HUNDREDS of people flocked to Hartlepool to see a rare bird that landed on Britain’s mainland for the first time.
The lost white-throated robin flew into the town’s Headland at 8am yesterday and sparked a massive “twitch” as bird watchers from across the country rushed to the town to take part in the unique event.
The Asian robin had only been seen twice before in the British Isles, on the Isle of Man in 1983 and then on Skomer Island, off the south west coast of Wales, in 1990 when the news was suppressed to stop an invasion of the puffin sanctuary by bird watchers.
But the information spread fast yesterday that one had reached the mainland, with the Headland Bowling Green quickly becoming the centre of the bird-watching world.
The robin was found at 8am by Chris Brown, 58, who lives over the road from the bowling green in Marine Crescent.
He caught the bird in a net as part of his voluntary work for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and put a ring on its leg so it can be identified in future.
The Tees Ringing Group (TRG) member admits he had to double check before announcing it to the world.
Chris, who works for Acorn Landscapes, said: “I have seen rare breeds but nothing like this. It is a one-off.
“They don’t breed here so this bird was lost. It’s been blown off course and ended up here. Only a handful of people had seen this bird before now in Britain and now I’ve held it in my hands.”
Chris rang his friends and the news went on a Rare Bird Alert pager message that told people across the country of the find.
About 200 people were at the site yesterday morning carrying expensive-looking equipment to view and photograph the creature.
Among them was Maurice Local, 74, who lives in the High Grange area of Billingham after moving recently from Hartlepool.
The retired ICI engineer, who is also on the Hartlepool Crime Prevention Panel, brought his granddaughter, Erin Gray Jones, eight, to see the excitement.
He said: “Hartlepool Headland is famous for rare birds coming in and this time of year is the best.
“People will be coming from all over the country to see it, from Yorkshire, Northumbria and from down south.”
People on the pager system had said they were travelling from as far as Luton and East Sussex.
Depending on how long the bird is in town, up to 5,000 people are expected to make the trip.
The RSPB’S Saltholme Nature Reserve, in Tees Road, emptied when people found out what was happening.
Kevin Irvin, a volunteer warden, said: “No -one was left because we were so excited. We had to put up a sign saying ‘reserve closed’.
“For this bird to get as far as Hartlepool is incredible. It should be in China or Mongolia.
“It must have been blown off course a few times and just followed the wind.
“This shows how good Hartlepool is for birds and rare birds in particular.”
Former Manor College of Technology student Sacha Elliott, 22, is a trainee ringer with the TRG.
She was granted the day off from her environmental conservation course at East Durham College’s Houghall campus to see the bird.
Sacha, who now lives in Fishburn after spending 12 years in Hartlepool, said: “We are basically conservationists. We like the natural world and want to preserve it.
“Birds are fascinating creatures and need protecting. By observing them and ringing them we know how many are out there.”
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