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Letter: ‘That Bird Is Indeed A Rare Black Redstart’

Published on: 7 Apr, 2021
Updated on: 7 Apr, 2021

Our Ash corresponded David Reading recently emailed us some photos he took in his garden of a bird that he was told was a rare black redstart. We forwarded the photo to our birdwatching and wildlife corresponded Malcolm Fincham for clarification, who has replied…

Just prior to April 1, when I’m always wary!, I receive an interesting email via Guildford Dragon editor Martin Giles.

As mentioned in my reports, it is always fascinating to get feedback on what readers may have seen and this was no exception!

Black redstart photographed by David Reading in his garden. Click on pictures to enlarge in a new window.

Far from claiming to be an expert, I was, however, able to confirm it was, indeed, a black redstart. “A great find!” I exclaimed in my reply. Impressed with the photos David Reading had sent, and which he agreed to allow me to show some of them here.

I have only had the opportunity of photographing less than a handful of these birds myself in Surrey and none so close as his.

Black redstarts are known to be ‘mostly’ a vagrant bird to the UK, though a few have been known to breed here.

Co-existence and adaptability is a key factor for much of our wildlife and much is the case with these birds too.

Black redstart photographed by David Reading in his garden.

Prior to the Second World War, the black redstart was an extremely rare breeding bird in the UK, but with its inclination to nest in derelict buildings meant that after the Blitz many new nest sites became available.

A friend of David’s also later confirmed his observations, correctly stating. “Black redstarts are a winter migrant. I think the one in your garden was a juvenile. Those that visit the UK usually are juveniles, which accounts for its colour.

“They used to be classified as thrushes (a lot of birds are), but they later changed that and now they’re an ‘old world flycatcher’. This one’s behaviour in your garden would bear that out. It was probably a first year migrant stopping off to feed on its journey home.”

A common redstart, a summer visitor often seen on Thursley Common. Photo by Malcolm Fincham.

Not to be confused with our summer visitors, the common redstart that prefer more rural locations to breed, these black redstarts are thought to be declining in their breeding population in the UK, although a few still breed in urban locations. Its true home, however, is in the mountains of southern Europe.

Coincidently on April 2, a first-winter male Black Redstart was reported to the Surrey Bird Club.

This one was seen at Green Lane Meadows development site in Weybourne, Farnham, a location not far from where David had seen his bird!

A theme began to emerge, as on April 5 one was seen briefly, late afternoon, at Tice’s Meadow near Farnham.

Black Redstart photographed by David Reading in his garden. Could this be the same bird that has been spotted elsewhere locally?

For me, it was too much of a coincidence for these to have been three separate “first winter” birds.

The problem when bird-watching and looking for a specific bird can be a frustrating one. Birds tend to be particularly good at flying away!

My congratulations to David having had spotted and photographed this rare delight within the Surrey boundaries.

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