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Saturday 17 October 2020

MEGA!!! EASTERN RUFOUS BUSH CHAT at Stiffkey, Norfolk! A Day In History That Will Never Be Forgotten!!!



Last One For Britain Was Forty Years Ago!
This morning my plan was to start the day at Stiffkey Campsite Wood to see some Pallas's Warblers and anything that might be lurking in there to be discovered, then I was going to Gramborough Hill and then spend the day on Blakeney Point! The alarm went off early and I bashed the sleep button a few times and then jumped in the shower. When I came out...... I had a missed call from Eddie and I could see a text on my phone and pager from RBA saying:
WHY did I bash the alarm down, why, why, why?!!! I would have been there on site! I have never got dressed and out of the house so quickly. Threw clothes on, didn't brush hair or do face, bla bla bla. Flew downstairs, threw drinks and food in car. Ran to car several times to put gear in and I was off. I can't remember what time it was, as all I knew was that I needed to get there! I don't know what time I arrived either!

I couldn't believe it when I arrived at Green Way, which leads to Stiffkey Campsite – the entire road was bumper to bumper already and that was after the car park had filled! I luckily got what looked like the last space on a grass verge, phew! When you panic, you do everything wrong, forget things and its a nightmare! I started to leave the car with camera in hand, when someone said 'its flown over the marsh and you will need a scope'. Back to car, to get scope, left car and got a few yards down the road and realised I had forgotten my bins!!! Back I go again and finally arrive at the car park area to find tons of people scoping across the marsh. This didn't feel good at all. My heart sank. I heard that the person who found this incredible bird, was from the Midlands and they were staying in Norfolk for a couple of days – he found the bird in the suaeda bushes, just by the corner of the car park!!! It then flew to the field/scrub just west of the car park and was seen by about 40 people, before if flew across the marsh after being flushed by a couple of Robins!

Apparently it had been seen to land to the right of the wooden bridge. Everyone scanned every plant and bush with their scopes. A Kingfisher was perched on the bridge. Meadow Pipits and Redwings were momentarily thought to be the bird, it was desperate! The tide was in and almost the entire marsh was covered in water. Suddenly a few people decided to walk out through the water and creeks in their wellies! I stayed put! I waited until much later for the water to recede. Eventually they found the bird out in the middle of the marsh!!! I couldn't see it from the hill by the car park. Initially I didn't walk out with the majority, as I felt strongly they would flush it back to where it was first found. After a while, I knew I needed to get out there. It felt like I was doing an East Hills walk! Jumping creeks and plastered in mud! Stupidly in my mad rush, I had my walking shoes on and the wellies were in the car! As was my breakfast, lunch and drinks. I had three Werther's sweets and that was it.

As I walked out, I decided to join the right hand crowd, this was a mistake. Long story short – you couldn't simply go and join the left hand crowd because of large creeks – which mean't you had to almost return to the edge of the marsh by the car park, to safely join the crowd to the left. The left hand crowd had far more views and closer views of the Eastern Rufous Bush Chat, but the social distancing didn't look too good, but it was good where I was standing. To be honest though, everyone is out in the fresh air, its not like we were all in an indoor space, pub, restaurant, gym etc! When I first saw the bird at 10.10am, I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing, what a show stopper!!! WOW! Such a long rusty red tail, that flicked majestically, like it was showing off! At my first viewing I didn't get a single picture. It started to rain on and off and fairly heavily for a while, which kept the bird undercover obviously. There were long gaps in between the bird showing at times. I had rung Pete S., (who lives in Weybourne) on hands free when I left my house, but I got no reply, so left a very short and to the point message. As I stood here, I received a text saying "Bollocks, just got up....." With my directions to Pete on his arrival, he had better views than me in the left hand crowd! The brilliant thing about where this bird was, that there were large creeks either side of it, so no one could edge any closer to flush the bird, which made things very civilized indeed!

I had a couple more distant views in the rain and the longer I stood here, the colder I became. I wanted the loo desperately and I hadn't eaten and drunk anything since yesterday. My head started to buzz with lack of water. I kept hanging on, in hope the bird would show better or move closer to us, but in the end I had to leave. It was about 1.30pm I think when I trudged back over the marsh. I had full intentions of coming back, but had to go the loo and had to eat and drink. Back at my car I had three flask cups of coffee in a row, something I never do and had breakfast and lunch. Changed into my cosy wellies to warm my feet up and put a fleece on under my coat. People arriving all the time and the police were monitoring everything going on. Don't park on the main road unless you are completely on a verge, as you will get a ticket, as people did today. Walked back to the middle of the marsh again and joined the left hand and only crowd. Far less people here now and four very polite policemen, who I chatted to later and showed them one of my pictures on the camera, they did seem quite interested. I'm glad I went back, as this is when I got my best pictures, well ok, not best for a 300mm lens photographing a distant bird, that was mostly camouflaged against brown vegetation, but they were good enough to see what the bird was!

The light was beautiful now, but very sadly the Eastern Rufous Bush Chat didn't look too good and kept closing its eyes. It preened a lot and looked knackered, poor thing. I hope very much it perks up and feels more sprightly in the morning. The light started to go and the bird had not showed for about 30 minutes and it was becoming increasingly colder, so I left the crowd of approximately 30ish and carefully made my way back through the mud to my car. It took me ages to sort all my wet gear out when I got home! Done my sandwiches and got everything ready to get out early doors tomorrow. We have one day left to find a Siberian Rubythroat people!!!



Eastern Rufous Bush Chat in centre of picture! The first view I had! 

Being as most Norfolk birders and others were at Stiffkey, just think about all the undiscovered rares still waiting to be found!