Seeing red !

Finding late summer migrants.

As late summer slips away into early autumn, birding really starts to get interesting again after the quieter days of July and early August. With swifts already a summer memory, other summer migrants slowly begin to move south and on the way they can turn up on all sorts of different sites. In Bucks & Oxon spotted flycatcher sightings have been numerous this year, but sadly not on my own local patch of Emmington ! Also whinchats have been a bit sparse but I did manage 2 yellow wagtails as flyovers on 22nd August with several hobbys throughout the month.

One special summer migrant I always hope to see and look out for is the redstart. Redstarts are the classic birds of mature oak woodland, they especially like the sessile oak woods in the west and north of the UK. As a summer visitor they arrive in April to breed and like the holes in trees, walls or old buildings or will readily take to nest boxes. RSBP Nagshead in the Forest of Dean is a good reserve to see them using nest boxes.

They are rather shy but given a good view they are the most striking of bird. The males are really handsome with black face and throat, white above the eye and over the forehead. The black throat leads into a chestnut orange breast and flanks. Upperparts are slate blue with browner wings. The tail and rump are a striking orange-red. The redstart name comes from the constant and rapid quivering and shimmering of the tail. Females are pale greyish- brown with the same orange tail, an almost white throat and prominent pale ringed eye, giving them an ‘open faced’ and gentile expression.

Once learnt they can be located by the males ‘huee’ call, this is constantly repeated and is rather loud and scolding. It is a bit similar to the chiffchaff/willow warbler ‘hoo-eet’ call, but I find it more sustained with a more ascending note. Redstarts can usually be found at Otmoor on the site called Long Meadow next to the M.O.D land during the last days of August and into early September. Their constant calls help to locate them but I find it best to sit back to view them with a scope as once disturbed they have a habit of disappearing into the cover. The agile flight, hovering action and often fanned red tail make them a special bird and its always a red letter day to find one.

Report by Colin Strudwick.

Male redstart photos by Sally Douglas.