Sunday, 11 March 2012

Bluetail Tale

Regular readers of this blog will know that we are always on the lookout here for birds with colour-rings and that we have reported many Greater Flamingos, Spoonbills, several species of gulls, Black-tailed Godwits and various other waders. The total is close to 250 birds which have come from Belgium, England, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Scotland and Spain.

This week we have added two more countries to that list with details received of a Ringed Plover found here in Tavira that was ringed in June 2008 at Stykkishólmur in NW Iceland and a Greater Flamingo seen at Olhão that had been ringed in July 2009 in Algeria.

Greater Flamingo from Punta de la Banya, Delta de l' Ebre, Tarragona in Spain

Not yet on our list of countries is Sweden but it’s one that has featured in an interesting story that has been running here for the past few weeks. It concerns a bird that had apparently been killed by a local near Boliqueime in the Algarve on 19th January. It was a bird that was found to have been ringed in Sweden but by the time it came to the attention of someone here who knew what to do, all that remained of it, apart from the ring, was a leg!

However, the ring was duly reported to the Swedish ringing centre and much to everyone’s amazement it turned out that the bird had been a first-year Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus), which had been trapped and ringed on 15th October 2011 at Utklippan Bird Observatory in the province of Blekinge. Only 32 Red-flanked Bluetails have ever been ringed in Sweden and this was the first ever recovery! Not only that, but this would also be the first ever record of Red-flanked Bluetail in Portugal.

Straightaway there were people here pointing out how mistakes have sometimes been made in the past during ringing and in the recording of ringing data and that without a description of the bird or a photograph it would not be safe to accept the record and add a new species to the Portuguese list. What if it was a clerical error and the bird was really a Robin (Erithacus rubecula)?

It was looking like the Portuguese Rarities Committee were going to have a big decision to make although as no birder had seen the bird alive they weren’t going to upset anyone whatever their conclusion! But in effect the decision has been made for them. Thanks to Júlio M. Neto and the wonders of modern science, the identification has already been confirmed by sequencing a DNA sample from the bird. Apparently it was a perfect match with a Red-flanked Bluetail from Vietnam! How recently is it that we couldn’t have imagined such a thing being possible?

It’s a surprising record and a remarkable sequence of events and of course the chances are that the bird had been here undetected for weeks before meeting its end! It just goes to show that there are probably always rarities out there if you keep looking...


Ari Rajasärkkä, Finland said...

The picture of the Red-Flanked Bluetail ringed 15.10.2011 at Utklippan Bird Observatory, Sweden can be found here:

Peter and June said...

Thank you, Ari. It's sad that this bird was presumably eaten by someone who had no knowedge or appreciation of it.