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Monday, February 9, 1998 Published at 13:41 GMT


Twitchers go Scilly for Spotless Starling
image: [ The Scilly Isles Spotless Starling is causing a mini tourist boom ]
The Scilly Isles Spotless Starling is causing a mini tourist boom

Britain's birdwatchers are flocking south by the plane-load at news of a unique sighting.

Never before has a Spotless Starling been seen in the UK...until now.

The bird, which is as common to the Mediterranean and north Africa as its dotted cousin is in Britain, has been spied on the Isles of Scilly.

[ image: The Starling was discovered 400 miles from home]
The Starling was discovered 400 miles from home
The birdwatchers' network is buzzing with the news and scores of "twitchers" are winging their way to the remote cluster of islands, off the Cornish coast.

Skybus, which runs an air shuttle service from Land's End to the main island of St Mary's, has laid on up to ten extra flights a day to meet the sudden demand.

To the untrained eye, the Spotless Starling is not much different from its north European counterpart, the ordinary Starling. Its deep blue plumage also features spots in winter, although they are smaller than those of a British Starling.

Mike Everett: "People are very keen to get down there and see this thing." (23")
But in the highly competitive world of bird watching, its appearance in Britain is a major draw.

"It's about getting an extra tick on their list and being able to tell a fellow twitcher that they saw the first ever Spotless Starling in the UK," said Mike Everett, a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

"At the front of the queue will be people in the top echelons of birdwatchers who will have, or will be approaching, the holy grail of 500 species on their British list."

[ image: The Starling is on St Mary's, the biggest island]
The Starling is on St Mary's, the biggest island
No one can be sure how or why the bird ended up so far away from home - it's not a migratory species - but there is no shortage of theories, says Mr Everett.

"It's possible that it got caught up in some bad weather and lost its way. Or it may have got caught up with some ordinary Starling. It could even have landed on a ship."

"It probably come from the north west of Spain, which is a flight of about 400 miles."

Birdwatchers are no strangers to the Scilly Isles, which are a major stopping-off point for migrating species in the autumn. Located off the south-west tip of England, they also pick up a lot of "waifs and strays" according to Mike Everett.

Mike Everett: "There must be a chance that it's even come over on a ship."
"Once in a while birds fly across the Atlantic and it can be the first piece of land they come across. It presents a welcome resting place. The islands also pick up a lot of European migrating birds that go off course."

Despite being separated from its flock, he says the Spotted Starling appears happy to flit around the island and lap up the attention.

It is estimated that the bird will attract 1,500 of Britain's keenest twitchers. Skybus manager Mike Vigar has no reason to doubt that figure.

"I usually take Sunday's off but I spent most of last Sunday taking calls from people who wanted a flight. It's only a 15 minute flight. We encourage people to fly over in the morning, catch a glimpse of the bird and return in the afternoon," he said.

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