Both records of Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti are reviewed.
Cape Clear Island, Co. Cork, August 1968
The first record concerns a bird seen at West Bog, Cape Clear Island on 24th August 1968. The descriptions were published in full in the Cape Clear Bird Report No.10 (1968) pp. 41-42.
While certain aspects of the two written accounts suggest that this bird might have been a Cetti's Warbler there are a number of significant anomalies in the field descriptions. The description of the bird using its bill in parrot-like fashion to assist in movement through the vegetation is certainly bizarre. The reference to the closed wings crossing before the tail would indicate that a distinctly longer winged bird than Cetti's was involved. The description of the whitish cheeks is also incompatible with Cetti's. Close scrutiny of the descriptions reveals that critical field-marks such as head pattern, bill size, wing structure, under-parts and under-tail covert marking are not described precisely and consistently, and when they are described, the field-marks noted are often subjective and open to interpretation. Many of the features noted could equally apply to a brightly coloured Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus as well as several other warbler species.
The unanimous view of the IRBC was that there was insufficient evidence to justify the retention of this record.
Cape Clear Island, Co. Cork, October 1975
The second record concerns a bird seen at the Rising Sun, Cape Clear Island on 8th October 1975. The description was published in full in the Irish Bird Report 1975 p.30.
Given the decision to reject the 1968 record (see above), the 1975 record would now become the first (and only) Irish record of this species. Like all potential first Irish records, a very critical stance had to be taken in the review and assessment of this record.
Unlike the 1968 record, the 1975 record was based on a very brief view, estimated to have been of about 30 seconds duration. This in itself should not preclude safe identification of this actually rather distinctive species; indeed, brief views (or no views!) are the norm with Cetti's Warbler which, throughout its normal range, is much more often heard than seen. Documenting an observation based on such a brief view in such a way that it can establish the identification beyond all doubt is, however, an extremely challenging task. While the impression noted by the observer certainly suggests a typically fleeting encounter with a Cetti's Warbler, the lack of detail in the description and the fact that the observer had no subsequent opportunity to confirm that his impression was correct were considered grounds for uncertainty.
After much deliberation over the circumstances and the substantiating evidence it was decided that there was insufficient proof for this record to merit being accepted as the first and only Irish record. Accordingly Cetti's Warbler has now been removed from the Irish List.