Saturday, 17 October 2020
Rufous Bush-chat in Norfolk: A myth no more
Rufous Bush-chat: to a non-birder, it’s nothing more than a little brown job (LBJ) that would warrant no particular attention. To birders in southern Europe, it is nice to see – but nothing very special. To northern European birders, a Rufous Bush-chat is an ultra-rare bird to see. For British birders, a Rufous Bush-chat is something more than very special… The last, and only, twitchable Rufous Bush-chat in the UK was a trapped adult male, was seen in the grounds of Butlin’s at Skegness from 2-9 September 1963 – and that’s over 57 years ago!!! But, for me, its rise to near-mythical levels has been, in no small part, to an article in an early issue of Birding World. Written by Ron Johns, the story takes the avid reader through those early twitching days – hearing about the bird after a lengthy delay, arranging to get from North Norfolk to Skegness, searching for the bird, eventually giving up and then hearing that the bird was actually still present days later. To add further insult to injury, the bird was trapped and ringed, with a fantastic image (by Barrie Wilkinson) of the bird in the hand, there for ever-lasting proof. There has been sniffs of near-mythical UK records of Rufous Bush-chat, but none had ever given themselves up to the masses of would-be observers. At 7.26am today, the pager (yes, they do still exist, much to the amusement of my so-called friends…) brough news of a Rufous Bush-chat in North Norfolk!! Really? Really, really? A real proper Rufous Bush-chat on a Saturday morning in the UK? Yesterday’s attire reattired and the kids’ breakfast delivered, I was on the M20 less than 20 minutes after the bird was found. The drive to Stiffkey on the north Norfolk coast was…positive: shortly after 10am I was trying to find a parking space and a few minutes after that I was greeting Mike Sidwell before heading out on to the salt marsh. A few slips and slides later I was greeting Justin Lansdell and his fellow Canary-loving crew - a few minutes after that, the Rufous Bush-chat was on show. Bins and scope views (thanks to Matthew Shore for the latter) enjoyed – Rufous Bush-chat had finally fallen! As an aside: After seeing the target bird, I popped round the corner to Holme in the hope of mopping-up a Red-flanked Bluetail (I failed in a brief stop, but was pleased to meet up with Carl and Tania Chapman – not having seen Carl in the field for a decade or two or three). In 1993 I had visited north Norfolk to see an Olive-backed Pipit, before the incredible news of the UK mainland twitchable Red-flanked Bluetail at Winspit, Dorset. Strange that 27 years later, the bluetail is now the mop-up bird with up to four available at Holme this weekend.