Runswick Bay rare bird sighting

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Runswick Bay is popular with tourists who are drawn to the area’s peace and quiet, but a local twitcher says he has spotted a visitor never before seen on our coastline.

Sleights resident David Watkins has been birdwatching his entire life and said that on Saturday 4 February he saw a cirl bunting, a small bird normally only found on the coast of south Devon.

Bird Spotters'David and Doreen Watkins who spotted a rare bird in Runswick Bay.'Picture by Neil Silk  w120803'20/02/12

Bird Spotters'David and Doreen Watkins who spotted a rare bird in Runswick Bay.'Picture by Neil Silk w120803'20/02/12

He spotted the bird at the Runswick Bay car park, with his wife Doreen, and said: “It was so surprising to me, they’re not supposed to be around this area.

“I’ve never seen one before but it was definitely this bird, with all its colourings and markings - very much like a yellowhammer but with a black cap.

“It was so colourful, I got a right good look at it.”

After spotting the bird he double-checked in an ornithology book and said that the cirl bunting entry was “as if I had taken the picture”.

In the UK the cirl bunting is at the limit of its European range and is primarily confined to the Devonshire coast.

There are just 862 breeding pairs recorded in Britain, but Chris Collett from the RSPB said that one appearing on the Yorkshire coast was not “beyond the realms of possibility”.

He added: “Occasionally birds do creep up in unlikely places, but there’s no way it would have come from the south west.

“If he’s seen one it’s probably a migrant bird.

“Because they’re very poor fliers, if it’s a migrant from Europe it’s probably come across ‘ship-assisted’, meaning it hitched a lift on a boat.

“It’s very unusual but not completely unheard of.”

Mr Watkins said that unfortunately he was not able to catch a picture, but that he has been spotting birds for many years and is therefore very confident he has correctly identified the cirl bunting.

“I’ve always been interested in birds,” he said.

“I used to travel around in my job in the Highlands and Shetlands on gas and oil installations, and I saw a lot of species.

“We’ve had everything you can imagine and I know them all.

“You name it, we’ve had it, but that was so colourful, it was really surprising.”

Mr Watkins added that the bird would have been attracted to Runswick Bay for the same reasons that he was there with his wife, which are also the same reasons he enjoys birdwatching so much.

He said: “We regularly go down Harwood Dale and Runswick Bay is a good spot too because the birds only come where it’s peaceful and quiet.

“It’s just nice to sit there quietly and watch.”

The cirl bunting is around 15cm in length with a thick seed-eater’s bill.

The male has a bright yellow head, with a black crown, eye stripe and throat, a greenish breast band across its otherwise yellow underparts, and a heavily streaked brown back.

The female is much more like the Yellowhammer, but has a streaked grey-brown rump and chestnut shoulders.

If you think you’ve seen one of these birds, or any other rare species, try to snap a picture and let us know by calling the office on (01947) 829910, email or mention me on Twitter using @karlhansell.