The Stonechat

The Stonechat

A stonechat on the Valley Trail; photographed by Adrian Walters

January 2023

While out for an autumn or winter walk it is always worthwhile keeping an eye open for wildlife in the surrounding environment. From a personal point of view, it adds great interest and pleasure which is why I enjoy walking in the Suffolk countryside so much.

While it is true that there is less to see during the winter, particularly as plants are not in flower and insects are not on wing, there can still be a surprise in store as birds continue to look for a living. The surprise may come in the form of a large red kite or two, which are now very frequent in our area, a small flock of scolding fieldfare flying from a berried hedge, or it could be something considerably smaller and much more easily overlooked.

A recent walk along the Valley Trail revealed a less than frequent bird in our area but one that can be seen in most years. This is the stonechat, a colourful, dumpy little bird that moves from its breeding grounds of heath and wetland as the weather becomes colder, although there are areas of Suffolk from which it is entirely absent. It is slightly smaller than a robin, so a certain amount of luck is required to see one if, like me, you are not a dedicated ‘birder’ but enjoy a general appreciation of wildlife.

The stonechat has a dark brown head, rump, and tail. It also has a white ‘scarf’ around the front of the neck and the chest has a lovely warm rufous tinge. One of its characteristics is that it flicks its tail and it also like to perch where there is a good view of its surrounding. From there it may fly in a rather erratic manner to catch an insect or forage among plants. That flight reminds me of the spotted flycatcher, to which it is distantly related. It is called the stonechat on account of its call which sounds like two pebbles being struck together.

Seeing this little bird was certainly an unexpected highlight of my walk on that day and it was very obliging while I took photographs of it perched on top of a concrete fence post along the side of the Valley Trail.

Adrian Walters, Honorary Freeman of Sudbury and Clerk to the Trustees of the Sudbury Common Lands Charity