A couple of weeks ago, I visited the north-east of England to spend some time with a bit of a beauty of a bird. During October last year, there was an elongated period of easterly winds, bringing some incredible birds into the U.K. from the extremities of Siberia and Asia. Some were all too brief, like the mind-bogglingly rare Pale-legged Leaf Warbler that met its untimely demise by flying into a window before it's warm but unfortunately lifeless body was discovered on the Isles of Scilly. Others, however, arrived more safely, found the U.K. to their liking and hung around to spend the winter in our mild(ish!) climate.
One of these birds was the first of several 'Eastern' Black Redstarts to appear on our shores, in what was to be an unprecedented year for these far eastern stunners. It was found on the breakwater rocks next to a jetty in the small town on Skinningrove in Cleveland, where it proceeded to show incredibly well for the steady stream of admirers.
'Eastern' Black Redstart is not a full species, but a sub-species of Black Redstart which are relatively common winter visitors to Britain and do breed in the south-east. Our normal Black Redstart is a cracker of a bird and I had the wonderful opportunity to spend some time with one - one of the most confiding birds I've ever had the pleasure of pointing a lens at - a few years ago on the beach at Brean Cove in Somerset. It was a fearless male, often coming ludicrously close and at one point perched on my foot as I lay in the rocks!
The 'Eastern' Black Redstart of the race 'phoenicuroides' breeds in central and eastern Asia, from the Tian Shan to Mongolia and migrates to spend the winters in central India, west to north-east Africa, showing that it is a long-distance migrant.
The common pitfall with this sub-species is the possibility of confusion with Common Redstart x Black Redstart hybrids, which although I have never seen one, I am reliably told they look very similar to 'Eastern' Black Redstart.
But anyway, I digress!!
We arrived in a very grey and miserable Cleveland coast (which I'm sure is stunning with a bit of sun!) and made our way down to where the bird had been over-wintering.
It only took a matter of seconds scanning the rocks before this little gem of a bird hopped into view perching on top of the rocks, even singing away at us! We were told that it spends all of its time on a little circuit up and down the length of the jetty looking for insects harbouring in amongst the rocks, so I waited until it flew further away from us before I moved into the rocks and settled myself in to wait for it to re-appear.... hoping that it would come close enough for me to get a few images.
I needn't have worried..... sure enough, he came back and landed no more than 2 foot from me! Just like the male Black Redstart in Brean Cove, this bird was utterly fearless!
Utterly staggered by just how ridiculous this situation was, I almost missed my chance to grab some images, but thankfully I managed to break out of my stupor in time to grab a few shots.
For a while, we watched him flit around the rocks, up and down the beach, getting some of the most fabulous views of a bird I think I've ever had. We even had it down to a few feet - singing right at us!
Unfortunately it wasn't long before we had to make a dash for it as there were other bits and pieces we were going to try for while we were up in the north-east, but having had that experience with such an incredibly rare and beautiful bird made the trip very much worthwhile!