The Redstart is a member of the chat family, perhaps the most attractive family of British birds. These include the Stonechat, the Whinchat, the Wheatear, the much scarcer Black Redstart, the rare vagrant the Bluethroat, and any others? Oh yes, the everyday Robin. Even the largest, least colourful English member of the chat family, the Nightingale has its own outstanding qualities, but this isn't the place to go into those. The Redstart is probably the most colourful member of the whole family with its bright orange underparts, its blue-grey back, black throat and white forehead. The Redstart gets its name from its most eye-catching habit of moving its orangish-red tail in a sort of shivering motion. 'Start' is a remnant of the old English word for tail.
The distribution maps for Redstarts show that the birds are most likely to be found in the west and north of Britain. One would therefore expect that the only Redstarts seen in East Yorkshire were those on the coast at migration times, perhaps a handful in the spring, and a greater number heading south in the Autumn. They are well known as breeders around the Strid near Bolton Abbey, and can be found in several other woods in both north and West Yorkshire. When I was at Bishop Burton college I learned that they had bred in an open-fronted bird box in the woodland there in around 1996, but this seems to have been an isolated event. However, shortly after passing my driving test I visited a nature reserve and nearby historic site in the Yorkshire wolds, and came across some male Redstarts in breeding plumage. Since then I have discovered a thin population of Redstarts in many of the valleys in the wolds. The birds seem particularly attracted to nesting in cracks in Ash trees on the wolds. It seems strange that a relatively small yet significant when added together breeding population of such a bright bird as the Redstart has been virtually under the radar for centuries.
At least 2 days next term we will be travelling to the wolds to see if we can locate these bright, but quite unobtrusive birds. The female is a lot less colourful than the male, but she still has the habit of shivering her tail. Whether we obtain any decent photos remains to be seen, but if not we should see some moulting individuals on the coast during the autumn sessions.
Autumnal Redstart in Moult