IRBC - Irish Rare Bird Report 2014
The year under review was the classic year of two halves. The first half was one of the most exciting starts to a year in recent times, whereas the latter half was far more pedestrian. In line with that, both additions to the Irish list in 2014 were during the first six months, with an American Purple Gallinule Porphyrio martinicus found dead in Mayo and, less than a week later, a Slaty-backed Gull Larus schistisagus in Galway, both of these in February. Undoubtedly, though, the most significant record of the year was a Bermuda Petrel Pterodroma cahow, which is categorised as an ‘At sea’ record as it was observed some 170 nautical miles west of Ireland, a location that lies outside the boundary of the Irish List. Bermuda Petrel is considered endangered by BirdLife International and this is the first sight record for the Western Palearctic away from the Azores. Ireland’s second Pacific Diver Gavia pacifica (Galway) and third Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala (Cork) were recorded in April and the fourth records of Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus (Mayo) and American Coot Fulica americana (Kerry) were recorded in October and November respectively. Also, this report contains details of the second Little Swift Apus affinis from Wexford in May 2002 and the fourth Thrush Nightingale Luscinia luscinia from Cork in October 2013. Significant records of sub-species in the report are of the first Eastern Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans albistriata from Mayo in 2007 and the first Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava of the plexa / tschutschensis complex from Donegal in 2013.
The year started with a phenomenal influx of gulls. Among a record number of Kumlien’s Gulls Larus glaucoides kumlieni was a small scattering of Arctic gems; four Ross’s Gulls Rhodostethia rosea and a record-equalling two Ivory Gulls Pagophila eburnea across the southern half of the country. Included in these were long staying individuals of both species, allowing many the opportunity to get close range views of these iconic rarities. Other gulls of note during the early months of the year were an Atlantic Gull Larus michahellis atlantis in Wexford and the first Laughing Gull Larus atricilla since 2008 in Cork, both in January. Three American Herring Gulls Larus smithsonianus along the west coast completed a stellar list of early 2014 gulls.
Not to be outdone, other species also occurred in very good numbers early in the year. The Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus invasion that started in late 2013 continued strongly into 2014 with 21 new birds found by the end of March. A new Forster’s Tern Sterna forsteri was found in Mayo in January. The end of that month also saw the beginning of the (by now) annual Scandinavian Rock Pipit Anthus petrosus littoralis appearances, with a further 13 found between then and the end of April comprising the second highest annual total of all time. The recent sequence of Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus records was added to with the first for Monaghan at the end of February.
A returning Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps and American Black Duck Anas rubripes were seen in Mayo in early April, but the first new rarity of the spring was a Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica in Cork. Later in the month on the same day, but at opposite ends of the country, two handsome rarities were found – a White-billed Diver Gavia adamsii in Donegal and a Bee-eater Merops apiaster on Dursey Island in Cork. Just 24 hours later Dursey Island produced another great bird with the Sardinian Warbler previously mentioned. May witnessed the arrival of Hobbys Falco subbuteo and Little Ringed Plovers Charadrius dubius, both recorded annually in recent years. These were followed by the first Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida since 2008 in Cork and two White-winged Black Terns Chlidonias leucopterus in Donegal. Two different forms of Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava made appearances in late spring – four of the blue-headed form flava were not unexpected but the occurrence of Ireland’s seventh record of the grey-headed form thunbergi in Kerry was notable. Another notable event was the relocation of a Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus from Offaly to Cork a few days later.
The summer got off to an auspicious start with the occurrence of a Snowy Owl in Clare, a Marsh Warbler Acrocephalus palustris in Cork and an Arctic Redpoll Acanthis hornemanni on Dursey Island, Cork, all before 9th June. Unfortunately, the rest of the summer was quieter than usual, although a Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminckii in Dublin in early July did its best to alleviate the tedium. Seawatching was a mild distraction from the generally poor fare elsewhere with the second best year ever for the Fea’s/Zino’s Petrel Pterodroma feae/madeira complex, although only small numbers of Wilson’s Storm-petrels Oceanites oceanicus were seen.
This was the poorest year for Nearctic wader numbers in a decade. Only one Baird’s Sandpiper Calidris bairdii and one Long-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus were found, representing the lowest figures since 2002 and 2000 respectively. Numbers of White-rumped Sandpipers Calidris fuscicollis were the lowest since 1998, with only two found and, while ten American Golden Plovers Pluvialis dominica occurred, it was their poorest year since 2005. That said, the presence of a Stilt Sandpiper Calidris himantopus in Wexford and Dublin (September) as well as a Solitary Sandpiper Tringa solitaria in Wexford (October) added quality to compensate for low numbers.
Despite conditions that were clearly not conducive to transatlantic vagrancy, three Red-eyed Vireos Vireo olivaceus (Clare, Cork and Mayo) and a Swainson’s Thrush Catharus ustulatus (Clare) still managed to arrive on these shores during late September and early October. Red-eyed Vireo in particular seems to be able to turn up under almost any conditions and there are now over 250 records of this Nearctic passerine in the Western Palearctic since the first was found on Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland in September 1951 (Pétursson & Þráinsson 1999). The months of September and October were not as productive as normal. The highlights were the Red-flanked Bluetail in Mayo, a Swainson’s Thrush in Clare and two Nightingales Luscinia megarhynchos, one in Cork during October and another ‘At sea’ record west of Loop Head, Clare in September. Most of the regular vagrants occurred in low numbers, although Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria had its third best year and both Wrynecks Jynx torquilla and Ortolan Buntings Emberiza hortulana turned up in relatively high numbers. In contrast, there was only one Icterine Warbler Hippolais icterina (albeit the first since 2010), one Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides, two Red-backed Shrikes Lanius collurio (but no Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator for the first time since 2002), while the sole Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla was notable in being the first for Galway.
November produced two great birds, beginning with an American Coot in Kerry that remained into December. In contrast, a Roller Coracias garrulus near Manch, Cork remained just long enough to have its picture taken. Otherwise the end of the year drifted away in the inevitable mix of Water Pipits Anthus spinoletta and waterfowl although a further small influx of Glossy Ibis during the autumn took the total to a record 35. Nonetheless, there was one final reminder of migration as the only Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi of the year waited until the dark days after Christmas to put in a brief appearance at Galley Head, Cork. The year ended as it had begun with a Kumlien’s Gull in Donegal, bringing the annual total for the taxon to an incredible 84!
The backbone of the IRBC's system for recording occurrences of rare birds in the Republic of Ireland is the Provisional List, updated on a monthly basis. Most of the data in this report were taken directly from the 2014 Provisional List. The IRBC expresses its sincere gratitude to all those who provided information during 2014, either directly or indirectly. Although there are no 2014 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 Kieran Fahy, Steve Howell, Killian Mullarney and Pat Smiddy for their invaluable assistance.
M.Carmody & J.Hobbs (on behalf of the Irish Rare Birds Committee)
BirdWatch Ireland, Unit 20, Block D, Bullford Business Campus, Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow.