The autumn rarity season notched up a gear or two in the UK on 16th September with the astonishing news that a Tufted Puffin had been found in Kent. Watched off Oare Marshes by just seven lucky observers for 20 minutes, the bird was seen in flight and on the sea, and diagnostic photographs were taken. Unfortunately for everyone else, it then flew off west along the Swale Estuary and despite much searching was never seen again (at least not at the time of writing!) It later transpired that what was probably the same bird was seen earlier flying west past Herne Bay. The finder, Murray Wright, has described the amazing events of the day on the Kent Ornithological Society website.
Tufted Puffin is already on the Western Palearctic list on the strength of a bird in Sweden in June 1994, whilst another was reported off Greenland in summer 2009. Its true range, however, is along both Asian and American coastlines of the north Pacific, breeding as far south as California. Vagrants from the north Pacific are not entirely unprecedented in the UK, with Long-billed and Ancient Murrelets, Pacific Diver, Glaucous-winged Gull and Aleutian Tern all recorded over the years. However, the frequency of such events does seem to be on the increase, with a very plausible hypothesis linking this with the retreat of summer ice from the northern shores of Alaska and Canada, whilst this summer the "north-east passage" along the northern shores of Siberia was entirely ice-free.
Investigations in captive birds have so far revealed birds only in "Living Coasts" in Devon, and enquiries have apparently resulted in confirmation that they haven't lost any. It looks overwhelmingly likely, for the time being, that this is indeed a wild bird.
BUBO Listing has now added Tufted Puffin as a "pending" addition to authorities available for British listing purposes (BOU, Britain & Ireland, Birdwatch magazine, UK400 club), in case any of the lucky seven want to add it to their lists (or, preferably, in case it reappears over the next few days for the rest of us!) If, at a later date, any of these authorities rejects this record then it will be removed from BUBO at that stage.