29/05/2007
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Long-billed Murrelet Admitted to Category A of the British List

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Long-billed Murrelet: Dawlish, Devon The many images of this superb bird were considered to be among the best ever taken of any rarity (photo: Graham Catley).

The British Ornithologists' Union Records Committee (BOURC) has accepted the record of a Long-billed Murrelet seen off Dawlish Warren, Devon, on 7th November 2006, and off Dawlish town from 11th-14th November (Birding World 19: 457-464), as the first British record.

Long-billed Murrelet is a small auk from the North Pacific. It closely resembles Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) of which it was considered a subspecies until only recently (Friesen et al. (1966) Condor 98: 681-690 and AOU (1998) Checklist of North American Birds (7th Edn.). The species is found from the Sea of Okhotsk to Kamchatka with most birds wintering in seas around Japan south to South Korea.

This is the second European and Western Palearctic record, the first being one found dead in a fishing net in Lake Zurich, Switzerland between 15th and 18th December 1997. The Dawlish bird was quickly followed by the third European record from Romania on 21st-23rd December 2006.

Bob McGowan, Chairman of BOURC, commented "Once correctly identified, the Long-billed Murrelet at Dawlish resulted in one of the most significant birding events of 2006. A generally unpredicted species for Britain, this North Pacific auk was observed in the same county as the Ancient Murrelet (Synthliboramphus antiquus) that appeared in the early 1990s. It is indicative of the vagrancy potential of both species that Long-billed and Ancient are casual visitors to interior North America. It is noteworthy that the only British records of these Pacific alcids have occurred in Devon, though the later Romanian occurrence perhaps lends support to the Arctic route proposed by Maumary and Knaus (British Birds 93: 190-199).

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Long-billed Murrelet remains a particularly poorly known species and detailed information on its breeding biology is scant. Nests are believed to be mainly platforms of lichens in old-growth forest and some parts of this habitat across its range are threatened by logging interests and oil exploration. It is on the IUCN Red List of near-threatened species.

A comment must be made on the superb quality of many of the images of this bird; these were considered to be among the best ever taken of any rarity and their availability greatly assisted the Committee's deliberations."

As there was no ground to doubt the birds its wild origins, the Committee agreed to accept this to Category A of the British List.

The British List now stands at 574 species (Category A = 554; Category B = 10; Category C = 10).

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

www.bbrc.org.uk.

Written by: BOURC/BBRC