An exotic autumn full of brilliance

Heligoland. A small, sparrow-like bird is sitting on a lantern. At this very moment, one of the few bird-watchers who are on the island this spring passes by on his way to lunch. At first he hardly pays any attention to the bird - it is just another sparrow, one of many he has seen that morning. But then - what is that he hears? A short, odd sounding call causes him to feel a surge of adrenalin. That was not a regular sparrow!

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

The bird takes off and the observer quickly grabs his binoculars, a Victory 10x42 T* FL. The bird lands on the edge of an old skip. Through the binoculars the colours come alive vividly, with outstanding brightness and maximum detail. Bright yellow lores up to its beak, with a white eyestripe set off against the brown pattern on the crown; the white throat shining in the sunlight. There is no doubt - there, in the middle of a building site on Heligoland, is a North American White-throated Sparrow.

 

White-throated Sparrows live in North America, where this relatively common species inhabits open pine and mixed forests. Every year in autumn they migrate to Texas and Florida, flying back north to their traditional breeding grounds in the spring.

Exotics in Europe

Besides the American White-throated Sparrow, another species has found its way to Germany for the first time. A Long-toed Stint could be observed in the Braunschweig wastewater irrigation fields for several days from 22/06/2011. This species raises its young from the beginning of June until the end of July in northern Siberia. In autumn they fly to Southeast Asia to spend the winter there. The Long-toed Stint has never been observed in Germany before, and the White-throated Sparrow is also the first to have been observed in Germany in the wild. They are both precursors for a very interesting 2011 bird migration throughout Europe.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

With a hurricane as tailwind

Raging from August in the United States, Katja and Irene were the first hurricanes of the season. In the wake of these storms, France's first Yellow Warbler was caught and ringed on 30/08/2011 in the Gironde estuary in Western France.

This small, yellow warbler usually lives in North America and migrates to Northern South America for the winter. Caught up in the offshoots from the withdrawing hurricanes over the Atlantic Ocean, the bird managed to make the long flight of at least 3900 km to Europe, probably with a tail wind. The photo depicts an adult Yellow Warbler.

Migration to Europe

Other American migratory birds followed the Yellow Warbler. Among the rarest were certainly the Blue-winged Warbler and the Purple Martin, spotted in the Azores on 02/10/2011 and 15/10/2011 respectively. But it is not only songbirds from North America that made it to Europe. Two different Sandhill Cranes lost their bearings and ended up in England and Finland/Estonia in September.

Large flocks of American waders reached parts of Europe. The Buff-breasted Sandpiper, which breeds in the tundra of the North American continent, was once one of the most common waders there, but today its numbers have been rapidly reduced. The Buff-breasted Sandpiper is a long-distance migrant, which normally overwinters in Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia. In Tacumshine in County Wexford in Ireland, a flock of 26 of these birds could actually be observed; in Germany, however, it was a treat to see a single representative of this species.

Visitors from the Far East

There were nevertheless also a few rare guests that visited Europe from the Far East. A Rufous-tailed Robin was spotted in Norfolk on 14/10/2011, while a Siberian Blue Robin was observed on 01/10/2011 on the Shetland Islands in Scotland. In Pest, Hungary, a Chestnut Bunting was ringed on 27/09/2011. The first Mugimaki Flycatcher for the Western Palearctic was recorded by ringing in Bagolino, Brescia, Italy on 06/10/2011, while Germany’s first Two-barred Warbler was photographed on Mellum on 29/09/2011. All these species have their breeding grounds in Eastern Asia and usually overwinter in South-East Asia.

Pallid Harrier

Pallid Harrier

Birds of prey in record numbers

Some of the rarer species of birds of prey also made an unusually early appearance this autumn. More than 1800 Rough-legged Buzzards had flown over Falsterbo, Sweden by mid-October. That is already almost as many as during the entire autumn in the record migration year of 2010. A strong presence of voles and other rodents in Fennoscandia during the breeding season might have been responsible for this large number of birds of prey.

Some of the rarer species of birds of prey also made an unusually early appearance this autumn. More than 1800 Rough-legged Buzzards had flown over Falsterbo, Sweden by mid-October. That is already almost as many as during the entire autumn in the record migration year of 2010. A strong presence of voles and other rodents in Fennoscandia during the breeding season might have been responsible for this large number of birds of prey.

This autumn there is an unusually great number of reported sightings of the Pallid Harrier from Holland, Germany and even Ireland, the United Kingdom and Iceland. It is in particular when the Pallid Harrier is young or in female colours that the most minute colour details are required to be able to distinguish them from other types of Harriers.

Capturing all the details correctly

The Victory DiaScope 85 T* FL provided many instances of great service when it came to identification and establishing age. Key features are the faithful rendering of colours and the optimal representation of the smallest details over long distances by the Vario eyepiece, with up to 75 x magnification, and the fast and precise ability to focus - above all when birds are in flight. Young Pallid Harriers, such as the bird that roosted in the Ricklsbüller Koog on the Danish border in Northern Germany for several days, are characterized by a light-coloured trailing edge to the primary wing feathers when the bird is in flight, and by the dark boa around the neck of the bird, which clearly contrasts against the pale collar. Without the optical features of the Victory DiaScope, these important identifying details would often have been too inadequately observed to identify the bird beyond doubt.

All the rare to very rare birds mentioned here are only a small sample of the unusual sightings that have been taking place in Europe this year. The autumn migration is still in full swing, and looking at the sightings thus far, it promises to be a season full of excitement.

German English Latin
Raufußbussard Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus
Langzehenstrandläufer Long-toed Stint Calidris or Erolia subminuta
Steppenweihe Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus
Goldwaldsänger Yellow Warbler Dendroica aestiva
Rötelammer Chestnut Bunting Emberiza rutila
Mugimakischnäpper Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki
Kanadakranich Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis
Blaunachtigall Siberian Blue Robin Luscinia cyane
Schwirrnachtigall Rufous-tailed Robin Luscinia sibilans
Middendorflaubsänger Two-barred Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides plumbeitarsus
Purpurschwalbe Purple Martin Progne subis
Grasläufer Buff-breasted Sandpiper Tryngites subruficollis
Blauflügel-Waldsänger Blue-winged Warbler Vermivora cyanoptera
Weißkehlammer White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
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