Birdwatchers descend as rare Asian species spotted in Hartlepool

Birdwatchers gather to see a red-flanked bluetail bird on Hartlepool's Headland.
Birdwatchers gather to see a red-flanked bluetail bird on Hartlepool's Headland.

Birdwatchers have been flocking to Hartlepool after a rare species was spotted.

The first sightings of a red-flanked bluetail on the town’s Headland were mentioned online on Sunday.

The red-flanked bluetail bird which was seen on Hartlepool's Headlane on Sunday, October 9, and Monday, October 10, 2016.

The red-flanked bluetail bird which was seen on Hartlepool's Headlane on Sunday, October 9, and Monday, October 10, 2016.

The bird is usually found in northern Asia and north eastern Europe, from Finland, across Siberia and in the south of Japan.

Word spread after news of the sighting was published on Teesmouth Bird Club website.

Almost 40 birdwatchers came down to catch a glimpse of the robin-sized bird.

It became trapped in a private garden close to the Headland seafront before being brought out and released.

Colin Dodsworth, 46, of Billingham, was one of those who was there to see the bird.

“There’s a lot of people here on Monday but there were probably about 40 on Sunday.

“Someone actually reported it as a more common species but it is the one we thought it is.

“It’s only the third one that’s been seen in Cleveland.

“It’s a bird that birdwatchers want to find and people will be particularly pleased it’s in Hartlepool.”

Another twitcher Ken Smith, from Stockton, said: “I’ve been bird watching for nearly 60 years and have never seen one here.

“In recent years it has extended further west but it’s still uncommon to see one here.

“The nearest place you would’ve been likely to see it 50 years ago would’ve been Finland.

“I’ve seen one in Japan as it migrates through there and China.”

The animal is a small passerine bird that was formerly classed as a member of the thrush family Turdidae, but is now more generally considered to be an Old World flycatcher, Muscicapidae.

It, and related species, are often called chats.

It is thought that the breeding range of the red flanked bluetail is slowly expanding westwards through Finland (where up to 500 pairs now breeding), and it is a rare but increasing vagrant to western Europe, mainly to Britain.

There have also been a few records in westernmost North America, mostly in western Alaska.

The adult male additionally has dark blue upperparts, while females and immature males are plain brown above apart from the blue rump and tail, and have a dusky breast.

In behaviour, it is similar to a common redstart, frequently flicking its tail in the same manner, and regularly flying from a perch to catch insects in the air or on the ground.