You wait for ages – and then...

First published in Comment

DURHAM Wildlife Trust’s Rainton Meadows nature reserve has had an exceptional winter for birds, with bitterns and arctic redpolls being the stars. And it looks like the spring is going to be just as good.

Normally, you can wait a long time for something out of the ordinary to appear, but at Rainton unusual birds are like the proverbial bus – you wait ages and then two come at once.

In our case, it wasn’t at once but a week or so apart – however, I think that still counts in this case.

The first new species was a blue-headed wagtail, and no, I hadn’t heard of it either.

The blue-headed wagtail is a subspecies of the yellow wagtail, which I had heard of. The blue-headed version is usually found either overwintering in sub-Saharan Africa or on route to breeding grounds that stretch from France to Scandinavia.

The second unusual visitor was Temminck’s stint, and we had three of these long distance travellers dropping in. Temminck’s stint is one of the darlings of the wildlife documentary film-maker, so you may well have seen it on TV. It performs a very unusual hovering flight when displaying, making it a natural for the screen, and it has the added bonus of being very rare in this country.

A handful of these birds breed in Scotland, but their natural homes are breeding sites in the marshes of Arctic regions of Europe and Asia and tropical winter retreats in Africa and Asia. A few birds are seen in Britain each year as they pass through on migration.

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