A RARE visitor to the region has been spotted perched in the reedbeds at RSPB Saltholme – the first sighting in Cleveland since 1852.

An elusive little bittern was first spotted early last week but a keen-eyed birdwatcher managed to capture an image of the bird last Thursday.

Saltholme guide Brian Glasper was the first person to witness the incredibly rare visit but it was the diligence of John Baxter that ensured to was recorded forever.

Chris Francis, senior site manager at RSPB Saltholme, said: “The extensive reedbed that has been created here at RSPB Saltholme provides ideal habitat for birds such as the little bittern.

“This is a really exciting sighting as this individual should have headed south some time ago. Most of its relatives will now be sunning themselves on route to Africa for the winter.”

Little bitterns are found across the world but over the past 40 years their numbers have been in decline throughout Europe. It is thought this is linked to loss of habitat, both in the areas they nest, and in Africa where they spend their winter.

The little bittern is described as an accidental visitor to Britain, usually being found in warmer climes throughout the year, although it is a species that is predicted to increase in the UK as a result of climate change.

Mr Francis added: “According to local records the last time a little bittern was spotted in Cleveland was on September 26, 1852. Having journeyed to Redcar, this unfortunate individual met its end when it was shot by a local. Thankfully the Saltholme bird has received a much warmer welcome.”

The bird’s secretive nature and its habit of hiding within the dense reedbed makes the little bittern a difficult bird to see.

For more information visit rspb.org.uk/saltholme