Each year has its rarity hotspot - an area that, for some reason, attracts more than its fair share of vagrants. In 2012, the hotspot was definitely Inishmore Island in Galway Bay. The highlight of the autumn there, among a stellar list of rarities containing nine additions to the Galway list, was the first Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus for Ireland and the Western Palearctic. This is the first species to be added to the Western Palearctic list on the basis of an Irish record since Blue-winged Warbler Vermivora cyanoptera in October 2000 (Irish Birds 7: 107). A Collared Flycatcher Ficedula albicollis (Donegal) in May was also an addition to the Irish list. The second Black Stork Ciconia nigra (Clare) occurred in June and the second Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum(Mayo) in November. Three species occurred for the third time - Baillon's Crake Porzana pusilla (Wexford) and Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus (Cork), both in March and American Coot Fulica americana (Galway) in November. The fourth Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon (Galway) was recorded in October. This report contains details of the fourth and fifth Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus hudsonius (Wexford), one each in 2011 and 2012.
Unlike most years, the start of the year was busy. A few rarities remained from 2011 - Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus and Forster's Tern Sterna forsteri in Galway, Bluethroat Luscinia svecica in Waterford, and the usual scattering of wildfowl. Additionally however, there was a record influx of Kumlien's Gulls Larus glaucoides kumlieni, and three Bonaparte's Gulls Chroicocephalus philadelphia, although there was only one American Herring Gull Larus smithsonianus. Three Long-billed Dowitchers Limnodromus scolopaceus were found in January and early February, and 20 Glossy Ibises Plegadis falcinellus found in January were the beginning of what would become a record equalling annual total. Observed at sea from the deck of the research vessel Celtic Explorer, and therefore not available to the masses, the timing of a Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris recorded at sea in February was unexpected.
March opened with a relatively long-staying Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus in Wexford, but it was not until the end of the month that spring began in earnest. As occasionally happens, a warm spell, with a light southerly airflow and temperatures in the high teens, triggered a flood of early migrants, bringing a smattering of rarities. In addition to the Baillon's Crake and Red-flanked Bluetail already referred to, the last week of March brought the first Purple Heron Ardea purpurea for many years, a Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax, an early Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus, the earliest Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus ever recorded, and an unseasonably early Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator.
Almost inevitably, April was somewhat anti-climactic - the highlights were an Arctic Redpoll Carduelis hornemanni in Galway, two Cattle Egrets Bubulcus ibis in Wexford, and the first of a record spring influx of American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica. Migration picked up strongly again in May and continued through to early June. In addition to the Collared Flycatcher, there was a record spring influx of Redbacked Shrike Lanius collurio, a Black Kite Milvus migrans, the second Purple Heron for the year, and a small scattering of Red-rumped Swallows Cecropis daurica. Also found were a summer plumaged Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularius, three more Red-footed Falcons, a Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides, and the first ever spring Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva.
Summer was unusually lively. The rarest occurrence was undoubtedly a Savi's Warbler Locustella luscinioides in Wexford, which also hosted the regularly returning Forster's Tern, and small numbers of Bearded Tit Panurus biarmicus. Elsewhere, a Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica was seen in Waterford, and the Mayo Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus that was first recorded in 2006 put in an appearance. An influx of adult Rose-coloured Starlings Pastor roseus occurred, and good numbers of Hobby Falco subbuteo were seen in coastal counties from Dublin through to Kerry. In contrast, it was a poor year for seawatching - there were no headline seawatch rarities, numbers of the Fea's/Zino's Petrel Pterodroma feae/madeira complex were about average, and Wilson's Storm-petrel Oceanites oceanicus numbers were significantly lower than recent years.
Although not as bountiful for Nearctic waders as 2011, there were good numbers of American Golden Plover, White-rumped Sandpiper Calidris fuscicollis and Spotted Sandpiper, while Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla numbers returned to normal. A Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla, a Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps and the first Franklin's Gull Larus pipixcan for a number of years also managed to cross the Atlantic to our shores. Nearctic passerines were also well represented - in addition to the Eastern Kingbird and Cedar Waxwing, there were two Yellow-rumped Warblers Setophaga coronata, a Blackpoll Warbler Setophaga striata and a Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens.
In contrast, autumn vagrancy from the east was quieter. Despite some good birds such as Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni, Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus, two Blyth's Reed Warblers Acrocephalus dumetorum, and a good influx of Richard's Pipits Anthus richardi, numbers of the more regular semi-rarities, such as Wryneck Jynx torquilla, were down. There were no Subalpine Warblers Sylvia cantillans, and, for only the second time since 1955, this report contains no records of either Icterine Hippolais icterina or Melodious Warblers H. polyglotta, the latter chalking up its second blank year in succession.
The last big rarity of the year was the American Coot previously mentioned. Otherwise, apart from a late Baird's Sandpiper Calidris bairdii in Kerry, an American Golden Plover in Wexford and two Bitterns Botaurus stellaris, the year ended very quietly.
The backbone of the IRBC's system for recording occurrences of rare birds in the Republic of Ireland is the Provisional List, published online and updated on a monthly basis. Most of the data in this report were taken directly from the 2012 Provisional List. The IRBC expresses its sincere gratitude to all those who provided information during 2012, either directly or indirectly. Although there are no 2012 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 and Keith Naylor for their invaluable assistance.
K.Fahy (on behalf of the Irish Rare Birds Committee)
BirdWatch Ireland, Unit 20, Block D, Bullford Business Campus, Kilcoole, Wicklow.