Rose-coloured Starling – Southbourne, Dorset

He looked like he’d been given the run around. “It’s a needle in a haystack” he’d said. His depressing comment had me feeling a little deflated. I was still hopeful of seeing the Rose-coloued Starling but it sounded like it would need determination and luck. 

On Wednesday around lunchtime an adult summer Rose-coloured Starling was reported on the golf course at Hengistbury Head. Later the same evening it was reported again between the Solent Meads Car Park and Harbour Road. I decided that I would head down there the next day if it was seen again.

In a normal year there are around 40-50 Rose-coloured Starlings including good numbers of juvenile birds in the autumn. In 2020 we are seeing an influx of summer adults with more than 20 already on our shores. I’ve seen eight Rose-coloured Starlings in Britain but this would be my first summer adult.   

The species has been slowly spreading west, colonising parts of Bulgaria, Romania and even Hungary since the turn of the millennium. This spring, large numbers have spread even further west through Europe and many males have been singing and holding territory. All previous influxes share similarities in that they seem to be stimulated by warm weather. It’s the same story in 2020 with temperatures much higher than usual and this is thought to have encouraged the starlings to overshoot their breeding grounds and push westwards through Europe including to the western extremities such as the UK.

At 7:06am the next morning my watch bleeped to say that the starling had been seen again on Rolls Drive, roughly where I park when I run my Hengistbury Head photography workshops. I jumped out of bed and got ready. Soon afterwards another message reported that it had been seen again in Harbour Road, and worryingly, it was described as mobile.

I arrived in Rolls Drive and soon met another birder who had been on site for 90 minutes. He had seen it briefly in flight and confirmed that it was covering a very large area. “It’s a needle in a haystack” he said. Richard, my dogs’ vet, who lives locally, then cycled up and we exchanged mobile numbers before we headed off in different directions to begin the search.

I got the impression that covering a large area, as quickly as possible, and looking at every starling I saw might be the best approach. This is what I did for the next 90 minutes, it seemed a better idea than covering each area slowly as there were so many areas to check. I also made sure that I covered Harbour Road as it had been seen here a few times already.

During this 90 minutes, I walked 3 miles, all around the housing estate and the adjacent coastal fringes. At 9:45am I was heading south west down Harbour Road just passed the junction with Harland Road. I raised my binoculars for yet another starling and was delighted to see it had a stunning pink body!

It continued flying towards me, flicked sideways and flew across my path before losing height as it dropped into the back garden of 23 Harbour Road. A very high fence blocked the view but thankfully the Rose-coloured Starling flew up onto the top of a hedge, with several other Starlings, and was visible for a minute or so. This allowed me to get some brief sketches of the overall shape and posture. I later added in some detail from pictures of the bird which were available online.

I’d found the needle in the haystack and the starling was never reported again.

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