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American birds head to Bardsey; Former Skomer Island warden traces birds who have landed here.


THE autumn of 1961 was stormy, with fast moving Atlantic depressions. By October 5, only my wife and I were resident on Skomer Island.

Close by our house, I was pleased to find blue tits, blackbirds, robins, stonechats, a great tit and a spotted flycatcher.

Immediately I noticed another bird, with a bright sulphur-yellow breast, about the size of a pied flycatcher but with the build of a warbler. A bird quite unknown to me. My wife and I watched this bird throughout the day and took notes.

Our field notes were despatched to the Rarity Record Committee of the journal British Birds who, after much deliberation, reported: "We are almost certain that the bird was a Blackburnian warbler, bird of the evergreen woodlands of Manitoba, the Gulf of St Lawrence etc. We cannot be quite sure, however, and feel we must agree with James Baird in the USA that it is best regarded as 'probable'."

In 1988 and both the Rarities Committee and the Records Committee of the British Ornithologists Union accepted the record as being of a Blackburnian warbler, the first for the Western Palearctic.

The first American land bird record for Wales, indeed for Britain, is a yellow-billed cuckoo in the autumn of 1832.

Since then the yellow-billed cuckoo has occurred in Wales on three occasions, being found dead in 1870 near Aberystwyth, and in 1899 at Craig y Don, Anglesey.

The third was seen briefly at Porthclais, Pembrokeshire, on October 30, 1994. On September 11 1957 an unusual bird was caught in Bardsey's Lane Heligoland trap.

On examination this proved to be a summer tanager, the first time this bird from southern and central USA had been recorded this side of the Atlantic.

Across the decades since, Bardsey has proved to be the premier location in Wales for American land birds.

No fewer than 11 of the 23 species recorded have occurred on the island, eight of which have not been seen elsewhere in Wales, while the yellow warbler in August 1964 shares with the summer tanager the distinction of being the first for the Western Palearctic.

Although most American land birds recorded in Wales have been on the western islands, there have been a number of significant inland sightings. A grey catbird at South Stack on October 4, 2001, was the first for Britain, while a red-eyed vireo there on the same day was the sixth Welsh record.

Other mainland records include a common nighthawk seen briefly and later found dead in Ceredigion at Mwnt in October 1999; and a chimney swift on Anglesey at Penmon on November 2, 2005.

A longer version of this article appears in the Autumn edition of quarterly magazine Natur Cymru - the Nature of Wales. Annual subscription PS18 (PS17 by direct debit).

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Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 6, 2014
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