RARE FIND: Anthony O’Connor and John O’Donghue with the Little Bittern that was blown off-course by Storm Lorenzo last week.
By Sean Moriarty
The aftermath of last week’s Storm Lorenzo resulted in a very rare North American bird being swept into Kerry.
A male Least Bittern, a member of the Heron family, was found in a distressed state in local man John O’Donoghue’s yard in Farranfore on Monday.
It is the first sighting of such a specimen in Ireland and only the tenth ever in the geographic area known as the Western Palearctic that covers all of Europe, North African countries and some Gulf States since records began in 1900.
Despite his best efforts John was unable to keep the bird alive and he died within 30 minutes of being found.
John contacted another local man, Anthony O’Connor, whose brother John is an ornithologist who used to keep finches and other birds at his Ardfert home.
They were unable to identify the bird but contacted Bird Watch Ireland who confirmed it was indeed a Least Bittern and that it was the first sighting of such a bird in Ireland.
The migratory population of Least Bittern breeds mostly in eastern North America, wintering in Central America, The Caribbean, northern South America. The closest previous sightings to Ireland were one each in the Azores and Iceland.
An American Green Heron (larger species but still relatively small for a heron/bittern) was present at Schull, County Cork from October 11 to 13, 2005 and was later relocated in Anglesey, Wales.
“While the finding of this bird is a surprise, it has a supporting cast of rare North American land-birds showing up in Ireland over the past two weeks due to the series of hurricanes and storms in the Atlantic disrupting their southbound migration from North America to South America and diverting them to Western Europe,” said Niall Keogh of the Irish Rare Birds Committee.
“So far this autumn we’ve had eight Red-eyed Vireos, one Black-and-white Warbler [on Inishbofin, third Irish sighting], one Baltimore Oriole [on Achill Island, fourth Irish sighting] and one Common Nighthawk [in Ballymena, third Irish record] across the island of Ireland. I suspect more North American land-birds will be found over the coming weeks given the weather we are having.”
While Storm Lorenzo is the most-likely reason the bird arrived in Ireland, it is also possible he hitched a lift on a trans-Atlantic ship.
“The bird appears to be quite emaciated so no wonder it died. Not much muscle structure left on the breast. It must have just had enough energy to make landfall,” added Keogh. “These small North American herons often have a tough time of it when vagrants in Europe as they are not used to such long sea crossings. Every chance it may have spent some time on ship during the crossing also. I once saw a Little Egret on the Irish state research vessel Celtic Explorer in the Mid-Atlantic while on the way to Canada one spring. A bird going the other way to this Least Bittern.”
The bird has been preserved by Mr O’Donoghue and he is awaiting instructions from the Irish Natural History Museum.
“Our recommendation for the specimen would be to send it to the Natural History Museum and they are experts at handling this specimen. I would also imagine it would go on public display once it has been preserved,” said Colum Flynn secretary, Irish Rare Bird Committee, “It is an awful pity it didn’t live long after it was found but it had obviously travelled a long way and would have arrived in the Kingdom in a fairly weak state anyway.”
The finding has attracted international media attention with several British and European specialist magazines and websites contacting Mr O’Donoghue since Monday.