Asian Brown Flycatcher – FIRST Record

24th October 1971. Copeland, N Ireland

A flycatcher is trapped… here:

n.b. comment from Phil Round in Thailand added at bottom

Some of us dipped at Buckton. Hearing no news I didn’t even bother to join the crowd but went searching elsewhere. Musings: The Buckton bird looks like an adult in the photos. I wonder if it is more likely to have summered in the Western Palearctic than being an exceptionally early vagrant from the Eastern Palearctic – but hey-  the more I think I know, the more I realise I don’t know very much.

So in the light of yet another recent Asian Brown Flycatcher I thought I would flag this one up.

Potentially a FIRST, for Northern Ireland, for Ireland  and for the United Kingdom – but not a first for Britain (such is the geopolitical status of Northern Ireland!). In fact a potential Second for the Western Palearctic (isn’t it?).

This fascinating in-hand description  of a small, plain flycatcher has never been accepted. Yet every time I look at it, I can’t make it into any other species. The best overall fit of the plumage and biometrics seems to be a first winter Asian Brown Flycatcher. The very short wings and tail (with the plumage) seem highly indicative. The tarsus and bill length seem a tad out, but not by much. There is a full wing formula and even a drawing of what seems to be one of 4 retained juvenile crown feathers.

These are the features that grab my attention:

  • Wing and tail lengths eliminate Spotted Flycatcher
  • Pale lores!!
  • White eye-ring
  • Plain crown feathers (bar 4 retained -presumed juvenile feathers)
  • Throat white and greyish unstreaked breast

Anyway, I don’t have time to scrutinise the fine details further. If you haven’t seen or even heard of it, here it is. In the light of increasing occurrences of Asian Brown Flycatchers – it must be time for a fresh assessment of the record.

Phil Round in Thailand commented:

“Agree, in both cases. The Yorkshire bird is an adult, while there is no reason to suppose the Copeland bird was anything other than what was thought at the time, viz. an Asian Brown Flycatcher. [Phil sent some biometrics and ringing details for Thai passage Asian Brown Flycatchers.] Note the coincidence of a short bill in one – 13.8 mm- probably measured by a helper/trainee and not checked? Even so, the Copeland bird is close. Mean bill-skull I have for my sample  is 14.7 mm +/- SD 0.475. (15.1 if the one short measurement is excluded.) There is really nothing in it!”


I have scanned the 2 pages (and front cover) from the 1971 Copeland Bird Report. It was Willie McDole’s copy which he loaned me a few years ago. I think if Willie was still alive he might have gone after a review of this. What do you think?

By the way – I think you would have liked the Dresser’s Eider, Willie.  Thinking of you.

3 thoughts on “Asian Brown Flycatcher – FIRST Record

  1. Simon Mahood

    Hi Martin,

    Enjoying this new website very much!

    I’d question whether this is an exceptionally early record, it is earlier than other recent UK records of Brown Fly, but from where I’m sitting (Hanoi, Vietnam, far from the coast) many Sibes are already passing through on their way south. Although numbers of migrants are yet to really build, they have included some rare vagrants to the UK, such as the Brown Fly that stopped off outside my house whilst I was having breakfast last week, and good numbers of some tasty potential future UK vagrants, Yellow-rumped Fly anyone?

    Btw, I like this digging up of old records of vagrants – Brown Fly wouldn’t look half so rare in the UK if all the never accepted/submitted records of birds that were either that species or Dark-sided/Grey-streaked were, for sake of argument, assumed to be Brown Flys!



  2. Harry Hussey

    Hi Martin,
    Like yourself, I have long been intrigued by the Copeland flycatcher, especially as it would consitute the sole (to date…we can but hope for one soon) Irish record were it reassessed and accepted. I corresponded with the late Willie McDowell about this a number of years ago, and I am not at liberty to go into the full details of what was said, but suffice it to say that he was favourable towards the bird.
    Regrettably, by the standards of modern rarity documentation, the published details above seem rather scant, but what is described does strongly suggest Asian Brown Flycatcher, and, what’s more, a 1st-w bird at a good time of year for genuine vagrancy. What a pity that nobody appears to have taken any photographs of the bird in the hand, these could render the bird instantly identifiable.

  3. thedrunkbirder

    Looking at all the above I have commented elsewhere that maybe Brown Flycatcher is a more regular migrant than the numbers found/claimed. I have had it on my rarity radar for some years but I need to revisit the Birding World article and bone up on my Siberian Flycatcher ID. I also fancy a Narcissus Flycatcher or similar one day.


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