Published on 01 March 2011 in Letters

Combridge et al. (Brit. Birds 103: 673-675) challenged the case for the rejection of a pre- 1857 Wiltshire record of Hawk Owl Surnia ulula, and proposed three points for consid- eration prior to the ‘retrospective dismissal of old records’. They identified two parts of a sentence from my short summary of the reasons for the rejection of this record (Harrop 2010) that they found unsatisfac- tory. The first of these (‘Most contemporary and subsequent authorities either ignored or overlooked the record…’) was included in error and is indeed incorrect. The second part of the sentence (referring to ‘the lack of any detail about the date and circumstances of collection’) remains valid, however, despite the new information which Combridge et al. present.

The additional information in their letter does not provide a precise date, nor does it explain how identification as S. u. ulula was arrived at. All we can be entirely sure of is that Bowdler Sharpe was shown a Hawk Owl in 1876 that was said to have been killed in Wiltshire 20 or so years previously. The cor- respondence from William Long quoted by Morres (1878) clearly states that Long was uncertain about the date and also about whether he or his younger brother had killed the bird, which hardly constitutes a con- vincing first-hand account of the circum- stances of discovery.