Coquetnaturelover off to the Cleveland coast
On a Saturday in the middle of February when it feels like spring... yet you've got to drive a hundred miles to work in Whitby, what could be better than a short detour to Skinningrove on the North Yorkshire coast to see where a rare Eastern black redstart has set up a winter territory. Well that's what happened to me last weekend and I wasn't disappointed!
In Continental Europe, black redstarts are quite a familiar garden bird however, after a period of easterly winds during the migration season last autumn, some black redstarts of a much more exotic origin appeared on the Cleveland coast! These were Eastern black redstarts, clearly distinguished by their bright orangey-red breasts and black throats. The grey head of this male bird indicates it belongs to subspecies phoenicuroides, which breeds in the Altai region of southern Russia, and neighbouring parts of central Asia including Mongolia, eastern Kazakhstan, and the western Himalayas. Another subspecies, rufiventris, is similar but with a blacker head and back and breeds in China and the eastern Himalayas. Both are widespread in India during the winter but the small coastal town of Skinningrove, with its towering cliffs and sheltered bays, is where one of the birds has remained!
|looking south towards Whitby from Skinningrove|
I thought it might be quite difficult to find this lost migrant but amazingly, this majestic bird was happily singing from a sea wall just a few metres from me. I'm not sure though if he was defending his territory from the confused local robins, or perhaps attempting to attract a mate! It's a pity I didn't take a video for you as you could see his chest pumping in and out as he sang so sweetly. This unusual visitor certainly seemed very content and incredibly tame - not at all intimidated by the numerous families enjoying a coastal walk close to where the bird was perched!
According to RSPB there are around 100 breeding pairs of European birds in Britain, mostly in urban areas of our two largest cities, London and Birmingham, although they do also occur along the south coast. These birds belong to subspecies gibralteriensis. Unlike the colourful Eastern subspecies, European males have an all-black breast. The females of both races are a dull grey colour but all redstarts have a distinctive red tail.
With spring just around the corner, it is likely that this Eastern black redstart will be leaving very soon. Sadly, it's difficult to imagine how he can find his way back to central Asia although in theory, he'd only have to fly across to Europe, or perhaps move to Birmingham in order to find a mate!
Yes, great views of a lovely little bird with a big personality
and well worth the detour!