Rare and tiny visitor gathers many birdwatchers

Rob Hoare

Over the past couple of weeks there have been many people with binoculars and cameras gathered around the lane into Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s Attenborough Nature Reserve. But what have a few bushes got that the 145 hectares of nature reserve hasn’t?

Weighing around the same as a 10p coin, the Firecrest holds joint position with its relative the Goldcrest for the smallest bird in Europe. To the untrained eye they may look similar, but there are a few distinguishing features that set them apart. The black eye stripe and white markings above the eye are only present in the Firecrest, but the most notable difference is their bright orange crown.

They rarely stay still, so look out for the flash of orange that can be seen darting through branches whilst they catch insects and spiders to eat. Firecrests are undeniably a charming bird to watch but why is this one in Nottinghamshire attracting so much attention?

Firecrests are much rarer than the Goldcrest and don’t often visit this area of the country, with only 15 records at Attenborough Nature Reserve since 1974. In the past Firecrests were simply passage migrants, meaning they would only stop in the UK during their spring and autumn migration, a sort of pit stop if you like on their way to the warmth of Southern Europe and North-west Africa. This bird travels from Eastern Europe and despite its small size crosses the blustery North Sea before taking a well-earned break in the UK. However, in 1962 the first record of them breeding in the UK was made in the south of the country. Although they haven’t stayed in Nottinghamshire to breed, chances are this fiery visitor could well be spending the winter with us. The last Firecrest at the reserve was in 2016 and is thought to have stayed in the area throughout the colder months.

It seems that this particular Firecrest has chosen the bushes along Barton Lane for its winter stay, if you want to catch a glimpse yourself, head to Attenborough Nature Reserve and keep an eye out along Barton Lane, just before the level crossing. If the bird is nearby there are likely to be at least a few people waiting to see it too, but as any birdwatcher will tell you – prepare to be patient and it’ll be well worth the wait.

For more information about Firecrests and Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves visit the respective pages via the links.