The year 2008 got off to an exciting start in the UK with the announcement on 6th Jan that an adult White-crowned Sparrow was present in a garden in Cley, north Norfolk. The bird had been present a few days before the news was released, allowing time to organise viewing opportunities, albeit somewhat limited given the nature of the site. Hopefully, the bird will remain some time and allow more prolonged views than could reasonably be obtained on this first day.
White-crowned Sparrow is an extreme rarity in Britain, this bird being only the fourth record. The first two were both seen in May 1977, on Fair Isle and at Hornsea Mere, with the third being by Seaforth docks in Merseyside in October 1995 (and thus inevitably tainted by the likelihood of ship-assistance). In Ireland, one was present at Dursey Sound, Cork, in May 2003. The Norfolk bird is thus the first winter record of the species in Britain and Ireland. However, it is not unheard of for other Nearctic sparrows (notably White-throated Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco) to occur at this time of year.
The 6th edition of the Clements World Checklist lists five subspecies of White-crowned Sparrow. On a preliminary examination of photos taken at Cley, the appearance is not inconsistent with that of the nominate race (the most likely genuine vagrant, breeding east to Newfoundland), with a pinkish bill, grey breast and black supraloral area. However, Byers, Olsson & Curson (Buntings & Sparrows - 1995) state that the race oriantha is not always distinguishable from the nominate; oriantha breeds in W North America, mostly in the E Rockies.