Birders' delight at rare owl spotted in Sunderland - the first North East sighting in 100 years

Picture by Steve Evans of Durham Bird Club
Picture by Steve Evans of Durham Bird Club

Bird enthusiasts have been flocking to Sunderland after a rare owl was spotted on the coast.

The scops owl, which measures only eight inches tall, has never been seen in the area before - and is the first sighting record on the North East coast for one hundred years.

Picture by Steve Evans of Durham Bird Club

Picture by Steve Evans of Durham Bird Club

Steve Evans from Durham Bird Club said: "How this one has come to cross the North Sea is a mystery - especially as it should be going the opposite direction."

He added: "The last time it was seen in the UK was a decade ago. This is the first record on whole of the North East coast for a hundred years.

"Of the last ten sightings, six have been on inaccessible islands like Orkney, Shetland & Scillies - this was a very good opportunity for birdwatchers to study a seldom seen species."

The owl was first spotted by school teacher Tom Middleton in small rough valley on the seaward edge of Ryhope village.

Picture by Steve Evans of Durham Bird Club

Picture by Steve Evans of Durham Bird Club

Mr Evans said: "News broke via Durham Bird Club's social media and national grapevines, with twitchers travelling straight away from as far afield as Sussex, Kent and Fife.

"At least 1,000 people visited to view the bird which spent its first day happily roosting in an elderberry bush."

Mr Evans said birdwatchers had a spectacular chance to observe the owl when wet weather on Wednesday night meant it could not continue its migration.

"This gave more visitors the chance the rare opportunity to connect with the bird on a second day. One twitcher even left the Shetland Islands to make the long journey down to Ryhope in hope of securing a sighting," he said.

Picture by Steve Evans of Durham Bird Club

Picture by Steve Evans of Durham Bird Club

"The scops owl is unusual in that it is a summer-visiting owl to southern Europe, migrating back over the Mediterranean to winter in sub-Saharan Africa."

Mr Evans said many people from the area had joined the visiting bird enthusiasts to see the owl, and were delighted to see what they described as a "canny" "cute" and "tidgey" creature.

"The bird has been a positive experience for local & visitors alike," he said.

"The Sunderland south area is well known for its varied birdlife with all five British owls seen on an annual basis. This addition makes it a very welcome number six.

Picture by Steve Evans of Durham Bird Club

Picture by Steve Evans of Durham Bird Club

"We hope it redirects it course and continues its long journey down to central Africa."

The Durham Bird Club is a registered charity which encourages the study and conservation of wild birds in the old vice-county of Durham between the Tyne & Tees.

Visit www.durhambirdclub.org for more information.