Last year birdwatchers from across Northamptonshire gathered by St Peter’s Church to watch the peregrine falcon that had settled on the spire for a few months. In early February this year, binoculars were again focused on the spire, but in search of a much smaller sight – a male black redstart.
With cameras poised, Paul Burrows and Bob Bullock stood in the chill wind waiting for the bird to make an appearance.
“Sometimes they stay for a while, and might over-winter. But this is my third visit, and I’m really annoyed because each time I have left, it’s been seen, just after I left,” said Mr Bullock, a well-known naturalist, birder and photographer who had travelled from Northampton.
The black redstart is robin-sized, and black with a red tail. It is 14.5cm long, with a wingspan 23-26cm and a weight of 14-20g. The number of birds recorded from October to March was 400, miniscule in comparison to their believed doppelganger, the Robin which has a population of 6,700,000. It is rarely seen in Northamptonshire – only two or three times a year.
They are migratory, and like to perch on building sites and on high sites. These birds usually breed and live mainly in urban areas. Birdwatcher Noah Wood said: “Their numbers boomed temporarily during and after the Blitz in London because they like derelict or abandoned buildings. Most of their breeding sites are in big cities these days.”
The last sighting in Oundle was quite a few years ago. This sighting was first made by birders John Hunt and Noah Wood: “I found one about three years ago on St Peter’s Church, which caused quite a stir. This time I was talking to Dr Hunt about birds when we looked up and saw the black redstart flitting around and feeding on the church spire!” said Mr Wood.
The black redstart is on the red list of birds of conservation concern, and is also listed as a Schedule 1 species on the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
“It is a rare breeding bird in the UK. Much rarer than the peregrine. With probably only 30 or 40 pairs breeding in the whole country,” said Mr Wood.
The birdwatchers who came to see the bird heard about it through the bird networks on Twitter via #northantsbirds, and Whatsapp groups.
“It’s one of those birds that turns up in towns. There’s one near Market Harborough in a farm, which is very difficult to see,” said Mr Bullock, from Kettering.
They said the peregrine had returned at the weekend, too, and they had got some good photos. They didn’t think the peregrine would have been too interested in the black redstart.
“There are so many pigeons, this would be more of an elevenses. Peregrines tend to go far and wide to hunt, anyway, and bring things back,” Mr Burrows said. He said that St Peter’s Church in Kettering has both a nesting pigeon and some nesting peregrines on alternate sides of the spire, apparently uninterested in their neighbours.