I was settling down to work on Monday morning, and idly flicked through some birding websites. My plans were disruspted by the news just breaking, that a major rarity had been discovered on the Headland in Hartlepool. People were already arranging lifts from as far away as Sussex just to see this bird… Work would have to wait – I had to see this bird!
The discoverer was a local birder, Chris Brown, who lives on the Headland – a promontory which is good for attracting migrating birds because of its position jutting into the North Sea. He saw an unusual bird on the bowling green, and as he is part of the local ringing programme, he got his equipment out to net and ring it. He first thought it might be a red-flanked bluetail, – which would in itself have been a rarity – but was surprised to find that it lacked a blue tail. Phoning for advice, someone suggested that he might have a white-throated robin – and indeed, it proved to be a female of that species. My bird book tells me that it winters in East Africa, and breeds in south-east Europe in the summer – so this bird was a thousand miles off course.
I arrived to find around a hundred birders already in the bowling green, all standing at a respectful distance. The bird was flitting around the shrubs and long grass around the edge, disappearing for a few minutes but then re-appearing, clearly visible to everyone assembled. This image, by Jim Lawrence of BirdLife International, beautifully shows the robin and how easily seen she was.
A little later I was standing next to another birder who annouced to those around, “That’s UK bird number 550 for me!”. It occurred to me that the total list of existing bird species that have ever been seen in the UK is not much larger than this number, so I said “There can’t be many other birders who’ve seen more than that!”. He replied, “No, to be quite honest, there aren’t any!”. (I didn’t say that for me it was just number 194…) Jim Lawrence, who took the photo above, has been waiting for more than twenty years to see it, since one visited the Welsh island of Skokholm for four days in 1990.