The man who had twitchers all atwitter

Chris Brown
Chris Brown

IT was a quiet, sunny morning when Chris Brown went out with his mist net to record birds coming and going on Hartlepool’s Headland.

But Tuesday, June 7, turned out to be a historic day for both Chris and the town.

The white-throated robin that he held in his hands to ring was a world first – the first recorded animal of its kind to land on mainland Britain.

It should have been basking in the heat in Turkey but instead was pottering confusedly around a bowling green after being blown in off the North Sea.

Chris, 58, who lives near the green in Marine Crescent, on the Headland, said: “At first I thought it was a red-flanked blue tail but I got a friend to identify it and we both realised what it was. We knew straight away what was going to happen and I went round residents’ houses warning them what was coming.

“It was an incredible few days. I got to meet a lot of people and it was great for the area.”

But even Chris was amazed by some lengths people went to after reading the news on a Rare Bird Alert pager message.

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. So this was the first “twitchable” sighting.

Chris said: “I know someone who spent £600 on a taxi to get here and another person who came from Cornwall twice and missed it each time and had to go back.

“I thought they were crazy but it shows how important this was to people.”

Chris is part of the Tees Ringing Group, which has around 20 members that catch and record the flying wildlife across the area.

They pass that information on to the British Trust for Ornithology who use it to see the health and movements of bird populations.

And the group was given a big boost by the robin as £1,500 was dropped into donation buckets by robin watchers. The money will go towards funding their conservation work.

Chris, who works for Acorn Landscapes, says the crazy few days last month were an enjoyable rarity but not the reason why he rings.

He said: “My carbon footprint is huge after all these people travelled hundreds of miles to get here. It was unbelievable.

“But that’s not what we are about. I like to catch rare birds but we are out almost every day recording all kinds of birds.

“It’s an important job because the health of birds say a lot about the health of the country, and there are some species in decline.

“Hopefully it will help raise awareness about what we do and how important nature is to our own lives.

“I only really got into this when I was in my 20s. I worked for British Steel and we had flexi-time. We were in Redcar and it was great for birds and a couple of the people I knew were bird watchers. I had always been into wildlife after visiting my uncle’s farm as a child at Boroughbridge so it just seemed like the thing to do.”

Chris, who is also a voluntary hide guide at the RSPB’s Saltholme site, in Tees Road, added: “Hartlepool has become an internationally well known place for wildlife, especially migrating waders. We have marshes, coasts, woodland, there’s a lot going on.

“I live on the Headland because of the nature, and I think it is a beautiful place. I think sometimes people forget how nice it is round here and how much is going on.”