From 2000 to 2010, twenty-two species were added to the Irish list - an average of two per year, and 2011 maintained that average. The two species added were a White-winged Scoter Melanitta deglandi stejnegeri (Kerry) in March that subsequently transpired to have been present since February and a Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus (Cork) in April. The latter species became one of the signature birds of 2011 as an autumn influx also provided the second to fifth records (Wexford, Galway and Cork). The second Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus (Kerry) and third Hudsonian Whimbrel Numenius hudsonicus (Cork) were found in September. The fourth Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus (Wexford) was found in May and a Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis (Kerry), also the fourth for Ireland, in August. An influx of four Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti (Wicklow, Dublin and Waterford) provided the fifth to eighth records. Rare sub-species recorded during the year included the third Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus hudsonius (Wexford) in October.

The report also contains details of some headline rarities from earlier years. A record of Pacific Diver Gavia pacifica (Galway) in January 2009 becomes the first record for Ireland and is considered likely to have involved the same individual subsequently found nearby in 2010 (Irish Birds 9: 288). Two records of Blyth's Reed Warbler Acrocephalus dumetorum, in October 2009 (Mayo) and October 2010 (Cork), were the fourth and fifth records. Also recorded for the fifth time were an Arctic Redpoll Carduelis hornemanni (Mayo) in May 2008, a Solitary Sandpiper Tringa solitaria (Mayo) and Marsh Warbler Acrocephalus palustris (Cork) in September 2009 and a Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola (Cork) in October 2010. In addition, an Arctic Redpoll (Cork) in October 2010 showing characteristics of the form exilipes was the first record of that form for Ireland.

The start of the year was quiet, with the usual scattering of wintering rarities, the rarest of which were American Coot Fulica americana and two Northern Harrier. Although generally a poor year for gulls, the first major rarity of the year was a Thayer's Gull Larus thayeri (Galway) in February. The only other new gulls in the first part of the year were a Bonaparte's Gull Chroicocephalus philadelphia and four Kumlien's Gull Larus glaucoides kumlieni. March was very quiet for migration but saw the first of two White-billed Diver Gavia adamsii.

Spring really took off in April. As is often the case, a Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica and an Alpine Swift Apus melba were among the forerunners. A record influx of ten Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator, the first Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus for many years, the first Bee-eater Merops apiaster and first two Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus for the year and two early Wryneck Jynx torquilla were all part of a wave of spring overshoots in April that brought the first Pallid Harrier. For the fourth year in a row, high numbers of Hobby Falco subbuteo arrived in April and May. Foreshadowing what would happen later in the year, there was also a spring mini-influx of Nearctic waders, including a record spring arrival of Buff-breasted Sandpiper Tryngites subruficollis.

The mid-summer months are often very quiet, and although there were some very good birds, many were elusive. Nonetheless, for a lucky few, summer was enlivened by a Black Kite Milvus migrans, a trio of Bee-eater, two adult Rose-coloured Starling Pastor roseus and a gathering of five Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus. A record total of juvenile Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius in August and September hinted at the possibility of local origin.

Seawatching produced huge numbers of Long-tailed Skua Stercorarius longicaudus and good numbers of Wilson's Petrel Oceanites oceanicus and Fea's/Zino's Petrels Pterodroma feae/madeira, although both of the latter were later than normal, peaking in September rather than August. This seawatching bonanza was a result of a series of Atlantic lows in late August and September which also resulted in the greatest ever accumulation of Nearctic waders on our shores, with this report documenting 251 individuals of thirteen species. There were record numbers of American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica, Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla, Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla, White-rumped Sandpiper Calidris fuscicollis, Baird's Sandpiper Calidris bairdii, Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularius and the first Upland Sandpiper Bartramia longicauda for many years. To put this into perspective, in 2006 there were 115 individuals of nine species, and the introduction to the 2006 Irish Bird Report described that as 'an outstanding year for American waders'. With conditions obviously conducive to westerly vagrancy, the arrival of two Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata at the end of August was unexpected.

Surprisingly, the autumn contingent of Nearctic passerines and near-passerines did not coincide with the main September arrival of waders. A Grey-cheeked Thrush Catharus minimus and three Red-eyed Vireo Vireo olivaceus arrived in October and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus arrived in late October. The small arrival of two Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens in November was almost expected.

From the end of September, eastern and southern vagrants also started to appear, the highlights being a Roller Coracias garrulus in a Cork garden and a Blyth's Reed Warbler in Kerry. Influxes of Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus and Crane Grus grus commenced at the end of September, and these continued through to early winter. Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus and Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus appeared in record numbers with good numbers of Wryneck, Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria and Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta also arriving, although Icterine Warbler Hippolais icterina failed to show. Seven juvenile Rose-coloured Starling in Cork in October and November constituted the best autumn tally ever for the species. A trio of late Pallas's Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus graced the country in mid-November.

The end of the year was characterised by extremely mild weather, with November mid-month temperatures at least 10 degrees above normal. The result of this was the record influx of Desert Wheatear referred to earlier and a late Bluethroat Luscinia svecica in Waterford that took full advantage of the mild conditions, remaining until at least the end of the year.

This report marks the removal from consideration by the IRBC of nine commonly occurring rarities. Any new pre-2012 records coming to light for these species will be published in subsequent reports for completeness. For each of these species, a summary of occurrences in Ireland is presented. In most cases, identification of these taxa is not discussed as this is well covered in widely available field guides.

Since January 2005, the backbone of the IRBC's system for recording 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 were taken directly from the 2011 Provisional List. The IRBC expresses its sincere gratitude to all those who provided information during 2011, either directly or indirectly. Although there are no 2011 records from Northern Ireland in this report due to publication deadlines, we thank the members of the Northern Ireland Birdwatchers Association Rarities Committee (NIBARC) for the continued close working relationship between that body and the IRBC. The Committee also extends its thanks to Joe Hobbs, Killian Mullarney, Keith Naylor, Magnus Robb and Paul Walsh for their invaluable assistance.

K.Fahy (on behalf of the Irish Rare Birds Committee)
BirdWatch Ireland, Unit 20, Block D, Bullford Business Campus, Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow.

Back to Irish Rare Bird Report