Tree Swallow in Scilly: new to the Western Palearctic

Published on 01 August 1995 in Main articles

The Isles of Scilly is renowned as a haven for displaced migrant birds, and the autumn pilgrimage of observers in September and October is famous in ornithological circles. June is usually a quiet month for numbers of visiting birdwatchers, as are the other months outside the autumn, but June 1990 was the exception. In one five-day period, between 800 and 1,000 people came to see one bird: the first record for Britain & Ireland, Europe and the Western Palearctic of a North American species, Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor. On Wednesday 6th June 1990, having finished my shift behind the bar in the Mermaid Inn, I decided to go to Porth Hellick. I watched from the main hide for a while and could hardly believe how devoid of bird life it was. I could not even console myself by counting the Moorhens Gallinula chloropus. At about 19.00 BST, five hirundines approached low over the pool: one House Martin Delichon urbica, three Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica and another bird. This fifth bird gave the impression of a martin, but with no white rump and a glossy blue-green mantle and crown, and pure white underparts. My heart sank as the bird then flew to the back of the pool and began hawking around the pines and surrounding fields. I rushed to Sluice to obtain closer views and to note its plumage in detail. It appeared slightly bigger and bulkier in the body than a House Martin, with broader-based wings and more powerful flight.

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