Rare Gobi Desert bird spotted in Devon for second time in history

260123 rare bird isabelline wheatear Tim White
The isabelline wheatear is a thrush-sized bird, closely related to the northern wheatears Credit: Tim White

A rare bird native to arid deserts and mountainous regions has been spotted in east Devon.

The isabelline wheatear was sighted on Colyford Common, part of Seaton Wetlands, for the second time in recorded history.

The first time it was ever seen on mainland Britain was on Lundy Island in October 2019 for a single day.

The isabelline wheatear usually lives on the "mountainous slopes between Turkey and the Gobi Desert".

It is a thrush-sized bird and closely related to the northern wheatears which can be seen on the wetlands every spring and autumn.

There have been just 55 recorded sightings of the bird in the UK since 1887.

The isabelline wheatear should be on mountainous slopes between Turkey and the Gobi Desert Credit: Tim White

Cllr Geoff Jung, East Devon District Council’s portfolio holder for coast, countryside and environment, said: "When the identification was confirmed, it caused something of a stir amongst bird watchers to say the least!

"The bird showed for several days and on New Year’s Day it was seen again on the nature reserve, seemingly oblivious to the bird watchers and photographers who flocked to catch a glimpse of this rarity.

"It was often seen darting from posts to the boardwalk running through the site, and was seemingly feeding well despite the cold and wet weather of early January.

"Being seen constantly up until Saturday 14 January, this was the first ever isabeline wheatear to 'overwinter' in Britain.

The scarcity of this bird appearing in the British Isles, let alone Devon, meant that a lot of people travelled to see the bird.

The district council said it had to direct people to park elsewhere with signage and on social media, but its facilities "stood up well to the pressure.”

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