A rufous bush chat was spotted on Saturday at a salt marsh in Stiffkey, north Norfolk, prompting hundreds of birdwatchers to since flock to the area. The rufous bush chat, also referred to as the rufous warbler and rufous bush robin, is native to southern Spain, Africa and the Balkans and is partially migratory, wintering in Africa and India. It is rarely spotted in northern Europe, with its presence on British shores stirring up much excitement among the birding community.
Dick Filby, of Rare Bird Alert, explained that the bird would have been “heading for a tropical climate and went the wrong way” and that, since “they are meant to winter south of the Sahara (…) it is likely that this one may have taken a wrong direction”.
The last time the bird was sighted in Britain was in 1980 at Prawle Point in Devon. In 1998, a rufous bush chat was spotted in Jersey, which is part of the British Isles but not classed as part of Britain.
Larger than the European robin with a long, frequently fanned tail with black and white tips, it has pale brown feathers, a prominent whitish supercilium and a dark eye-stripe. Its call is a thrush-like trill described as having a sad tone. It prefers dry open country with bushes and shrubs and builds its nest a few feet off the ground in bushes, tree stumps or other inconspicuous locations. Its diet comprises insects such as beetles and grasshoppers, butterfly and moth larvae, and earthworms.
Unfortunately, the large groups that have been gathering to catch a glimpse of the bird have been in conflict with Covid 19 rules and local police have called on the birdwatchers to abide by social distancing regulations, stating that they would issue fines to those who do not comply.
With crowds continuing to congregate, Chief Superintendent Chris Balmer 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 people to be able to see the bird. This is a breach of the law”.
Unusual sightings of migratory birds seem to becoming more common, a possible consequence of the changing winds caused by climate change.