The autumn of 2012 will long be remembered amongst birders as a phenomenal one for the quantity and quality of scarce migrants and extreme vagrants to the British Isles with, at times, an almost overwhelming mix of American and Far-eastern species present. This pattern has been driven by the very changeable weather conditions with a mix of high pressure systems extending easterly air flows drifting birds from central Russia battling with low pressure systems sweeping in from the Atlantic depositing birds caught up in their cross ocean migrations from Canada and North America to the Caribbean, Central America and beyond. However, one of the most intriguing recent records, in my book anyway, has been the first record of lesser-spotted woodpecker for Scotland present at Scalloway, Mainland Shetland from 15th October 2012 until at least 17th October 2012. Being largely sedentary in England and Wales this record surely represents a bird of one of the continental races. The species is a partial migrant in Northern Europe (and in much of its northern range further east) showing eruptive and nomadic tendancies into the southern part of the breeding range. An excellent study by Gohli et al (http://listafuglestasjon.no/pdf/gohli_dvergspett_2011.pdf) concluded that migrants recorded in southern Norway are likely to orginate from a wider area of Scandinavia as well as more local source populations. These migrations are likely to be as a result of high productivity at source populations. Therefore, it seems most likely that the Scalloway bird is of the nominate race 'minor' whose range extends from Scandinavia and northern continental Europe east of the Baltic to the Urals. This race is a larger and longer tailed race which tends to be whiter and less streaked than our endemic race 'comminutus', however, these distinctions are not always clearly defined. Observers did report the Scalloway bird to appear larger, paler and more finely streaked than comminutus, the only race currently on the UK list. I suspect that without DNA analysis the race of this bird will be hard to prove.
Lesser-spotted Woodpecker- Scalloway. Photograph by Rebecca Nason
(view Rebecca's excellent website here: http://www.rebeccanason.com/