A travelling group of bird watchers witnessed a rare bird die after flying into a community wind turbine.
The White-throated Needletail – the world’s fastest flying bird – was thousand of miles off course after turning up at Tarbert on the Isle of Harris.
It was first spotted by two bird spotters from Northumberland on Monday.
There has not been a sighting of the species in Britain since 1991 when a single bird was seen four times – in Kent, Staffordshire, Derbyshire and finally Shetland.
Now 22 years later another White-throated Needletail turned up in the UK.
But after over 80 twitches flocked to Harris – with scores more on their way – the bird flew into a wind turbine at Tarbert, watched by about 40 people.
“It was seen by birders fly straight into the turbine. It is ironic that after waiting so long for this bird to turn up in the UK it was killed by a wind turbine and not a natural predator,” said Josh Jones of the authorative Bird Guides.
“It is tragic. More than 80 people had already arrived on the island and others were coming from all over the country. But it just flew into the turbine. It was killed instantly.
“The corpse will be sent to a museum but obviously this is just terrible. Some people will have lost the cost of their flights.
“We think the bird had probably come from Siberia. It is so sad what has happened.”
Western Isles wildlife expert Steve Duffield added:”Rhe bird in Harris was hanging around for its third day – it was attracting a lot of attention from the birding community with people travelling from southern England to see it.
“It was first officially identified by Mark Cocker and Adam Gretton on Tuesday although it had been present the previous day at Loch Hirecleit.
“Once the news was spread on the evening many birders started preparing for the long journey north in the hope of catching up with the bird. Unfortunately after showing very well to the delight of all present yesterday – probably around 40 people in the morning with others arriving in the afternoon – it was seen to hit the blade of a small wind turbine in Tarbert and was killed. A very sad end to a delightful bird that may well have attracted many more birders to Harris over the following days had it not met it’s untimely demise.”
A spokesman for Bird Guides said it was only the ninth recording in the UK since 1846 when it was first seen in Essex.
“Why it is has ended up in Harris is a bit of a mystery – it should be well away such as in Siberia, Australia or Japan,” he said.
“It has obviously got lost and the weather may have played a part – it is difficult to say.
“It was spotted by chance by two birders from Northumberland who were on holiday – and they knew what they were looking at. So there is a chance it may have been here a lot longer.
“It could have re-orientated itself and is capable of flying vast distances – in fact it spends more time in the air than on the ground. So it could have worked out it’s in the wrong place and fly to where it should be.
The White-throated Needletail (Hirundapus caudacutus), also known as Needle-tailed Swift or Spine-tailed Swift, is a large swift.
It is said to be the fastest-flying bird in flapping flight, with a confirmed maximum of 111.6 km/h (69.3 mph).It is commonly reputed to reach velocities of up to 170 km/h (105 mph), though this has not been verified.
The birds have very short legs which they use only for clinging to vertical surfaces. They build their nests in rock crevices in cliffs or hollow trees. They never settle voluntarily on the ground and spend most of their lives in the air, living on the insects they catch in their beaks.
The swifts breed in rocky hills in central Asia and southern Siberia. This species is migratory, wintering south in the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia and Australia. It is a rare vagrant in western Europe, but has been recorded as far west as Norway, Sweden as well as Britain.
The White-throated Needletail is a mid sized bird, similar in size to Alpine Swift, but a quite different build, with a heavier barrel-like body. They are black except for a white throat, white undertail, which extends on to the flanks, and a somewhat paler brown back.
The Hirundapus needletailed swifts get their name from the spiny end to the tail, which is not forked as in the Apus typical swifts.