Rare bird sparks Norfolk spotter scrum

Cley has been a key international destination for birdwatchers for decades - but for its acclaimed coastal nature reserve and not a domestic back garden half a mile inland.

Cley has been a key international destination for birdwatchers for decades - but for its acclaimed coastal nature reserve and not a domestic back garden half a mile inland.

That changed yesterday with the news that a very rare bird, believed to have been seen in Britain only three times before and never in East Anglia, had taken up residence in the garden belonging to Richard and Sue Bending.

The only previously recorded sightings of the white crowned sparrow have been twice in 1977 at Fair Isle off the north west tip of Scotland and Hornsea Mere in Yorkshire, once in 1995 at Seaforth in Merseyside and once in Ireland in 2003 in Cork.

Several hundred birdwatchers and twitchers have paid a visit to Cley in the last two days to spot the North American visitor, which has a striking black-and-white striped head.

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Theories for its presence included being blown off course courtesy of a North Atlantic depression, losing its way because of a defective 'radar' or hitching an accidental ride in the hold of a ship.

But whatever the reason for its visit, no one would have known about the presence of the bird if it had not been for the efforts of the Bendings.

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“We first saw what we thought must be a rather unusual bird feeding in our garden on Thursday,” said Mr Bending.

“We borrowed a book from the library on Friday and it was then that we realised it could be a white crowned sparrow.

“Because we are very much amateurs when it comes to birds we consulted some friends locally who know much more about it.

“On Friday afternoon they came round and agreed it could well be the white crowned sparrow, but it was getting dark so they came back on Saturday morning and it was then that we got to the point of being sure.”

The problem with releasing the information publicly was that the bird could only be seen from the Bendings' cottage, so along with their bird-expert friends, they came up with a plan.

“We felt it would be nice to share this with other people, so we shifted the bird feeders around in the hope we could get the bird to feed where it could be seen from the road,” said Mrs Bending.

“We didn't know if it would work but it didn't take long and on Sunday lunchtime the news was released and people started arriving pretty quickly.

“Most of the time there are 50 to 100 people out there and they move on and are replaced with more people.

“Hundreds of people will see it now, although we can't see it from the house any more!”

Swaffham birdwatcher and the man behind the website www.blueskybirds.co.uk Peter Simpson went to see the sparrow on Sunday.

He said: “People will have travelled significant distances to see this bird. It is a superb bird and I would rate it nine out of 10 for its rarity here.

“What the people who own the garden did was very helpful indeed and means a lot more people have been able to see it.

“It's very hard to know how long it will stay where it is. It could be there for a few weeks because it has found food and shelter and is happy in the company of a little flock of finches, or it could go any time.”

Birdwatchers have been asked to donate to a collection bucket in aid of the church after seeing the bird.

cOMMENT - Page 20

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