Manor Kilbride, Co. Kildare on the 20th September.

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