American Robin – Godrevy, Cornwall

Apart from a Mongolian Plover at Lymington in July 2003 (which may never be more than sub-species of Lesser Sand Plover) I had not seen a new species in Britain since the White-throated Sparrow at Flamborough in October 2002, 14 months previously.

An American Robin was found at Godrevy in Cornwall on private farmland on the 14th December. This individual followed an individual on Bardsey Island off North Wales on Tuesday 11th November which hung around for 2 days. These individuals were against a backdrop of a huge movement of American Robins  where 500,000 individuals passed over New York over 8th-9th November. This movement was probably linked to the berry crops and the severity of the winter.

The pager message said that access on to the private farm land would cease on Monday, I rang up RBA to see if this meant Sunday or Monday and what chance there was of seeing the public from public areas if necessary. I was disappointed to learn that there would be no access to private areas on the Monday and that it would be virtually impossible to see the bird from public areas. The bird was still reported into the New Year and I assumed that this was either by an individual who had special agreement to go onto the land or that the bird was being seen occasionally from the public areas.

On Thursday 1st January I rang RBA again and was told that people were going onto the private farmland and seeing the bird. The farmer didn’t seem to mind but we didn’t actually have permission. I decided that if the bird was still present on Friday then I would travel down with Dad on the Saturday.

Another American Robin had turned up in Grimsby just marginally further away but the fact that the Cornish bird had already been present for several weeks persuaded us to head southwest instead of north.

We left Wellow at 5:35am. It was a cold drizzly morning and Dad drove, I slept through most of the 210 mile journey. At roughly 9am the pager bleeped to say that the American Robin was still present. We got to Godrevy at 9:10 and walked through the 5-bar gate between the two car parks, up the hill and over the grass covered sand dunes which were rapidly turning muddy due to 30 cows and many visiting birders. We were within sight of the sea which included six brave surfers! The cold drizzle blew horizontally into our telescopes.

We joined 10 or birders looking into an area with a large hay feeder surrounded by 10 feeding cows. The bird was just beyond the feeding cows foraging in the short clumpy grass and muddy areas. Before I’d managed a sketch it disappeared and then wasn’t seen again for 20 minutes. I then picked it up flying towards me much closer than before, perhaps only 30 yards away and I started sketching.

American Robins are roughly the size and shape of a Blackbird but with striking orange underparts with a white vent, a bold and broken white eye ring, a white throat and a yellow base to the lower mandible.

There have now been 33 American Robins in Britain with the first on Lundy in 1952. American Robins on the mainland (as opposed to islands like Lundy, Scilly, Bardsey, Orkney and Shetland) have been few and far between in the past 40 years and so it was great to see one. 

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