Police warning as rare bird spotted ‘for first time in UK since 1990s’ on Norfolk coast

A Rufous Bush Chat bird spotted in Stiffkey, Norfolk Picture: Simon King/Twitter @UKTwitcher

A Rufous Bush Chat bird spotted in Stiffkey, Norfolk Picture: Simon King/Twitter @UKTwitcher - Credit: Archant

A bird called a rufous bush chat has been spotted on the north Norfolk coast, in what is believed to be the first sighting of the species in the British Isles since the 1990s.

The sighting has drawn scores of birdwatchers to the area, but police have asked people to stay away after concerns over breaches of coronavirus regulations.

The bird, also known as the rufous bush robin or a rufous-tailed scrub robin, was on the marshes at Stiffkey, near Wells, on Saturday morning.

Dick Filby, from Cringleford, who runs an information service called Rare Bird Alert, said it was only the ninth recorded sighting of such a bird in Britain and Ireland.

Mr Filby, who is in his 60s, said the bird likely took a “wrong turn” to end up in Norfolk.

He said: “At this time of year many birds across the Northern Hemisphere are migrating south.

“Insect-eating birds need to go somewhere they can find food for the winter, so they put on huge amounts of body fat up to double their weight, which they can use as an energy source to migrate.

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“This one should have been travelling to tropical climes from south-west Europe, but ended up in Norfolk.”

Rufous bush chats feed mostly on insects caught on the ground.

Mr Filby said there was a sighting in the 1990s, but one of the most famous sightings of the species in Britain was at Butlin’s holiday camp in Skegness in 1963.

He said: “It spent eight days there, and people learned about it by postcard. Then people who received the postcards went and saw it - that was how things worked then.

“These days news travels far and wide in seconds flat.

“Many people have gone to see it because this is the first opportunity to see one in the UK, realistically since the 1960s.”

But Mr Filby said the rufous bush chat was separated from onlookers by one of the deep channels on the marsh.

But police said there were more than 100 birdwatchers at the site when they visited on Saturday morning, with some not social distancing and blocking roads in order to view the bird.

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 to be able to see the bird.

“This is a breach of the law.

“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.”

Mr Filby said sightings of some migratory birds seemed to be getting more common.

He said: “With these easterly winds we’ve been getting a lot of unusual sightings of birds that have come quite a long way.

“There has been sigtings of the red-flanked bluetail. They used to be exceptionally rare in the UK as recently as the 1990s, but this season we’ve had several in Norfolk, so the times, they are a-changing.”