Visitors continue to flock to coast for sight of rare bird
PUBLISHED: 13:51 18 October 2020 | UPDATED: 07:55 19 October 2020
A tiny bird has once again drawn scores of birdwatchers to the north Norfolk coast, despite a police request that people stay away.
More than 100 people from across the country have gathered at the Stiffkey marshes to catch sight of a rufous bush chat, believed to be the first time the species has been seen in the UK in 40 years.
Many drove for hours through the night to get to the location, and someone even reportedly flew back to the mainland by helicopter from the Isles of Scilly, making the rest of the journey by road.
Among them was Matt Palmer, who had driven around three hours after hearing of the bird, which was first reported on Saturday.
“I’ve come from Hove,” he said. “It’s a really small bird but it’s got lots of character. There hasn’t been one in the UK in 40 years.”
Mr Palmer said a police officer had been there before 9am on Sunday.
He said: “They were quite happy, they seemed quite relaxed about it. They obviously considered we were safe enough.”
But the day before, Chief Superintendent Chris Balmer asked people to stay away lest they risk breaking coronavirus rules around social distancing.
He said: “We would ask that people do not continue to attend the location as we have had to remind many of the Covid regulations.
“People may arrive on their own but some have started to gather in groups larger than six to be able to see the bird. This is a breach of the law.”
Ch Supt Balmer said people could be fined if they broke the rules. He said: “In the first instance officers will engage, explain and encourage people to leave but enforcement is an option and we will be issuing fixed penalty notices should people not comply. We want everyone in Norfolk to remain safe and this means everyone needs to adhere to the regulations.”
The rufous bush chat - also known as the rufous bush robin or a rufous-tailed scrub robin - is about the same size as a robin and is mostly brown, with rufous - a reddish-brown colour - on its tail.
At this time of year they normally migrate from their breeding grounds in south-east Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East to spend the winter further south in Africa.
The bird in Stiffkey is believed to have made a “wrong turn” on its migration.
Another birdwatcher, John Mahon, got up at 4am to drive 3.5 hours from his home in Cheshire.
Mr Mahon was one of many who filmed and photographed the bird as it fed in shrubs next to the marshes on Sunday morning.
“It cocks its little tail,” he said. “That’s definitely a feature.”
Mr Mahon said among twitchers, a rufous bush chat was what was known as a ‘blocker’ - a species very rarely seen in the UK.
“It’s certainly drawn a lot of attention,” he said. “There’ll be a lot of people coming down today who couldn’t make it yesterday. They’re all keeping their distance form the bird and each other.”
Mr Mahon said he had heard of some dedicated birdwatchers making the journey overnight from the Isles of Scilly.
Also there were Steve and Jill McCann, who had driven from Sheffield.
Mr McCann said he had travelled even further in the past to see rare birds. He said: “You don’t always see what you’re after, but do you have to take the lows with the highs.”
Isabelle Tipple, a resident of Green Way, said she was not bothered by the influx of visitors.
She said: “It’s part of the north Norfolk coast. If you are an enthusiast it might be the biggest thrill of the year, and this year we need it!”
She said the bird sighting had made the normally quiet road much busier but “it’s not going to last long”.
She added: “It’s much better to shoot these birds with a camera then with a gun. “It does happen quite regularly down here, little birds seem to like Stiffkey.”
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