BIRD watchers in the North East have been enjoying an Arctic treat.
Durham Bird Club members set up a special feeding station at Durham Wildlife Trust’s Rainton Meadows base and nature reserve.
The seed mix on offer has attracted 120 redpolls.
These include lesser and mealy redpolls, and four Arctic redpolls, which are a rarity.
Arctic Redpolls are usually found breeding in countries such as Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia.
“As many as 60 mealy redpolls, which are visitors from Scandinavia, was a surprise in itself, but the real rarity was four Arctic redpolls in one area of the UK,” said Durham Bird Club member Andrew Kinghorn, who lives in Great Lumley.
“This is the first time this has happened in Durham. They are beautiful birds and are usually hard to see and find, but they are coming to us for what is a free meal.
“It is a rare opportunity to see birds sitting for prolonged periods of time at a feeding station and it is the only place in the UK at the moment partaking of such a practice,” said Andrew.
The first Arctic Redpoll record in the UK was in Durham in 1855. The first of a series of guided walks based on heritage bird records in County Durham takes place today.
The Shake a Leg walk at Fishburn, near Sedgefield, has been organised by the Birds of Durham Heritage Project.
The walk commemorates one of the most unusual occurrences in Durham ornithological history – the Fishburn Tengmalm’s Owl.
The records say: “Near Fishburn on January 10, 1981, Mr WR Lawton found the minimal remains of bird, in fact just a leg.
“The leg was small, sturdy and featured strongly hooked talons and, crucially, it also bore a ring.
“Subsequent enquiries with the Oslo Museum, Norway, revealed the leg belonged to a tiny Tengmalm’s Owl, one of the rarest birds ever recorded in Britain.”
It had been ringed as a nestling, at Greften, near Vang, Hedmark, Norway, on June 10 the previous year.
This was the fourth record of the species for Durham and the first to be recorded since October 1929.
Today’s walk signals the start of the Birds of Durham Heritage Project’s year-long round of events to celebrate the heritage of the county’s birds.
The free 3.5km walk, led by Durham Bird Club’s Keith Bowey and Paul Anderson, starts at Fishburn village green at 10.30am.
Paul, chairman of the Durham Bird Club, said: “It’s wonderful to start our programme of events with some fresh air and some extraordinary tales of birds from bygone days at Fishburn.
“This is just the start of our year’s programme of events, the full details of which will be announced soon.
“This is what heritage is all about, making the past live for the people of today, and getting some exercise into the bargain.”
The Birds of Durham Heritage Project is backed by a £30,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant.
The project partners are formulating a programme of public events, lectures and guided walks, bird heritage interpretation panels and on-line resources, all of which will tell the tale of County Durham’s bird heritage.
A new Birds of Durham book will be published in late 2011, in celebration of 60 years since the publication of the last complete overview of the county’s birdlife.