Asian visitor's debut sparks twitching tizzy

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A tiny bit of China which turned up on Tyneside put British birdwatchers in a twitching tizzy today. They flocked in their hundreds to South Shields to try to catch a glimpse of an eastern crowned warbler, a bird never seen in Britain before.

A fairly close relative of our own willow warbler and chiffchaff, Phylloscopus coronatus is a small, greenish songbird with a prominent yellow eyestripe. Its normal breeding range extends from China across much of the rest of Asia.

It has been spotted in Europe only a handful of times, in Finland, Norway, Germany and the Netherlands, but this week, one winged its way to Trow Quarry in South Shields, when birder Dougie Holden spotted it and photographed it.

Mr Holden, who works for a Sunderland engineering firm, thought at first it was another rarity, a yellow-browed warbler, and only a handful of those are seen here each year. But after he put his photos on the internet he got a call from a local expert who told him it was something rarer still.

“I couldn't believe it,” said Mr Holden, 47. “I’ve been interested in birds since I was a small boy and this is the absolute ultimate. I would have been delighted with it being a yellow-browed warbler but in the birdwatching world this is the equivalent of winning the World Cup.”

News of the sighting brought anoraked and optics-laden enthusiasts flocking to South Tyneside from all over the country.

“This is such a rare sighting for Britain and it’s causing an awful lot of excitement from twitchers,” said Richard Millington, from Birdline Information Service. “Occasions like this will happen maybe half a dozen times a year. At present, we’ve got people flying in from as far away as the Isles of Scilly.”

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