Ancient Murrelet (Synthliboramphus antiquus ), 1st for Spain, 3rd for the Western Palearctic

On 24 May 2023, Roland Bekkers, photographed an Ancient Murrelet (Synthliboramphus antiquus) at the Odiel river mouth, an important wetland in the Huelva province, in the Atlantic coast of Andalucia, S Spain. At 20:22 the same day the news came out and were broadcasted within the Rarebirdspain group. Despite the rarity of the record, a number of local birders decided to give it a try on 25 May morning. 

Local birders asked to respect local colonies of Little Terns Sternula albifrons and Collared Pratincoles Glareola pratincola remaining within marked paths in any attempt of twitching the murrelet. 

On 25 May, at 10:37 AM the bird was relocated c.400m from the mouth of the Mazagón Marina (José Luís Anguita, Manuel Bárcenas, Juanjo Cirpriano, Alfonso Barragán), UTM 37.138718, -6.841995. See photos below (José Luís Anguita) and videos (José Manuel Reyes). Some boats flushed the bird c. 2000 m from the initial place and a bit later it flew a further 3000 m to the W remaining near the place where it was found the previous day by Roland Bekkers. It joined a couple of Razorbills Alca torda that were in the area and begun fishing and taking care of its plumage. 

During the evening it was reported that the murrelet got caught in a fishing line. However, without doubting, a local birder, Jorge Garcia Cuevas, decided to swim to the Murrelet and save it removing the fishing line (photo below, posted in Rarebirdspain group). Hero of the day for many. Once released, the murelet flew to the opposite beach of the Odiel mouth.

On 26 May morning the bird was not seen but about 04:00 PM it was relocated by Rafael García Costales near the previous day site.

© J.Luis Anguita, 25.5.2023

© J.Luis Anguita, 25.5.2023

© J.Luis Anguita, 25.5.2023

© J.Luis Anguita, 25.5.2023

© J.Luis Anguita, 25.5.2023 

The murrelet swiming (above) and dramatic moments in which the Murrelet is caught in a fishing line (below). Action must be taken. Videos © José Manuel Reyes

Jorge García Cuevas saving the murrelet from death. Both were happy (© Fernando del Valle)  


The bird is released and it flies. Good work! Video © José Manuel Reyes


The Ancient Murrelet is a N Pacific species expanding from Asia to W N America (see map below from GBIF).

There are 2 previous records in the Western Palearctic (compiled by Antonio Gutiérrez at Rarebirdspain group). Both records were accepted by British and Finnish Rarities Commitees:

  • 27 May 1990, Jenny's Cove, Lundy, Devon, UK (Richard J.Campey and Jeith Mortimer). The bird remained there until 26 June 1990. The same bird reappeared at the same place from 14 April 1991 to 20 June 1991. And in 1992 it came back after having spent the winter at sea, remaining with other auks from 30 March 1992 to 29 April 1992.
  • 9 November 2021 Porkkala, Kirkkonummi, Finland (Mika Teivonen).

This is therefore the 3rd Western Palearctic record sharing dates with the 1st WP record in Britain, also joining auks in Huelva, despite being non breeding Razorbills.

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