Tim Melling – Red-flanked Bluetail

Tim writes: on 28 September the weather was good for photography and I hadn’t taken a photo for a few days so I decided to head for Spurn Point on the Yorkshire Coast where I had a wonderful time. This Red-flanked Bluetail was the star bird, though it was first found by someone else. I have never managed to find one for myself in Britain, which is something that Mark Avery has on me as he found one at Spurn, no less. When I started birdwatching Red-flanked Bluetail was an almost mythical rarity with just a handful of records that few birdwatchers had seen in Britain. But about twenty years ago its status changed and it started to make regular appearances in Britain, usually in autumn, but sometimes in spring. Nowadays it occurs annually, usually with multiple records. The species breeds widely across the taiga zone of Siberia but in the 1940s it colonised Finland. This is an outlying population that has continued to expand in northern Scandinavia which probably explains the bird’s increasing frequency in Britain. The entire population winters in Indo-China but odd individuals wander the wrong way and end up in Britain for a day or two, like this young bird. It is related to birds like Robin and Wheatear, and they are in the Old World Flycatcher family. You can see that its name is a prosaic description of the bird, which has orange patches on its sides, and a blue tail.

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4 Replies to “Tim Melling – Red-flanked Bluetail”

  1. Another beautiful photo Tim thanks. If it's expanding in northern Scandinavia is this just possibly another future UK breeder?

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  2. Like Tim when I started birding this bird was mythic almost an impossible dream to see in the UK. I suppose in a sense its place in that category was taken first by Siberian Rubythroat and to an extent the baton has passed to Siberian Blue Robin. I've been very lucky and seen RFB four times in the UK and a male Siberian Rubythroat, although like Tim I've not found my own, they are rather special and not many birds show that blue or ruby red. I've also been involved in catching and ringing two Bluetails at Stora Fjäderägg a Swedish island bird observatory in the Baltic off Umea, they were the 6th and 7th for the island, very reminiscent in shape of a larger Red Breasted Flycatcher in the hand. A very special bird to lots of UK birders.
    Even more so Siberian Rubythroat!

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    1. I remember in one of his birding books Bill Oddie referring to the Siberian Rubythroat as a 'cosmic mind f*****' - in regards to being the person who first encountered it or any other species here that wasn't on the British list.

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  3. Tim - thanks. As with you and Paul this was a bird that I always wanted to see, and originally thought I never would. It's not just that it is (or was) very rare but it mixes rarity with beauty (it seemed from the illustrations in the fieldguides) and that blue tail is very special. I didn't feel remotely the same longing to see many other rare birds. I'm really glad to have stumbled across one myself, and to have realised that I had when it happened.

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