Bird spotted in Hartlepool area for first time in more than 160 years

A little bittern photographed at Saltholme, near Hartlepool, by watcher John Baxter.
A little bittern photographed at Saltholme, near Hartlepool, by watcher John Baxter.

A species of bird has been spotted in the Hartlepool area for the first time in more than 160 years.

The last recorded sighting of a little bittern in Cleveland was in Redcar back in 1852.

RSPB Saltholme.

RSPB Saltholme.

Now one has been identified in a reed bed at at the RSPB Saltholme reserve, on the edge of Hartlepool, twice in the past week.

The bird was first spotted by RSPB Saltholme guide Brian Clasper, last Monday.

Despite people spending long days in the hide hoping for a second sighting, the elusive bird didn’t reappear until Thursday when local bird watcher John Baxter managed to snap a couple of photos.

Chris Francis, senior site manager at RSPB Saltholme, said: “The extensive reed bed that has been created here at RSPB Saltholme provides ideal habitat for birds such as the little bittern.

Saltholme's Chris Francis.

Saltholme's Chris Francis.

"This is a really exciting sighting as this individual should have headed south some time ago. Most of its relatives will now be sunning themselves on route to Africa for the winter.”

Little bitterns are found across the world although over the past 40 years their numbers have been in decline throughout Europe.

It is thought this is linked to loss of habitat, both in the areas they nest and in Africa, where they spend their winter.

The little bittern is described as an accidental visitor to Britain, usually being found in warmer climes throughout the year, although it is a species that is predicted to increase in the UK as a result of climate change.

Chris added: “According to local records the last time a little bittern was spotted in Cleveland was on September 26, 1852.

"Having journeyed to Redcar, this unfortunate individual met its end when it was shot by a local. Thankfully the Saltholme bird has received a much warmer welcome.”