I didn’t know a redstart from a robin a year ago, but thanks to lockdown I’ve been getting to know a pair of them that have taken residence half way up the bridleway at the back of our house. The size of robin but with longer wings and tail, and with a similarly arresting, but slightly more rusty, splash of red on their breast, the male redstart also sports a white crown, black throat and boisterous, insistent call. One might call them noisy neighbours, but I have loved having them nearby.
Indeed, I was getting so used to their chirpy presence, that when last month I spotted the redstart’s familiar rusty-red rump I had to do a triple-take before realising that this bird was similar, but unfamiliar.
A few minutes observation, followed by a search through reference books suggested I had seen a black redstart, a cousin of my common redstarts. Like the common redstarts, the black has a rusty red rump and tail, but its back and breast feathers are grey/black. Seen on the page, it is an unmistakably different bird, and a fairly rare visitor to this part of Wales.
To test the theory, I posted on a local birdwatching site. The county bird recorder confirmed that it was likely to be a transient black redstart, whose kin are usually only spotted here once each year. Big grins all round. At least until the next day seemingly every twitcher in the area started finding an excuse to take their daily lockdown exercise up our lane. Well, a few enquiring couples ventured up, binoculars in hand, only to be disappointed when merely the common redstarts were on display.
Their loss, in my book, for our little redstart couple seem to be quite uncommon in at least one respect, because as my RSPB app puts it, redstarts are supposed to be “shy birds, preferring to stay hidden in trees and shrubs.. They are often only noticed when they start to sing.”
Tell that to Mr Redstart of Cathedine. He flits from gate post to, barbed wire fence, to exposed tree branch all day long, noisily defending his territory and chatting incessantly to Ms Redstart whenever she appears, usually with a grub in her beak. The robins round here don’t get a look in. Indeed, I found a dead robin on the path nearby the redstarts’ domain, which did make me wonder if I was walking through a crime scene.
Murderers or not, I’m glad our common redstarts are making their presence felt and without their showing off I’d never have realised I’d seen a black redstart..