Red-billed Tropicbird: At sea between the Isles of Scilly and France


Added to Category A of the British List

The British Ornithologists Union Records Committee (BOURC) has added Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus to Category A of the British List following acceptance of a bird seen and photographed at sea 20 miles (32 km) SSE of the Isles of Scilly on 7th June 2001.

The bird was seen by just four lucky observers on a sailing holiday between the Isles of Scilly and France. They took three photographs which, on their return to England, they showed to a birdwatcher friend who alerted them to the importance of the record. They submitted the photographs, a full description of the bird, finding circumstances and a copy of the ship's log. An index print of the film showed images of the Isles of Scilly and France before and after the photographs of the bird thus confirming the locality of the sighting.

Within the Western Palearctic, Red-billed Tropicbird breeds only on the Cape Verde Islands, but it also nests on Iles de la Madeleine off the coast of Senegal. Total numbers are probably fewer than 150 pairs. No regular migration patterns are known and the species is extremely rare elsewhere in the northeast Atlantic. Prior to this record, the only European sighting was of one at sea 162 km west of Portugal on 13th August 1988.

The photographs left the specific identification in no doubt but the bird could not be subspecifically assigned with certainty. It was considered by the Committee to be probably of the race mesonauta which, as well as breeding in the Cape Verde Islands and off Senegal, also nests in the Caribbean and in the eastern Pacific.

This addition brings the British List to 559 species (Category A = 537; Category B = 13; Category C = 9).