A youngster that strayed on to the Copeland Islands after becoming hopelessly lost has birdwatchers in a tizzy.
When staff from the Copeland Bird Observatory caught a young common rosefinch on Saturday, it was only the third ever confirmed sighting in Northern Ireland — and the other two were also in the Copelands.
Common rosefinches hail from Mongolia and the Far East but have gradually spread westwards in recent years to eastern European countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic. However, they remain extremely rare in Ireland.
Duty officer David Galbraith said common rosefinches have previously been sighted on the islands in 1977 and 1985, but have not been recorded anywhere else in Northern Ireland.
“It was a normal day’s monitoring of migrating birds at the observatory. We had swallows and housemartins moving through in reasonable numbers, and some goldcrests,” he said.
“At 11.30am we came to one of our mist nets. We found a bird lying in the mist net and it was a double-take moment.”
Because it was a juvenile, the bird had streaky greenish-brown plumage, appearing quite drab compared to the bright red plumage of the adult male.
But a group of birdwatchers who had travelled from Coleraine were hosting a number of colleagues from the Czech Republic, where rosefinches are more common.
“They had ringed rosefinches in the Czech Republic so they were able to identify it for us,” David said.
“It’s a finch, so it’s a seed eater and sings a nice song. It’s a young bird that was born this year. These birds are bright red when they’re adults, but what we have is a juvenile and we can’t tell whether it’s a male or a female.
“These are Asian birds but for the last 20-30 years they have slowly been extending their range westwards. Their main area is Mongolia and they fly south to winter in Pakistan.
“During migration you do get birds, particularly young ones, getting confused or blown off course — or you can have reverse migration where they go in the wrong direction, travelling north in summer instead of south.
“It’s hard to come up with a cast iron reason as to what has happened. It could have been hopelessly lost for quite a while.”
Latin name: Carpodacus erythrinus
Identification: The adult male is unmistakable with his rich red head and breast, but rosefinches look streaky brown in other plumages
Migration: First-year birds tend to disperse further than adults which explains why colonising birds are almost always dull-plumaged (young) males