As we've summarised in our three-part review over the past few weeks, 2013 was an exceptional year for extremely rare vagrants that will no doubt live long in the memory of many birders. Though January was admittedly a little slow, February's Pine Grosbeak and Harlequin paved the way for wall-to-wall showstoppers that led to many birders labelling it 'the year that just kept on giving'.
In light of this, we felt we simply had to pay homage to this most entertaining of years by opening a public poll to let British and Irish birders decide on what should be crowned the 'best bird of 2013'. Whether you saw none, some or most of the shortlist we've put together below, we're giving you the opportunity to vote and help propel your choice to the top of the pile. And remember — you don't necessarily have to have seen your pick in the flesh!
The Pembrokeshire Orphean Warbler twitch, 24th November (Photo: Peter Royle).
If you want to refresh your memory of 2013 and its offerings in full, cast your eyes back over Part I, Part II and Part III of our annual review — here you'll find analysis, photographs and, in some cases, video footage of many of the year's most significant birds. Following below is a list of our top 30 candidates, with a short summary of the case for each being included in the poll.
Harris' road network was brought to a standstill by needletail twitchers in June (Photo: Peter Stronach).
Unst airport awash with charter planes on the first full day of the Cape May Warbler twitch (Photo: Mike Pennington).
Please note that, while we have tried to be as complete as possible, we acknowledge that inclusions in the shortlist are inevitably subjective. Indeed, as you'll see, not every candidate is included on the basis of pure rarity — there are other examples, such as 'performance' and popularity, multiple occurrences and influxes that we have also taken into consideration. Note that the poll closes at midnight on Sunday 9th February 2014, and the results will be revealed early the following week.
So why wait — get voting for your 2013 favourite now! Go straight to the poll.
Pine Grosbeak, Shetland
Shetland's Pine Grosbeak in February finally put to rest the 21-year wait for another twitchable occurrence. A combination of a stunningly tame bird, beautiful surroundings and the mere challenge of reaching the north Mainland in hostile wintry weather that made for an intrepid twitch, meant the grosbeak became a firm favourite with those who made their way north.
Harlequin, North Uist
No sooner were they back from Shetland than many were off up north again, this time to North Uist for a smart young drake Harlequin. Lingering from mid-February to June, it became progressively more showy and brighter-plumaged as the spring wore on. Favouring offshore rocks at Traigh Iar, the setting of white sands, azure waters and rolling green machair rendered it a fine all-round experience.
Dusky Thrush, Kent
For many, the bird of the spring, Margate's Dusky Thrush lingered long enough to be widely twitched throughout Saturday 18th May. Though not the most spectacular of its kind, the debate and discussion fuelled by its [arguably] atypical appearance meant that it proved a true learning experience for just about everyone. And, given that the last accessible bird was in 1959, it was rather rare to boot.
Pacific Swift, Suffolk
Rarely has such unanimous joy been seen on a twitch: for many, the pain of dipping the famous Cley bird of 1993 was finally eased as a Pacific Swift spent the majority of the weekend hawking over Suffolk's Trimley Marshes, the occurrence made all the more satisfying following another brief fly-past at Spurn a few days earlier.
White-throated Needletail, Harris
For those that made it in time, the 'Harris Needletail' is sure to live long in the memory. But it was tragedy that made the story really stand out: the bird's collision with a wind turbine in front of a stunned crowd late afternoon on its third day was enough to write the tale into birding folklore.
Found on the first day of July, the Bridled Tern spent the majority of its seven-week stay in British waters on the Farne Islands, but also visited Cleveland, Fife and Aberdeenshire during that time. The first accessible bird since 1987, the sight of it cruising amid a cacophony of Arctic Terns, auks and other seabirds was the sight of the summer for many.
Ascension Frigatebird, Islay
Almost 60 years to the day since the first and only British record, sensational news of a juvenile Ascension Frigatebird perched on the harbour wall at Bowmore, Islay, during the morning of 5th July left almost everyone totally stunned. Though it didn't linger long enough to be seen by any birders, this was one of those species nobody really expected to occur on our shores again. And, when you consider it breeds on a single island in the mid-Atlantic at 7°S, the similarity to the first British record — on nearby Tiree in 1953 — is sensational.
Lesser Sand Plover relocating from Moray/Nairn to Cork
We've witnessed some fabulous relocations over the years, but this must rank as one of the best. Britain's sixth Lesser Sand Plover subsequently became Ireland's first sand plover of any variety some 11 days later, after moving a casual 440 miles SSW from Lossiemouth in north-east Scotland to Pilmore in County Cork!
Swinhoe's Storm-petrels on Fair Isle
Trapping Swinhoe's Storm-petrels is far from a new phenomenon in a British, Irish and Western Palearctic context, but the events witnessed on Fair Isle from mid-July through to early September are undeniably exceptional. Two birds were involved, but it was the second that really bucked the trend — in all, it was trapped 10 times including each night between 11th and 17th August, allowing those with the time and money to make the effort and get to the island to connect. Perhaps one of the most daring twitches of all time?
Bulwer's Petrel, County Cork
In such a fantastic summer, it is easy to overlook what remains one of the rarest of vagrants. They might breed much closer to our shores than Swinhoe's, but Bulwer's Petrels are near-mythical here, with just one previous accepted Irish record (and none in Britain). For the lucky few gathered at Galley Head on 1st August, the myth became a sensational reality.
Two-barred Crossbill influx
A procession of major midsummer rarities initially relegated the precursors of a record Two-barred Crossbill influx to 'also-rans' but, by the end of the year, several accommodating flocks had been appreciated by huge numbers of birders right across Britain.
Red-billed Tropicbird, Cornwall
One of the summer's big talking points, a Red-billed Tropicbird that drifted past Pendeen on 18th August sparked the greatest controversy. A cocktail of bitterness, jealousy, amazement and admiration formed the basis for swathes of animated online discussion — few of the 50 or more birders present and seawatching that morning found it easy to accept that they had missed out on such a sensational record.
Wilson's Warbler, County Cork
This was a species many believed unlikely to return, but, almost 28 years on from the one-day wonder in Cornwall in October 1985, Derek Scott's garden — at the west end of Dursey Island (Cork) — came up with the goods. Lingering throughout a foggy Saturday, it performed well to a largely Irish contingent that was swelled by several teams of fast-moving Brits later in the day. The next might be a long time coming.
Eastern Kingbird, Galway
Well, who'd have expected that?! Two Eastern Kingbirds, both in County Galway, within the space of a year! Just like the 2012 bird, this latest individual — on Inishbofin — failed to last more than a day. That said, a bemused bunch of travelling twitchers nevertheless managed to find a Blackpoll Warbler as consolation.
Great Snipe, Kilnsea
Not all entries here are based on rarity alone. Sure, there have been 675 accepted records of Great Snipe up to and including 2011. But how many of those have fed unconcernedly in full view at a range of centimetres? The Kilnsea bird did — in fact, it often ran through birders' legs to reach its favoured feeding areas! Many came away touting it as their bird of the year at the time, and it'll be interesting to see how it fares in our poll.
Brown Shrike influx
With just 12 previous British records, no fewer than five Brown Shrikes were found during a two-week period in September, four of them in Scotland. For what has previously proved such a rare species, an influx of this magnitude is quite incredible.
Thick-billed Warbler, Shetland
None of the previous four Thick-billed Warblers to be seen in Britain had lingered long enough to be accessible (though the Fair Isle bird of 2003 was twitched by a select few on the day it was found). Frightfully elusive but full of character and unique-looking, the Geosetter individual of early October lingered throughout a second day and ensured many birders enjoyed another successful jaunt north to Shetland.
Semipalmated Plover, Hampshire
Its identification fraught with difficulty, the discovery of any Semipalmated Plover is significant. However, one along the Hampshire coastline was always bound to be popular, and so it proved — lingering for over a fortnight, many birders went away with an excellent tick.
Parrot Crossbill influx
Following in the wake of their Two-barred cousins in late summer, Parrot Crossbills began to arrive from October onwards. After an extremely popular flock — a vanguard of four — were widely twitched in Essex in mid-October, dozens were found across England before the end of the year in what is the biggest invasion of this species in recent memory.
Siberian Rubythroat, Fair Isle
Fair Isle had hosted no fewer than four Siberian Rubythroats before this autumn, but all had been females. The thrill of the island's first truly 'ruby-throated' male hopping around at point-blank range for three days from 21st was infectious, and a series of brilliant images ensured that the grip factor was pushed to the max. Sure, it may not have been twitchable to those off-island, but there is no denying that a male rubythroat has no shortage of X-factor.
Cape May Warbler, Unst
Similar to September's Wilson's Warbler, Cape May Warbler was, before October 23rd, a species considered bordering on unattainable in a British context. But then Mike Pennington thrilled us all, pulling a national second on Unst. It might not have been the brightest of Nearctic wood-warblers — 'subtle' is the word — but its extreme rarity and willingness to linger into November made it a hugely popular fixture.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Cork
Rather unlike the Cape May, Ireland's first Ruby-crowned Kinglet was an altogether briefer affair. Seen for just one late October afternoon on Cape Clear, the sheer marvel at how such a small bird made it across the Atlantic in torrid weather conditions makes the record even more amazing.
Mourning Dove, Rum
There might have been a few Mourning Doves in recent years, but they're nevertheless still extremely rare. And, for Rum resident Sean Morris, this one provided what will surely be his greatest-ever garden tick. Lingering there for a week, it was well received by the newer generation.
Hermit Thrush, Porthgwarra
Part of a high-octane morning that also saw American Robin and Yellow-rumped Warbler found around Britain and Ireland, it was fair to say that excitement levels reached fever pitch when this one broke. It might have been the 11th for Britain and Ireland, but it was the first on the British mainland and went on to linger for four days.
Western Orphean Warbler, Pembrokeshire
Arguably November's biggest story, the news of an Orphean Warbler buried deep in a West Wales garden caused a combination of bemusement and amazement. The good nature of the homeowners and dedication of a band of local birders ensured that a successful, large-scale twitch was possible over two weekends.
Three Baikal Teals in 2013 makes this a record year for a species that is represented by just four previous British and one Irish record. The first two were brief visitors to Tacumshin and Flamborough in February and April respectively but, in November and December, a third drake pitched up in Lancashire, lingering for almost a fortnight. Given that this was the first to be twitchable since the species was elevated to Category A of the British list, it proved a very popular fixture.
Ivory Gulls at Seahouses and in East Yorkshire
December was famed for its influx of juvenile Ivory Gulls, with eight birds seen. Though all Ivory Gulls are fantastic, we picked two particular occurrences to combine in the vote: the astonishing apparition of a second bird next to the first between Seahouses and Newbiggin on 7th, and the bird at Patrington Haven, which was the first (and only) to give itself up to the masses.
Brünnich's Guillemot, Portland
After a brief bird at Filey early in the month, birders were left stunned at the news of a Brünnich's Guillemot in Portland Harbour (Dorset) on Boxing Day. The record was exceptional in that it was by far the most southerly Brünnich's ever recorded in Britain and Ireland, but was made all the more memorable by its apparent good health and decision to linger in the harbour until New Year's Eve, regularly performing at point-blank range to huge numbers of admirers.
White-billed Diver, Devon
A day before the guillemot and also no doubt a product of December's storms, a superbly confiding adult White-billed Diver in Brixham was a fantastic Christmas present for the finder. Like its Arctic neighbour in Dorset, the diver went on to linger in the harbour until the year's end, giving birders a rare opportunity to study the species at views down to just a few metres.
Stejneger's Scoter 'photobomb'
Despite the most sensational of years for extremely rare vagrants, Britain hadn't actually enjoyed a 'first' to cap it all off — that was until Velvet Scoter photographs, taken at Musselburgh (Lothian) on Boxing Day, were reviewed in the New Year. And there, sitting among the flock in what must be the most high-profile 'photobomb' yet, was a drake Stejneger's Scoter! This follows the likes of White's Thrush earlier in the year, and one wonders if this is only the beginning of such discoveries.