At 9 am on 11 March, Barrie Mortimer and his wife Elizabeth noticed an unusual bird from the kitchen window of their house at Crigglestone, near Wakefield, West Yorkshire. It was sitting on the hedgerow that forms the boundary between their next door neighbour’s garden and the arable field beyond.
It was there for several minutes, time enough for them to study it and decide it wasn’t anything they were familiar with, although from its shape Elizabeth thought it looked like a pigeon or dove. Fortunately, Barrie managed to take a couple of photographs with his DSLR and it was only later that Barrie and Elizabeth worked out that the bird was most likely a turtle dove. Unfortunately they haven’t seen it again since.
Despite the almost full frontal view, enough features appear to be present to identify this bird as an Oriental Turtle Dove of the subspecies meena (Barrie Mortimer).
Elizabeth and I both work for the same environmental consultancy company, though I am based in Newcastle, some way from West Yorkshire. A week or two later, when Elizabeth was working in our Sheffield office, she mentioned the sighting in passing to some of my ecologist colleagues and showed them a photo of the bird. A few more days after that, one remarked to me that he had recently been shown a photo of a turtle dove taken in Wakefield in early March.
Given the date, my interest was immediately piqued and I asked him to send me a copy of the photo. The bird in the image clearly looked interesting, but as the photo only showed it from the front my immediate thought was that it might not be possible to conclusively identify it. Nevertheless, I sent the image to a few birding friends in the North-East to get some second opinions. A couple of these thought the bird looked good for Oriental Turtle Dove, while others weren’t sure and nobody seemed willing to stick their neck out and say it definitely was one.
I’d originally been told there was only one photo but I asked my colleague to double-check and a few days later I received a second image which, although blurred, did show the bird from a slightly different angle, allowing me to see a little more of the wings and a better view of the nape and hindneck. At this point, and after a bit more research, I was pretty certain that the bird was indeed an Oriental Turtle Dove.
Both photos only show the bird mostly from the front (unfortunately there are no more photos), and so a number of the features one would ideally want to see are not visible. However, the combination of large dark centres and bright rufous fringes to the wing coverts, the brownish nape and hindneck (contrasting with the grey forehead and front part of the crown), narrow black neck bars separated by broader grey (rather than white) bars, pale tips to the median and greater coverts forming diffuse wing-bars and the relative lack of bare skin around the eye all pointed towards Oriental Turtle Dove. The pale belly and apparent white tips to the tail feathers indicate the bird to be of the Central Asian form meena.
As the bird turned a little more to its right, a better view of the rufous nape was obtained (Barrie Mortimer).
I realised that I needed to get Elizabeth and Barrie’s permission to share the photographs more widely, and once this was done I sent the photos to Alan Tilmouth. He agreed that the photos showed a meena Oriental Turtle Dove and the news was released on BirdGuides.com.
It seems very unlikely that the bird is still present, and there were no other sightings after the initial observation. If accepted this will be the 14th for Britain, and the 10th to be identified as the subspecies meena.