BBRC AGM 2022
The BBRC AGM was held in mid March and, amongst the usual chatter around identification issues and records that are currently being voted on, the following points were raised that will be of interest to BB readers.
Echoing last year’s stance, there will be no ‘promotions or relegations’ this year to the list of species assessed by BBRC. For a species to be assessed by BBRC, it must have fewer than 100 records in the latest rolling ten-year period and/or have fewer than ten records in seven of those last ten years. Returning individuals do not form part of these totals. There should also be a ten-year hiatus after changing the status of a species to allow for short-term fluctuations. During the AGM, we examined data from both the BBRC and the Scarce Migrants report databases. In many cases, the same set of species come up for discussion every year (those that hover around the threshold for assessment). Two examples of such species are Bonaparte’s Chroicocephalus philadelphia and Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis. The past decade has seen a gradual increase in the occurrence of Bonaparte’s Gulls, while the same period has seen a steady decline in the number of new Ring-billed Gulls being found (a trend masked in part by the number of adult birds returning over multiple winters). With these changes, Ring-billed Gull is now the rarer of the two gull species (fig. 1). If this trend continues, Ring-billed Gull may once again find itself back on the BBRC list while records of Bonaparte’s Gull will move to the Scarce Migrants report.
Numbers of Savi’s Warbler Locustella luscinioides have steadily increased over the last 15 years (fig. 2), and the species is now a strong contender for removal from the BBRC list. It remains a rarity based on the fact there have been fewer than ten records in seven of the last ten years, but this seems set to change. It is likely that climate change and an increase in the number of large reedbeds has facilitated the number of birds setting up territory in Britain – most records of Savi’s Warblers concern singing birds in spring. Another European wetland species, the Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus, is in a slow but steady decline (fig. 3). There have been fewer than 100 records in the last ten years, and seven out of the last ten years recorded fewer than ten records (though note that data from 2021 is provisional). However, it has only been seven years since BBRC removed it from the list and, for now, no change is planned.
Despite Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus and Rustic Bunting Emberiza rustica showing some worrying declines in recent years in Scandinavia (Keller et al. 2020), records of both species are on the rise in Britain (figs. 4 & 5), having been reinstated as rarities in 2015. Once again, it’s too soon to consider removing them from the BBRC list but the Committee will keep a close eye on their numbers.
Several reviews are ongoing, with others planned for the coming year, all of them due to advances in identification or taxonomy. The long-running ‘Little Shearwater’ review continues, with the aim of assessing past records to see if they can be accepted as Barolo Puffinus barolo, Boyd’s P. boydi or Audubon’s Shearwater P. lherminieri. The review has been slowed by the inevitable difficulty of assessing some of the records and in ensuring that the panel is composed of enough members with first-hand experience of the species group. We have also recently started a review of records of all female/first-winter Black-headed Buntings E. melanocephala. This follows some illuminating correspondence with our Norwegian counterparts and may well lead to some changes in the status of some currently accepted records. After this review, BBRC will look again at records of claimed Red-headed Buntings E. bruniceps. At present, the BBRC archives contain only two submissions of Red-headed Buntings post-1961, both adult males (Fair Isle, 19th July–19th August 1997, and Monreith, Dumfries & Galloway, 9th June 2004). Submissions for records of two autumn birds from the Isles of Scilly (October 1994 and October 1998), both thought by observers to be Red-headed Bunting, were not formally assessed by the Committee, and – like all other submissions of this species in recent years – they unfortunately appear to have been lost. Pre-empting the likely outcome of this review, and similar reviews carried out by other European rarities committees, we therefore request submissions of all Red-headed Buntings (or suspected Red-headed Buntings) seen in Britain post-1990. This cut-off date reflects a period sufficiently far enough ahead of the Indian Government’s restriction on the export of wild birds in 1982. Following the introduction of these restrictions, the numbers of Red-headed Buntings seen in Britain appeared to decline considerably, with the exception of an apparent influx in 1993 (Vinicombe 2007).
Following an extensive review on the subject by Rodrigues Lazaro (2021), the Committee plans to review the status of ‘Eastern Black Kites’ Milvus migrans migrans x lineatus, including a record currently in circulation from Radnorshire in 2009/10. BBRC will also undertake a long-awaited and substantial review of the ‘Subalpine Warbler’ Curruca subalpina/iberiae/cantillans group, which is set to include many hundreds of records that have not been assessed at species level since new identification criteria has been published.
BBRC occasionally recirculates single records for review. One particularly high-profile record, of a ‘Lesser Short-toed Lark’ Alaudala sp. from Dorset in May 1992 (Dickie & Vinicombe 1995), is currently being reassessed in light of recent taxonomic changes, which have resulted in Lesser Short-toed Lark being treated as three species: first, with IOC’s adoption in 2008 of the split that saw the eastern races recognised as Asian Short-toed Lark A. cheleensis and, more recently, the two-way split of Lesser Short-toed Lark into Mediterranean Short-toed Lark A. rufuscens and Turkestan Short-toed Lark A. heinei (Alström et al. 2020; Ghorbani et al. 2020). Little is known about the movements of Asian Short-toed Lark but there are records from Myanmar and Japan, well to the south and east respectively of its usual range, suggesting that it is capable of long-distance vagrancy. Additionally, Turkestan Short-toed Lark has been shown to occur as a vagrant to Europe – there is one accepted record from Sweden, a bird in November–December 2014, the identification being confirmed by genetic analysis, as well as several more suspected records from northern Europe. Despite the relative proximity of the breeding grounds of Mediterranean Short-toed Lark to Britain, the species appears to be largely sedentary and its vagrancy potential is unclear. Although steps have been made in the identification of the three species (see Alström 2020), it is clear that any out-of-range ‘Lesser Short-toed Lark’ in Europe will need to be well documented if it is to be accepted at species level.
BBRC seeks a new Secretary
After nearly six years in the role, Chas Holt will be stepping down as Secretary at the end of the current report cycle in September. Chas has brought an incredible wealth of knowledge and expertise to the role of Secretary and will be sorely missed.
Consequently, BBRC is seeking a new Secretary. We hope to have a new individual in place in time to shadow Chas for a month or two before taking over fully in the autumn. A successful candidate would need to be comfortable using Microsoft Excel and, ideally, have some website content management skills. They should be well organised, self-motivated and able to work well with the BBRC Chair, BBRC voting members and the BB Editor. Other vital skills are the ability to be discrete when dealing with records, to be good with people and be an excellent communicator. We welcome any expressions of interest in the role, which comes with a monthly stipend. A full job specification can be found on the BBRC website (www.bbrc.org.uk). Any enquiries should be directed to Paul French ([email protected]).
BBRC seeks new voting member
BBRC is seeking a new voting member in 2022 to replace Micky Maher. Micky joined the Committee in 2014 and has been a solid and reliable member over the past seven years, bringing not only a huge amount of experience in identification but also in the art of rarity finding. The Committee would like to thank him for his work.
BBRC’s nominee for the position is David (Dave) Cooper. Growing up in Sussex, Dave developed a passion for wildlife, birding and rarities at an early age. Although primarily interested in observing visible migration, he was soon finding good birds in his home county, including a Bonaparte’s Gull and a Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti, plus an out-of-county Greater Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultii in North-east Scotland. Foreign travels beckoned, and his list of numerous rare finds abroad is too long to detail here, but standout birds include Franklin’s Gull Leucophaeus pipixcan in Western Australia and White-winged Scoter Melanitta deglandi, Whinchat Saxicola rubetra and Red-headed Bunting in Japan. He published articles and photographs from his visits covering both spring and autumn migration seasons, primarily concentrating on the identification of migrant passerines that might one day stray to western Europe, including detailed contributions on the field identification of Pin-tailed Snipe Gallinago stenura and Red-headed Bunting. It was with his move to Unst, Shetland, that Dave became firmly entrenched in the wires from the bird news services. Since 2016, Dave has found a long list of rarities, including a Tengmalm’s Owl Aegolius funereus, a White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak Pheucticus ludovicianus. He also has a track record for exemplary submissions to BBRC, with his Fea’s-type petrel Pterodroma madeira/feae/deserta and Marmora’s Warbler Curruca sarda write-ups both shortlisted for the Carl Zeiss Award (Brit. Birds 110: 468–475 and 113: 705–714) and his submission of a fly-by Brünnich’s Guillemot winning the award in 2019 (Brit. Birds 112: 473–481).
He has twice served on the Sussex Ornithological Society Records Committee and currently serves on the Shetland Bird Club Records Committee.
While Dave has the support of BBRC, we are very keen to encourage further nominations of potential candidates with suitable experience. The key aspects of that experience are as follows:
• a widely acknowledged expertise in identification
• proven reliability in the field
• a track record of high-quality submissions of descriptions of scarce and rare birds to county records committees and BBRC
• experience of record assessment
• regional credibility
• the capacity to handle the volume of work involved in assessing upwards of 700 web-based records per year
• the capacity to work quickly and efficiently
• easy access to the internet
Further nominations should be sent to the BBRC Chair ([email protected]) before 30th June 2022, with the names of a proposer and seconder, a summary of the nominee’s experience and the written agreement of the nominee. After this date, if we have received further nominations, a voting slip and list of all candidates with relevant details will be sent to all county recorders and bird observatory wardens for an election, as per section 2.2.3 of our Constitution (see www.bbrc.org.uk/constitution).
Alström, P., et al. 2020. Multiple species delimitation approaches applied to the avian lark genus Alaudala. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 154: 106994.
Dickie, I. R., & Vinicombe, K. 1995. Lesser Short-toed Lark in Dorset: new to Britain. Brit. Birds 88: 593–599.
Ghorbani, F. A., et al. 2020. Densely sampled phylogenetic analyses of the Lesser Short‐toed Lark (Alaudala rufescens) – Sand Lark (A. raytal) species complex (Aves, Passeriformes) reveal cryptic diversity. Zoologica Scripta 49(4): 427–439.
Keller, V., et al. 2020. European Breeding Bird Atlas. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Rodrigues Lazaro, G. 2021. Eastern Black Kites in Europe: a new look. Subalpine Birding https://bit.ly/bkbek
Vinicombe, K. E. 2007. The status of Red-headed Bunting in Britain. Brit. Birds 100: 540–551.