Posts Tagged ‘Italian Sparrow


The Decision

The other week I got a letter; or more correctly an email with a letter attached.

It concerned my submission of a description submitted to the BBRC (British Birds Rarities Committee) for the Italian Sparrow seen here on several occasions the year before last.

Because the bird generated so much interest the letter is repeated here in full. It is addressed to the three people, including myself, who submitted a description.

Dear Carl, Andy & Phil

Many thanks for your submission to the British Birds Rarities Committee of Italian Sparrow at Northrepps, Norfolk on 23 Aug – 06 Sept 2013. Unfortunately, the committee has found the record to be Not Proven.

As you can no doubt guess, this record provided the committee with a collective headache! Ultimately, it was decided that while there was nothing wrong with the plumage of this individual, a 1st record of this species would require DNA evidence and it was unfortunate that this eluded us on this occasion. As this was submitted as an informal record, we will not publish it in the Not Proven section, but instead put it into a new Appendix entitled ‘Appendix 4. Records held where either taxonomy or identification criteria have yet to be finalised’

It is worth clarifying that a not proven vote does NOT imply that the voter believes the observer to be either incompetent or dishonest in any way, but in many cases just that there is a risk of a genuine error having occurred because not quite enough evidence could be assimilated by the observer(s) in the time available. Experienced and highly competent observers will often submit records on much lower levels of evidence than less experienced observers, but these are sometimes not accepted because the confidence felt by the observer in the field may not be matched by the detached assessment of the voters.

Requesting a recirculation

It is possible to submit a record for a recirculation to the committee. However, there are some fundamental requirements before such records can be re-circulated.

  • We would not reconsider a record at the request of either the observer or the county recorder unless there is new information given which may affect the original decision.
  • We would not consider ‘retrospective information’. This includes
    • Drawings done several weeks/months after the original sighting
    • Subsequent experience of the species

Many thanks for your submission, we hope that you will not be too disheartened by this decision, and hope and look forward to receiving further submissions from you in the future.

Yours sincerely,

Paul French, Chairman.

I guess we knew it was coming. A positive decision without DNA would always be a difficult one, however I would draw your attention to the wording

“… nothing wrong with the plumage …”

Just to rub in the salt on the very morning I received the email the sparrow once again put in an appearance at the bird feeders.

Sparrow sp


Well … look who came-a-calling

Watching the feeders in the back garden at Falcon Cottage last week saw an old friend come a calling. The Putative Italian Sparrow put in a short visit of a few minutes and then disappeared again as quickly as he appeared.

I guess he must have bred again somewhere locally and just popped in for a bite to eat. This is the third autumn he’s called by. Luckily I had the camera handy to record the moment.

2015 08 16 Italian Sparrow Northrepps Norfolk_Z5A5792



An old friend


This morning was bright and sunny in north Norfolk. Big Cumulous clouds set against a blue sky at this time of year indicate thermals that are ideal for raptor migration. Sure enough a peep outside at around 10:30am saw a passage of Buzzards west; at their peak around 8 were circling above the garden.

Before the Red Arrows ripped up the sky for the Cromer carnival I settled down for a cuppa and watched the bird table and feeders. It paid dividends as a first time visitor to the garden; a Bullfinch, fed briefly; an oddly small bird. I fetched the camera to catch the moment but she had quickly moved on. A visitor that did show however was the Sparrow showing features of Italian Sparrow. Those regular readers of ‘Letter from Norfolk’ will know this contentious bird first turned up last year. He has returned briefly on two occasions this year, the 3rd July and today. I guess he must have bred again locally somewhere. The sightings from last year have been submitted to the various Rarities Committees under the banner of ‘Italian Sparrow’. We’ll see what happens next.


Sparrow sp


The Red Arrows also put on a good show with several passes directly over the garden.


Red Arrows




We’ll it’s that time of year again. The sun bleached bones of 2013 are lying exposed and the embryo of 2014 is about to enter the world. It’s time now to review what’s happened, where we’ve been, what we’ve seen and perhaps pick out a highlight or two. Several stand out as being memorable.

One of the challenges I set myself at the start of 2013 was to photograph Corncrake. This was achieved on the island of Iona off the south west corner of Mull. Seeing so many of these enigmatic birds in such a small area was spellbinding.

Our trip to Tenerife where we encountered Short finned Pilot Whales sticks in my mind. In fact the Pilot Whales were not the only Cetaceans we saw this year. Our trip to Mull gave us the company of a pod of Common Dolphin off Col. They rode with us for 15 minutes. Then there were the Pine Martens on the porch in front of the window where we stayed on Ardnamurchan. How could I forget those fascinating and photogenic creatures? Seeing the first Humpback Whale off Norfolk, on several occasions, was a long awaited site. What about the thrill of finding a Ringed Seal in Oban Harbour. It’s not every day you find a vagrant Seal. Or maybe encountering a species record for the number of Northern Emerald Damselflies in the UK – that was a good day. Coming across a Black Throated Diver so close at the roadside on the Skye Tour sticks in my mind. That trip held a few other surprises too; a lingering and photogenic White tailed Eagle and a Basking Shark aside the boat. We saw these later in the year off Col too … breaching would you believe. Finding and photographing the Red breasted Flycatcher at Trimingham was also a satisfying moment.

To be fair there have been so many. The tours in particular this year have been full of highlights. The jewel in the crown however belongs to the tiny ball of feathers that occupied the garden here at Falcon Cottage during late summer. Finding the putative Italian Sparrow here on my doorstep eclipsed all else for me. Why? … because it gave so much pleasure to everyone that came to see him and I had so much fun discussing and photographing him… regardless of any outcome.

2013 08 18 Sparrow sp Northrepps Norfolk_Z5A5946


More on ‘that’ Sparrow

It’s now almost three months since the Sparrow showing features of Italian Sparrow was first seen on the 16th August at Falcon Cottage. Obviously with such a bird the only way of determining its true identity would be DNA analysis; although I am aware a description and photographs have already been submitted to the BBRC by someone who came to see the bird. To all those people who came to see the bird hoping for an ‘armchair tick’ I must offer my apologies. A DNA sample was never obtained although we did try.

After the young had fledged our first port of call was the nest. Have you ever seen a Sparrows nest? Enormous. I ‘supervised’ from the ground as Andy ’the monkey’ Benson retrieved a large carrier bag full of nesting material. Once we sorted through the several thousand feathers in the bag we ended up with a couple of likely candidates from ‘the’ sparrow – but to be fair nothing we could rely upon.

Our best chance of a DNA sample was to catch the bird and hope it shed a feather in the process of being ringed. We sought a ringer and found one. He came once and ringed several birds but despite teetering in the direction of the mist nets our target never succumbed. The ringer was called away to foreign climes so never had the opportunity to return. By the time we found a replacement ringer that had the time and/or the motivation to finish the job the sparrow had promptly disappeared. The last time I saw him was on Friday 27th September when he was sat on the hedge at the back of the house preening. Frustratingly a feather he removed caught the wing and flew over my shoulder at warp speed into the field never to be seen again.

So it remains to be seen if he returns through the winter or maybe next spring when we will try again to catch him. Rest assured I’ll keep an eye open should he avail himself to the rich pickings at the bird table.

In the meantime one or perhaps two young male sparrows have started to develop quite white cheeks and brown/grey crowns … hybrid sons of sparrow?

2013 09 20 Sparrow sp Northrepps Norfolk_Z5A1298

A final picture of the old boy after he’d completed his moult one week before he disappeared.


More on that possible Italian Sparrow

Is this a first for Britain or just a throwback? See previous post

Anyone is welcome to come along and see the Sparrow on Hungry Hill. If nothing else it is interesting and if you have seen it you can always tender a first-hand opinion. A steady trickle of people have already been as word of the bird gets around.

If you do visit I would ask you to park sensibly in the village of Northrepps close to the Foundry Arms (not in their car park) and walk the 800m east up Hungry Hill. At the row of cottages on the north side of the road stand just inside the drive out of the way of passing traffic and watch for the Sparrows visiting for food being placed out and perched on the roofs of the houses. Please do not wander into any gardens … they are private.

Hungry Hill is a narrow lane with passing places. If anyone parks in the passing places the Police will be called and cars removed. Harvesting is currently taking place and the road is being used by heavy plant machinery. PLEASE DO NOT GET IN THE FARMERS WAY.

The bird’s plumage is changing slightly each day as its moult progresses. Some more photos of the bird below.

2013 08 18 Sparrow sp Northrepps Norfolk_Z5A5946

2013 08 18 Sparrow sp Northrepps Norfolk_Z5A5874

2013 08 17 Sparrow sp Northrepps Norfolk_Z5A5806

2013 08 17 Sparrow sp Northrepps Norfolk_Z5A5667

2013 08 17 Sparrow sp Northrepps Norfolk_Z5A5497


A Chance Glance

A chance glance out of the window yesterday saw me reaching for my bins. The House Sparrow that was exiting stage left was a little more chestnut than it should have been. A tree Sparrow … I bet!

All the Sparrows had gone. I waited for them to return bins in hand. There it was again then it was gone. Mmmm, perhaps Tree Sparrow; but it didn’t look quite right.

Andy arrived. It showed just as briefly again. “No cheek spots” he said. It was only after he left it showed well. No it wasn’t a Tree Sparrow. The photographs indicate it is some type of hybrid … maybe showing characteristics of Italian Sparrow.

Italian Sparrows are hybrids between House Sparrows and Spanish Sparrows and have never been recorded in the UK. Some authorities treat them as a separate species.  It’s all rather up in the air. I’ve seen Italian Sparrows in France and they are quite variable so maybe we have something special here. Or maybe not … who knows.

Today it was realised the bird was breeding with a House Sparrow and was bringing food to a nest under the tiles on a neighbour’s house.

We all know that Spanish Sparrow is a rare vagrant to the UK. I’ve seen a male in Cumbria many years ago and there was a male at Landguard in Suffolk a year or two ago. These were easily recognised because they were male. Pick up a copy of Collins and look at Spanish Sparrow. It actually uses the word ‘Impossible’ when talking about differentiating female Spanish from female House Sparrows. So supposing we had a female Spanish Sparrow that turned up locally and it bred with a male House Sparrow would the resultant ‘Italian Sparrow’ look like this bird?

Whatever it is … it is interesting.

Confused? … wait while the young fledge!

Sparrow sp

Sparrow sp 2

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Apr 2023


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