The new Attu

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For North American birders, the island of Attu in the western Aleutians has attained legendary status during the times when it has been accessible (further trips are planned for 2017). People travel there, stay in sometimes Spartan conditions, and look for Asian vagrants. They have found them, especially in spring, albeit in varying numbers from year to year. The finds have included an exceptional number of first records for North America.

For British birders, nowhere can rival Shetland as the place to search for eastern migrants and vagrants, especially in autumn. Fair Isle alone has an enviable reputation for first British records (over 30), and provides comfortable accommodation. The autumn of 2016 has been exceptional, and will doubtless encourage more birders to visit Shetland in the coming years.

The lists of rarities recorded on Attu and Shetland have many species in common. Some people consider vagrants of trivial importance, yet their changing status can and does reflect changes in populations and migration strategies in response to environmental and other factors (topical examples include Yellow-breasted and Rustic Buntings). The holy grail, of course, is to find species which have not been recorded previously. These will be the subject of my next post.

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Attu: a great read; the passage above gives a flavour

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