With the exception of 2011, when numbers were inflated by an incredible influx of Nearctic waders, perusal of Irish Rare Bird Reports since 2008 reveals a relative consistency in the yearly rarity total, with numbers varying little from the average. Nonetheless, each year develops a special character that is distinctly and uniquely different, and 2013 will be remembered as the year in which, after a period of relative quiet, Cork recovered the mantle of premier rarity county in Ireland. All three additions to the Irish List in 2013 were at classic birding locations in the county - Ballymacoda Bay struck first with a Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus in July, and Cork's famous birding islands replied with a Wilson's Warbler Cardellina pusilla on Dursey Island in September and Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula on Cape Clear Island in October. Two species occurred for the second time - Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus (Galway) in September and Sykes's Warbler Iduna rama (Cork) in early October. The fifth record of both Booted Warbler Iduna caligata and Isabelline Shrike Lanius isabellinus were recorded in Wexford in September and November respectively. This report also contains details of the first Central Asian Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca halimodendri (Louth) in 2011.
The year started with the usual scattering of wintering wildfowl, egrets and allies, and the regular Forster's Tern Sterna forsteri in Galway. As always, this regular line-up was augmented by a few major rarities remaining from the previous year - in this case, the highlights were the American Coot Fulica americana in Galway and the Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus hudsonius at Tacumshin Lake (Wexford). Predictably, the year's first rarities were also water birds - the first new Forster's Tern for many years was seen in Wexford in January, but a Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans in Waterford was probably the highlight in terms of rarity. Other gulls occurred in variable numbers - there was just a single American Herring Gull Larus smithsonianus, but a good influx of Kumlien's Gulls Larus glaucoides kumlieni occurred.
A February Richard's Pipit Anthus richardi in Louth was a surprise, but less unusual was the occurrence later in the month of the first of a record number of Scandinavian Rock Pipits Anthus petrosus littoralis. As winter turned to spring, two wader species marked the turn of the season - a Killdeer Charadrius vociferus in Donegal represented the last gasp of winter while small numbers of Little Ringed Plovers Charadrius dubius at the end of March and start of April hinted at the long days to come. These were followed by the first Hobby Falco subbuteo of the year in mid-April and an early Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus.
Overall, numbers of rare spring passerines were lower than in recent years, with small numbers of Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator and only one each of Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans and Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica. Nonpasserines were represented by an extremely photogenic summer-plumaged White-billed Diver Gavia adamsii in Galway in May and a large influx of Hobbys which began that month and continued strongly into June.
The summer months are always quieter for rarities but are a time when quality often replaces quantity. This year, the highlights came in the form of a Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus in June (Cork), a Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus and two Gull-billed Terns Gelochelidon nilotica at Tacumshin Lake (Wexford) in July, and a Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia in August (Wexford). Seawatching always provides great excitement and it arrived with a bang at the end of July with three Fea's/Zino's Petrels Pterodroma feae/madeira at Galley Head on the same date as a Wilson's Storm-petrel Oceanites oceanicus at Mizen Head. There were only a few more records of Wilson's Storm-petrel, in stark contrast to Fea's/Zino's Petrels which went on to have their best year ever, with seven more occurring during the classic period of the last two weeks of August and a further three on 15th September, although this time at different headlands!
The occurrence of two Greenish Warblers Phylloscopus trochiloides at the end of August and beginning of September signalled the start of a great run of rarities through September and into early October, mostly in Cork, which included three Nightingales Luscinia megarhynchos, a Bluethroat Luscinia svecica, a Western Bonelli's Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli and a Serin Serinus serinus. These headline rarities were backed up by a veritable explosion of Wrynecks Jynx torquilla and good numbers of Common Rosefinches Carpodacus erythrinus and Red-backed Shrikes Lanius collurio. However, some of the more regular rarities that were once a staple of autumn birding in the south-west continued runs of relatively poor years - there were only three Melodious Warblers Hippolais polyglotta and a single Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana. For the third year in succession, no Icterine Warblers Hippolais icterina occurred - this is the first time they have missed three years in a row since they started being found regularly in 1955.
Not to be outdone, rarities originating from points west also arrived. There were good numbers of Baird's Sandpipers Calidris bairdii, Semipalmated Sandpipers Calidris pusilla, Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes and American Golden Plovers Pluvialis dominica, but numbers of White-rumped Sandpipers Calidris fuscicollis were down on recent years. In addition, yet another Northern Harrier arrived in south Wexford in October. However, most notable was the selection of Nearctic passerines that confirmed the year as one of the great years for that group. The Wilson's Warbler, Rubycrowned Kinglet and Eastern Kingbird already referred to were joined by two Red-eyed Vireos Vireo olivaceus, a Blackpoll Warbler Setophaga striata, a Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata and a Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens - giving a total of nine individuals of seven species.
The remainder of the year continued in fine vein, although, with the exception of a Thayer's Gull Larus thayeri in Donegal, not quite in the same class as earlier in the autumn. A small number of Siberian Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita tristis were discovered, there was a significant influx of Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus and a very late Baird's Sandpiper in Kerry completed the line-up for the year.
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 2013 Provisional List. The IRBC expresses its sincere gratitude to all those who provided information during 2013, either directly or indirectly. Although there are no 2013 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 Dr. Chris Gibbins, Joe Hobbs, Steve Howell, Bruce Mactavish, Killian Mullarney, Keith Naylor, Peter Pyle, David Sibley and Pat Smiddy 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.