Dozens of birdwatchers who travelled to a Scottish island to see an extremely rare swift have been left distraught after it was killed by a wind turbine.
Around 40 people were watching the White-throated Needletail, the world’s fastest flying bird, on the Isles of Harris when the tragedy happened.
Sightings of the bird have only been recorded eight times in the UK in nearly 170 years, most recently in 1991, prompting around 80 ornithologists to visit the island in the hope of catching a glimpse.
David Campbell, from Surrey, told BBC Scotland the incident took place late on Wednesday afternoon. Speaking as he made his way home, he said: “We just watched the whole thing with dismay.”
Josh Jones, of Bird Guides, a specialist website for ornithologists, said he had spoken to witnesses, who had seen the bird fly straight into one the turbine’s blades.
He said: “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.
“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.”
Experts said they thought the bird had got lost migrating from Siberia and it should have been as far away as Australia or Japan instead of Tarbert on the Isle of Harris.
It was spotted by chance on Monday by two birdwatchers from Northumberland holidaying on the island. Steve Duffield, a Western Isles wildlife expert, said: “The 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.”
During the 1991 sighting, a single bird was spotted four times in Kent, Staffordshire, Derbyshire and finally Shetland.
The White-throated Needletail, also known as the Needle-tailed Swift or Spine-tailed Swift, is known to fly up at speeds of up to 69mph, although there are unconfirmed reports of them reaching 105mph.
The birds have very short legs, which they use only for clinging to vertical surfaces, and they build their nests in rock crevices in cliffs or hollow trees. They spend most of their lives in the air, living on the insects they catch in their beaks.
They breed in rocky hills in central Asia and southern Siberia but migrate south to the Indian Subcontinent, southeast Asia and Australia.
The SNP administration at Holyrood is pressing ahead with a rapid expansion in the number of wind farms after setting a target to generate the equivalent of all Scotland’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
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