Neil Morris, Managing Director of Manx BirdLife, tells the story of the ‘race’ to discover just how many species of bird were present on the Island over the festive season.
“The final results are in!
Although this winter’s Bird Race didn’t surpass 2018’s record, birdwatchers around the Island still managed to record the joint-second highest total of species seen during the week between Christmas and the New Year.
Birdwatchers across the Island reported a total of 113 species of wild bird during the seven days from Christmas Day to New Year’s eve. It was a collaborative effort with nearly a hundred individuals and families contributing their records.
A 'sprint start' on Christmas Day
Perhaps surprisingly, the Bird Race started with a burst of activity on Christmas Day itself when 82 species were logged. This is the most species of wild bird ever recorded on the Island on Christmas Day!
With such a good start and prolonged poor weather after the 25th, it was a tough task to eke out the other species to be found in the Island’s many different inland and coastal, lowland and upland habitats. Despite a great collective effort, just 31 more species were found in the ensuing six days, and a mere five species were added in the ‘final push’ on the last day of the year. It was tough going.
The mild – and of course, wet and windy – weather meant that a number of species which regularly seek winter refuge on the Island, could not be found. Among the most obvious absentees were Twite, Water Rail and Brambling. Perhaps it has simply not been cold enough across the British Isles and in Europe to force these species to migrate across to the Isle of Man in search of more temperate winter climes.
Other notable absences were Stock Dove, Long-tailed Duck and Snow Bunting – all of which had been seen in the run-up to Bird Race week.
Unusual winter visitors
The most unusual sighting was of a Yellow-legged Gull, which lingered off the breakwater in Peel. This Mediterranean and Eastern European species – the ‘continental cousin’ of our more familiar Herring Gull – has not been recorded during the Bird Race before. The species’ European range has been slowly expanding north and westwards in the last three decades. Indeed, one or two pairs now nest each summer in southern England. Yet it remains a rare bird on the Island at any time of year, with just two previous sightings in the last decade.
Other Bird Race rarities spotted by sharp-eyed observers included the peculiar Crossbill (only its second appearance in the period), a skein of Pink-footed Goose (three appearances) and a lone Knot (fourth appearance). Also of note was a flock of 40 Barnacle Geese, which are thought to have day-tripped to the Island from their winter headquarters in Scotland or Ireland.
Skylarks gone missing
One salutary note is that it wasn’t until the very last day of the Bird Race that a Skylark was eventually found. This once very common species is getting harder to find, reflecting its recent addition to the official ‘Red-list’ of birds which are of the greatest conservation concern. Figures compiled by the British Trust for Ornithology show the Skylark has declined as a UK breeding bird by 63% in the last fifty years. It appears to be suffering a similar fate here on the Island.
The full list of Christmas Bird Race sightings for 2019 and previous years is now available.
Manx BirdLife would like to thank all those who participated and sent in their sightings. The Bird Race is always a good excuse to get out over the festive season, whatever the weather! Especial thanks must go to Mark Fitzpatrick who coordinated the results and provided daily updates on the running total.
So can 2018’s record of 116 species ever be broken? We’ll have to wait at least another year to find out!”