Fleeting glimpses of a shy guest bird

Fleeting glimpse. A Redwing near Flint Cottages.

Fleeting glimpse. A Redwing near Flint Cottages.

It would be helpful if every new or unusual bird we see in the area would pause in its activities and pose proudly for the camera so that we may compose a charming portrait of it, but such complicity is seldom forthcoming from the less common visitor. Sometimes we get a fleeting glimpse, or perhaps just a few seconds of a viewing, in which to fumble with the camera and point in the hope of capturing an image. Taken in a rush to ‘catch the moment’ before the bird flies off, the resulting photograph is all too often lacking in one respect or another and sometimes we can barely see the bird in question. Such failings are obvious in the picture above, but if it allows identification of the species and records its visit, then at least something has been achieved. The bird is a Redwing, seen foraging in shade just off the footpath beside Flint Cottages.

The Redwing is a common bird in northern continental Europe, Scandinavia, across the Baltic states to Russia and, theoretically, in Britain too, with about 650,000 visiting this country between October and March to enjoy our milder winters. However, for a number of reasons, it is not commonly noted in our area, other than perhaps by an observant birdwatcher with a keen eye; and this is why:

1. From a distance the Redwing looks much like one of our native thrushes, and it is in fact the smallest member of the thrush family, but it is distinguished by its orange-red flank patches and a cream-white stripe over the eye, both of which are clearly visible in the picture.

2. Redwings are more likely to be seen in northern England and Scotland where they tend to avoid gardens in preference for open fields and hedgerows where they adore the berries of the rowan and the hawthorn.

3. According to the RSPB, very few (under 20 pairs) actually stay over the summer and breed in Britain, so the best time to see them is in the winter, and we all tend to walk out in the countryside less at that time of year.

However, we now know there is at least one Redwing in our area at the moment. If you see one, congratulations, you are entitled to call yourself an “observant birdwatcher with a keen eye”. Enjoy your glimpses of it while you can; it may not stay here very long.

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