In a year that is widely regarded as one of the better years for vagrants it is perhaps surprising that only one species was added to the Irish list, Little Blue Heron Egretta caerulea (Galway) in October. However, this report also contains details of three additions to the Northern Irish list, a Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola (Londonderry) in September, a Radde's Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi (Down) in October and a Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens (Londonderry) in December. Two species occurred for only the second time: Northern Waterthrush Seiurus noveboracensis in August (Cork) and Philadelphia Vireo Vireo philadelphicus in October (Clare). The third White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis was found in October (Cork) and the third and fourth records of Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia in August (Cork). Three other species, two of them waders, were also recorded for the fourth time, Solitary Sandpiper Tringa solitaria in August (Cork), Western Sandpiper Calidris mauri in September (Galway) and Scarlet Tanager Piranga olivacea in October (Cork). Two thrushes, one from the east, the other from the west occurred for the fifth time: a White's Thrush Zoothera dauma in September (Galway) and a Swainson's Thrush Catharus ustulatus in October (Cork).
The year will be particularly remembered for both the quality and quantity of passerine vagrants from the Nearctic. Uniquely, there were two different influxes. The first of these, in late August was unusually early but the second, in October, was more in keeping with the norm. This report contains details of eleven individuals of eight species, a total which equals the number of species recorded in 1985, a legendary autumn. Eleven individuals is just one short of the record of twelve, albeit mostly Red-eyed Vireos Vireo olivaceus, during 1995. In addition, the Committee is yet to receive details of a further two individuals, of two additional species.
The major ornithological event of the early months of 2008 was the continued influx of Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis. Small groups of this species were found throughout the southwest, subsequently spreading eastwards. With the exception of a record number of Great White Egret Ardea alba, numbers of rare herons were low with just single examples of Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus and Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax in spring. Other spring migrants from continental Europe were not so scarce - there were record numbers of Hobby Falco subbuteo, Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus and Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans and near record numbers of Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus and Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica. Additionally, some species occurred that are more normally associated with autumn in Ireland such as Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva, Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana, Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla and Bluethroat Luscinia svecica as well as the only Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla for the year.
Once again, Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major bred in Co. Down and occurred in four other east coast counties, with juveniles in Dublin and Wicklow also providing strong indications that successful breeding had occurred. Seawatching brought a near record showing of Fea's/Zino's Petrels Pterodroma feae/madeira and significant numbers of Long-tailed Skuas Stercorarius longicaudus but a relatively poor total of Wilson's Petrels Oceanites oceanicus.
The autumn had a distinctly Nearctic flavour with a record flock of Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris on Inishmore (Galway) and most of the regularly occurring American waders occurring in good numbers. In an autumn with nine vagrant species of Nearctic wader recorded, there was a record number of Baird's Sandpiper Calidris bairdii, near record numbers of American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica and Buff-breasted Sandpiper Tryngites subruficollis and good numbers of Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla. In contrast, apart from record numbers of Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria and near record numbers of Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta, eastern and southern vagrants were generally scarce.
Since January 2005, the backbone of the IRBC's system for recording the occurrences of rare birds in the Republic of Ireland has been the Provisional List, published online and updated on a monthly basis. Most of the data in this report was taken directly from the 2008 Provisional List. The IRBC expresses its sincere gratitude to all those who provided information during 2008, either directly or indirectly. Our thanks also go to Derek Charles of the Northern Ireland Birdwatchers' Association for supplying all the Northern Ireland records contained within this Report.
K.Fahy (on behalf of the Irish Rare Birds Committee)
BirdWatch Ireland, Unit 20, Block D, Bullford Business Campus, Kilcoole, Wicklow.