As well as the three familiar thrushes that are with us all year round on Teesside – Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Blackbird – there are three others which are only ever here for part of the year. One of those, the Ring Ouzel, is a scarce summer visitor which breeds in small numbers in the uplands, and can be seen on migration in spring and autumn in places like South Gare.
The other two species, Redwing and Fieldfare, come to us in the winter and can sometimes be seen in quite large flocks, often with both species together.
The Redwing is the smallest thrush that regularly comes to Britain. A bit smaller than a Song Thrush, it looks superficially similar to that species – brownish back, white underparts with dark spots merging into streaks. However, Redwings are darker looking in general with an orangey-red patch on the side and under the wing and with a more strongly patterned face.
Fieldfares are much larger – almost the size of a Mistle Thrush but more colourful than that species, with patches of grey, orange, black, dark brown and white. They are very noisy birds with a loud chattering call which is usually the first thing to give away their presence.
Numbers of both vary from year to year as roving flocks come from their northern breeding grounds, often feeding on berries in hedges, but also sometimes gathering with other thrushes in large mixed flocks on grassy fields. So far this winter I have been seeing small groups of Redwings regularly in roadside hedges across Teesside but have only seen Fieldfares on one day – a couple of Saturdays ago when I ventured across to the North Tees Marshes and Fieldfares seemed to be everywhere (see this blog-post I wrote about the day http://northormesbynaturalist.blogspot.com/2021/02/saltholme-greatham-creek-bellingham.html).
My earliest memories of both these species are worth telling I think. My first Redwing sighting was also one of the first times I identified a bird for myself, unaided by an adult. I was already mad-keen on birds, at the age of about 9 or 10, and my mum called me across to the window of our house in Liverpool to look at something in the garden. She was puzzled because she’d never noticed before that thrushes had an orange patch on the side. I was really excited because I knew straight away what they were from having spent hours leafing through my bird books (which, if I’m honest was the form that most of my ‘birdwatching took at that point in my life).
I was a bit older by the time I saw my first Fieldfares – a small flock on the grass in Calderstones Park in Liverpool. I got my dad to phone the local ‘bird celebrity’ – a man called Eric Hardy who did a weekly bird feature on Radio Merseyside – and tell him. Disappointingly, he didn’t believe us and said they would have been Mistle Thrushes (they weren’t though). Thankfully, I was already completely hooked on birding so I didn’t let one man’s dismissive attitude put me off.
For more of Colin’s Ramblings, visit northormesbynaturalist.blogspot.com
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