The North Norfolk coast remains a real draw for birdwatchers and tends to be busy most weekends throughout the year, something which can prove a frustration to the locals upon occasion. The residents of Weynor Gardens, for example, could be forgiven for subscribing to such a view the other weekend, when large numbers of birdwatchers arrived to see the Red-flanked Bluetail that spent several days at Muckleburgh Hill. This particular site has a good track record for hosting wayward migrants in autumn and is always worth a visit if the weather conditions look favourable during late September and October. Unfortunately, parking is an issue if something rare turns up and this particular weekend was no exception. I have never enjoyed the crowds that can gather at ‘twitches’ and would have avoided making a visit to Muckleburgh Hill were it not for having a kind and understanding friend who owns one of the houses that border Kelling Heath.
Although the road was lined by cars, the crowd watching the bird was surprisingly small, in part because the bird was mobile and folk were spread over a fair area. The bird itself, a very rare but increasing vagrant from the Russian Taiga, was working the available cover, dropping down periodically from the compact trees to feed on the ground or from low exposed branches. Slightly larger than a Robin, the bluetail was a very smart little bird. Similar in general structure to a Redstart, it showed the blue tail and orange flanks which give the bird its name. This was either a female or a first winter male and so had grey-brown upperparts and lacked the dirty blue plumage of an adult male. Even so, it oozed personality as it flitted down to feed before flying back into cover. As it moved between little patches of cover, so the back of the watching crowd suddenly had front row seats and, with a well-behaved crowd, the audience were treated to a delightful performance.
Curiously though, the bluetail was almost upstaged by the presence of a Spotted Flycatcher – an exceptionally late record and presumably a migrant from further east that had also been blown across the North Sea. The 2006 Bird & Mammal report gives a record late date of 26th September, so this bird was many weeks later than would normally be expected. The quality of Muckleburgh Hill was further emphasised by the presence of a Firecrest and at least one Chiffchaff. All of these birds were duly noted in my field notebook and, once home, were entered onto the BirdTrack system (www.birdtrack.net) developed by the British Trust for Ornithology. This means that they will feed through into the Bird Atlas 2007-11 and reach the County Bird Recorder.