Birders in Awe as Storm Delivers 'Uber-Rare' Species

16 North American species spotted in UK and Ireland, some for the first time
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 28, 2023 11:20 AM CDT
Storm Carries Birds Across Atlantic, to Watchers' Delight
In a May 8, 2018, photo, a male magnolia warbler is shown near Rector, Pennsylvania.   (Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

The height of excitment in England is having your soccer team win the Premier League. Bird-watchers say the feeling is akin to what they experienced over the weekend as 16 North American bird species, blown across the Atlantic with the remnants of Hurricane Lee, arrived on British and Irish shores. In Pembrokeshire, the Canada warbler had its first UK sighting, the bay-breasted warbler its second, and the magnolia warbler its third, the Guardian reports. In Ireland, the Blackburnian warbler was spotted for the first time, per the New York Times. Bird-watchers also spotted a northern parula, 10 cliff swallows, and three Baltimore orioles. Birding website Rare Bird Alert said the "spew of uber-rare land birds" created "one of the most memorable couple of days in British and Irish birding history," per the Guardian.

"These are by far the most incredible experiences I have ever had birding," bird-watcher Toby Phelps, first to spot the Canada and magnolia warbers, wrote on X. "To have multiple birds come over, and survive in this way, has just never happened before in my lifetime," said ecologist and birder Sophie Barrell, per the Guardian. "It is like having your football team winning the Premier League." Yet there's a bittersweet taste to all this. The birds were on their usual migration routes south in mid-September when storms forced them east. Tens of thousands were likely carried out over the Atlantic and most would've drowned, per the Times. The 55 individual North American birds believed to have reached Britain and Ireland with the storm last week are the lucky survivors.

"Normally, we get the storms later on in October, and we get things like red-eyed vireos and yellow-billed cuckoos, and they're almost sort of expected," Dr. Alexander Lees, chair of the British Ornithologists' Union Records Committee, tells the Times. "The fact that we got this early storm has meant that we got a different selection of birds, which has obviously been a boon for bird-watchers." Some traveled across the UK for a chance to see the rare birds, which are likely to stick around for only a few more days. Once they rest and refuel, they'll attempt to continue their migration, says Lees. The strongest may make it back to North America, but "for these small songbirds, the chances of ever getting back to where they're supposed to be is incredibly small." (Read more birds stories.)

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