Brown Flycatcher 1956 and 1957 Finder’s accounts

The Old Claims – looking better now?

There are 2 other old claims of Brown Flycatcher from the ‘British Isles’.

6th September 1957 on Great Saltee Island , co. Wexford

9th September 1956 on Holy Island, Northumberland

I have added the field descriptions of both and comments on subsequent rejection  for the Great Saltee bird. It is fair to say there is still a reasonable possibility that both birds were genuine Asian Brown Flycatchers -especially in the light of recent records. There were no obviousmistakes made. See what you think.

Brown Flycatcher in Northumberland.—On 9th September 1956…

… T. H. Alder, A. Blackett, J. Bryce, A. Childs, B. Little, W. D. Ryder and the writer were Walking through a large hollow among the sand dunes on the eastern shore of Holy Island, Northumberland, when T.H.A. spotted a plain little bird sheltering in a small solitary elder bush. He drew our attention to this immediately, but I had only time to focus my glasses on it for a second before it disappeared into the thickest part of the bush. This quick glimpse, however, was sufficient for me to note an exciting fact—that it had a white ring around its eye. I told the party of this Observation and B.L. suggested that it might be a Red-breasted Flycatcher (Muscicapa parva). We sat round the bush at varying distances from 10 to 30 feet, and waited for some minutes for the bird to show itself, but it remained hidden. I then crawled carefully on hands and knees to the bush and, lying below it, saw the bird at a range of 4-5 feet. It began to flit about in the bush, on one occasion being at arm’s length, and’ the other observers now had excellent views of it and were impressed by the definite eye-ring. From my close viewpoint the following features impressed me, and these were noted and verified by the party. I judged the eye-ring to be off-white, not pure white. The bill was short and very broad at the base, appearing broader when seen from below .than from the side, and was black in colour except for a little dull yellowish-horn at the base of the lower mandible. Rictal bristles were prominent. The unstreaked head, mantle, back and wings were a smoky grey-brown, and the darker tail was sepia-brown without white markings of any kind. With the wing folded, the primary coverts seemed paler than the rest of the wing, which otherwise appeared quite uniform in colour. The chin was white with two or three very pale streaks at the sides and the breast pale grey-brown, very softly streaked, and tapering off beautifully to the white belly. The flanks were pale buff and the under tail-coverts pale buff to whitish; the legs appeared to be dark blue-grey and the feet blackish. When the bird became excited it flicked its wings and made a few typical flycatcher-like flights away from the bush, flitting in circles as if to look for other cover, but returning each time to the same bush. The general brown colour was then well noted, and it was suggested that the bird had the look of a small Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin). Except for a very faint hoarse and indefinable note which I heard when near the bush, the bird made no other sound. We sent for a net with the intention of catching it, but during that time the bird made a longer flight of about fifty yards to a second solitary bush, from which it flew to sea-weed-covered rocks, then inland where it was not seen again. From our notes made on the spot, we were sure that we had been watching a Brown Flycatcher (M. latirostris) and were delighted to find, on checking The Handbook shortly afterwards, that our notes agreed with this in all respects. This was one of three days on which a most interesting passage of birds occurred, when on the Island and the mainland near-by Wrynecks (Jynx torquilla), Barred Warblers (Sylvia nisoria), Red-backed Shrikes (Lanius collurio), a Red-breasted Flycatcher (M. parva) and a Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochrurus) were seen, while in the preceding week Pied Flycatchers (M. hypoleuca) had occurred in remarkable numbers on the Northumberland coast, perhaps reaching thousands.

JAMES ALDER    British Birds Vol. 50 p125-6

Brown Flycatcher, Great Saltee, 6th September 1957

In the 1957 Irish Bird Report a published excerpt of the description states:

“One, September 6, was identified by J J M Flegg and D F Musson after they had obtained excellent views of the bird while it was perched at about 15 feet distance.  Full field notes and excellent field sketches are preserved in the Field Records Book.  In flight the bird showed no white, though flight and behaviour, including ‘perching stance’, was typical of a Pied Flycatcher, but it was too small for that species.  A nearby Spotted Flycatcher afforded excellent comparison.  Brown upper-parts very uniform and unspotted.  Crown, breast, chin and throat unstreaked.  No obvious white eye-ring was seen, J J M F has since examined a series of skins and found the August to October plumage agrees exactly with that seen, and that it was in all probability a first-winter bird.  Unfortunately brown flycatchers [lower case is used for ‘brown flycatchers’, possibly indicating a generic reference to several species that look, to a layman, brown], highly priced, are listed amongst birds which are being imported by dealers in Britain, so a proviso is necessary in recording this species.  It is significant, however, that a Barred Warbler, a bird not given in the list of importations, arrived on Saltee the same day.”

1970 Irish Bird Report then reads

“Brown Flycatcher.  The record of one at Great Saltee, Wexford, is now considered unacceptable.  This record has been re-assessed in light of experience gained in Malaya by Dr I C T Nisbet.  There are several other rather similar species and the description of the Saltee bird has been considered inadequate to eliminate all possibility of the bird having been of another species.  For the same reason a record of one in Northumberland is found unacceptable for inclusion in the British List, and one reported in Norway is likewise not considered acceptable.  All field notes and sketches of the Saltee bird were submitted for scrutiny.”

3 thoughts on “Brown Flycatcher 1956 and 1957 Finder’s accounts

  1. thedrunkbirder

    Sorry Martin but my reading of these is sadly disrupted by thoughts of a plain little bird sheltering in an Eider’s bush. Childish I know but it tickled me!

  2. Alan Tilmouth

    The 1956 Northumberland bird was accepted by the Northumberland CRC at the time, despite the national rejection and still gets a mention in each annual report in the section ‘Birds on the County List Not Seen in the Year’. A bit of a blocker!


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