20 October, 1993

The Güldenstädt's Redstart in Finland

Male Güldenstädt's Redstart (Phoenicurus erythrogaster).
Kalvola, Häme. Finland. October 1993

At Kalvola, Finland, Monday 11th October 1993 was cloudy and grey. Ari Lehtinen - undoubtedly the most active birder in the southern part of this province of Häme - had just started his lunch hour and was walking towards the can­teen at his work-place (without his binoculars, of course) when he noticed a strange bird per­ched on a telegraph pole. It was small with a rusty-red breast, but what was it?
His first thought was that it was some exotic kind of thrush, but then the bird flew showing its black-and-white wings. He followed the stranger and soon managed to approach it down to a distance of just four metres. It was not a shrike, as the wings had suggested for a moment, nor a thrush. And then it shuddered its tail: it was a redstart, but a big one!

Ari vaguely remembered the name 'Güldenstädt's Redstart'. Could this be it? This was not a Common Redstart, nor a Black Red­start... and Moussier's Redstart has a white band in its head... so this must be the Güldenstädt's!

Not surprisingly, Ari missed his lunch that Monday. He rushed into his office, phoned out the news and negotiated with the managers of Hackman Iittala Ltd to allow birders access to the industrial area where the bird had settled. Everything went very smoothly and the first birders arrived within 15 minutes. By the end of the first day, about 350 people had seen the bird, and over the next week or so the total of visiting birders was at least 700.
The bird kept to an area only about 200m across. Sometimes it disappeared inside bushes for half an hour or so, but it was generally very visible. It spent most of its time dropping onto insects on the ground from bushes, walls and roof tops, and it also took the berries of Red-­berried Elder (Sambucus racemosa) and Japanese Barberry (Berber thunbergii).

The male Güldenstädt's Redstart (Phoenicurus erythrogaster) is really an unmistakeable bird and the accompanying photograph shows the main features well. The bird was caught and ringed on 14th October. Its plumage was in very good condition and there were no signs of captivity. The age of the bird is still uncertain, but it is thought that it may have been a first-winter.
There are two races of Güldenstädt's Red­start, the nominate erythrogaster which breeds in the Western Palearctic in the Caucasus, and grandis, which breeds in central Asia and Trans­baikalia. Compared to the nominate race, grandis has more extensive white on the bases of the primaries (forming a bar c.10-15 mm wide, whilst the nominate race has a bar just c.5 mm wide) and this indicates that the Kalvola bird was of the race grandis.

Little is known about range changes or popu­lation trends, but the species is thought to be mainly a short-distance migrant, although some birds disperse further. It has, for example, straggled to northern Saudi Arabia, whilst the birds seen on the north China plain in winter are believed to come from the Transbaikalia population. According to BWP, in Europe outside the former USSR, Güldenstädt's Red­start has been seen only in Bulgaria. There is one record of an escaped male in Britain (at Burnley, Lancashire, in December 1971).

Güldenstädt's Redstarts breed up to the permanent snowline at c.5000m, so it is quite tolerant of severe weather, but the bird disap­peared after the morning of 20th October, when the temperature was already as low as -6°C. Many birders had seen a sparrowhawk hunting in the redstart's favoured area, however.