Photo credit: Tim White. Isabelline Wheatear
Photo credit: Tim White

Late last year, a very rare bird to the UK turned up at Colyford Common, part of Seaton Wetlands. For only the second time in recorded history, the isabelline wheatear has been seen in Devon. The first time it was ever seen on mainland Britain was on Lundy Island in October 2019 for a single day.

The isabelline wheatear is a thrush-sized bird, closely related to the northern wheatears which can be seen on Seaton Wetlands every spring and autumn. However, this wheatear should be on mountainous slopes between Turkey and the Gobi Desert, so it was a long way off course.

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 14th 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. When the reserve car park became full, some people parked on the roadside at the entrance to Colyford Common at Popes Lane. Unfortunately, this caused some obstruction and East Devon District Council’s countryside team put out signage asking people not to park there and suggested alternatives, as well as requesting it through social media. Overall, the facilities of the nature reserve stood up well to the pressure and excellent views were enjoyed by those who made the journey without the wider nature reserve feeling crowded or busy.