Finders in the field: Red-flanked Bluetail in South Gloucestershire Feb 2014

John Barnett

Red-flanked Bluetail, Marshfield, Gloucestershire, (© Jim Almond)

I live in Marshfield and spend most of my bird watching time on the local patch. Normally I go North of the village as there is high land there, and in the past we have had all three Harriers, 15 Short-eared Owls two years ago, and Quail are regular in the Summer. It's mainly known for its roost of up to 500 Corn Buntings in winter and dozens of pairs breeding in the Summer. It's wonderful area, with lots of farmland species that are rare elsewhere.

Up to yesterday the best spot was in 1989 when a Woodchat Shrike spent a Sunday afternoon by Rushmead Farm, found by another regular visitor to the patch, Martyn Hayes.

Having not been there for a week or so, I decided yesterday afternoon to walk down the Shire Valley, hoping to get Kingfisher on my patch year list, or else a Water Rail, which I'd seen on the second pond last November. The Shire is a beautiful chalk valley more reminiscent of Derbyshire than the Cotswolds. There was a chilly wind blowing down the valley, and I'd just passed the former farmhouse on my right when I heard five or six high pitched calls, rather like a Chiffchaff, but higher, I thought. I stopped to hear it again-I often find it easier to pick birds up by call rather than by sight-when a bird perched on a branch 10 metres in front of me. I had a look and thought 'Robin', but why had it only got the reddish colour on its flanks. I tried to remember if I'd seen a Robin like that before. It was also flicking its tail which,at this stage, I couldn't see properly. I thought, oh well, red-flanked, all it needs is a blue tail now, when it turned around and there was the blue tail! I nearly collapsed, my heart started racing, and I thought-it really is one! I don't take photos, but it was really obvious what it was. I raced up the hill to ring the two people I'd got the numbers of-Martyn, and Jack Willmott and then waited for them to arrive. It moved up and down a little area by the stream, feeding and then returning to a low perch and back again, flicking its tail all the time and allowing me to be quite close. Occasionally it would rest for a few minutes and then start off again.

Red-flanked Bluetail, Marshfield, Gloucestershire, (© Ben Locke)

Thankfully Martyn arrived with his camera, and the result can be seen on his 'The Birds of South Gloucestershire' website! Jack also arrived and before dusk five other people were able to get to the valley.

I was happy for the news to get out as it was on a public footpath, and as long as visitors parked on the upper lane off the main road to Tormarton, which is a rat run to the motorway, I was confident that all would be well.

I went along today at about 11 30 and found 70 more people than are normally in the valley on a sunny day in February! I was really pleased that everyone was able to get really good views without having to wait around or search. I believe that over 200 people came during the day, maybe more.

Red-flanked Bluetail, Marshfield, Gloucestershire, (© Jim Almond)

I've never felt as I did yesterday whilst bird watching-to find your own rarity on your own patch, nothing can beat it!

PS: I've no idea whether the bird I heard was the Bluetail or not: I just knew that what I heard was not a call I'd normally hear there, so whatever it was, thanks!

Red-flanked Bluetail, Marshfield, Gloucestershire(© Naturalfx)

John Barnett
04 Feb 2014


Directions and access

The bird is north of Marshfield in Shire Valley 100yds beyond houses at Shirehill Farm. Please park carefully on the road north of the valley and don't block access ST.785.770. Walk to the valley and then east on path past farm. The bird has been very obliging at times and with patience and quietness you should obtain good views.


Red-flanked Bluetail in Britain and Ireland

Red-flanked Bluetail is traditionally an autumn vagrant in Britain, this is the first record of a wintering bird. The earliest spring records both occurred on March 31st in 2007 at Easington, East Yorkshire and 2012 on Lewis, Western Isles. April has hosted just three records and May just the one.

Since 1993, when the first twitchable mainland bird was found in Dorset, there have been dozens of records, 2010 alone hosted up to 32 birds! Despite this Red-flanked Bluetail is still a species which for most birders still causes the heart to skip a beat every time one is found and for any dedicated patch worker a dream find.

Latest articles


Kazakhstan saiga population has more than doubled in last two years

A new census has revealed an increase in numbers to 334,400 within just two years, offering a glimmer of hope for a critically endangered species that has been in freefall for decades. More here >


'Giant plughole' threat to sea life in UK's largest estuary

Up to half a million fish each day will be sucked into Hinkley Point C nuclear power station if it is allowed to install a 'giant plughole' in one of the UK's heaviest protected marine areas. More here >


Rescued Curlews released to boost population

Dozens of hand-reared Curlews have been released onto reserves in Gloucestershire as part of a trial to conserve the species in lowland England. More here >


Irreplaceable Kenyan woodland saved after WLT appeal

The future for species such as Clarke's Weaver, Sokoke Scops Owl and Golden-rumped Elephant Shrew is now a little more secure following a World Land Trust appeal. More here >


Climate change to blame for displacement of 55 species in UK

A total of 55 animal species in the UK have been displaced from their natural ranges or enabled to arrive for the first time on UK shores because of climate change over the last 10 years. More here >


Be part of the world's largest butterfly survey

The Big Butterfly Count, the world's largest butterfly survey, starts today [19 Jul] and is celebrating it's 10th birthday this year. More here >