02/11/2004
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Black Lark Admitted to Category A of the British List

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A joint Press Release from British Ornithologists' Union Records Committee and British Birds Rarities Committee.

Black Lark (Melanocorypha yeltoniensis): Male, sight record, Spurn, East Yorkshire on 27 April 1984.

Admitted to Category A of the British List.

 Black Lark
Black Lark: South Stack RSPB, Anglesey. (Photo: Sue and Andy Tranter)

The British Ornithologists' Union Records Committee (BOURC) has admitted Black Lark (Melanocorypha yeltoniensis) to Category A of the British List following the occurrence of an adult male at Spurn, East Yorkshire on 27 April 1984 (sight record).

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Black Lark breeds on the steppes of Kazakhstan and southern Russia where it is largely resident but individuals regularly wander west and south of the normal range, especially during periods of severe weather. There have been 23 previous extralimital Western Palearctic records involving 30 individuals (Brit. Birds 97: 558-625). These are mainly from south-east Europe (i.e. closest to the species' winter range), but with recent records from Finland and Sweden. The most recent extralimital record was a well-watched male on Anglesey from 1-8 June 2003 (Brit. Birds 97: 558-625). The majority of records are from January to May, with one record from late November (Czech Republic 1981) and one from late July (Heligoland 1892). This was also a species involved in the 'Hastings Rarities' scandal, with a series of discredited records from the Kent/Sussex border between 1907 and 1915.

This record was first submitted to BBRC in 1999, 15 years after the sighting. It was seen by four observers, one of whom was a non-birder. The others included Barry Spence (then Warden of Spurn Point Nature Reserve) and the late Nick Bell, who submitted notes and also wrote an account at the time in the Spurn Bird Observatory log. It was pended by BBRC following its first circulation but during this process, additional notes were submitted by the fourth observer, Alex Cruickshanks. The file then underwent three recirculations of BBRC before finally being accepted and being passed to BOURC for ratification of the record as an addition to the British List.

Eric Meek, Chairman of BOURC commented "bearing in mind that this individual was not identified until well after the event, and with no photographic evidence available, we needed to eliminate other possible confusion species that could conceivably have originated from captivity, especially White-billed Buffalo Weaver (Bubornis albirostris). Increasing field experience of Black Larks amongst members of both Committees, especially in relation to the variability in the white mottling on the basically black plumage, helped to convince them of the validity of the description. Advice from our captive bird expert, Roger Wilkinson (Chester Zoo), indicated that there was no evidence that Black Lark was known in captivity (and this remains the case), although its congener, Mongolian Lark (Melanocorypha mongolica) was being offered for sale. Unanimous belief that the species had been identified correctly, together with the unlikelihood of a captive origin allowed the Spurn Black Lark to be accepted as the first record of this species for Britain."

The British List now stands at 568 species: (Category A = 547; Category B = 12; Category C = 9).

BRITISH ORNITHOLOGISTS' UNION

The Natural History Museum, Tring, Hertfordshire HP23 6AP, UK
Tel: +44 (0) 1 442 890 080
Fax: +44 (0) 20 7942 6150
Email: bou@bou.org.uk
Website: www.bou.org.uk/www.ibis.ac.uk

British Birds Rarities Committee

Bag End, Churchtown, Towednack, Cornwall TR26 3AZ.