Siberian Accentor is a great little bird, I had the pleasure to see several at very close range in South Korea earlier this year, in January, in the company of Nial Moores of BirdsKorea.org. However, when I got the news that one had turned up at Easington, East Yorkshire, I cancelled my plans to visit the area for a few days of birding and decided to pay a visit to the north Norfolk coast instead. Now, I know many UK birders will think I am crazy for missing the opportunity to add this rarity to my British list but while I know many people enjoy the camaraderie of twitching, I really do not like birding in crowds and many of the other rarities in the area such as Dusky, Pallas’s & Yellow-browed Warblers are commonplace where I live in Thailand and of no real excitement to me. Instead I hoped to find an area where I could encounter migrant species that I do not get the opportunity to see in Asia and at the same time do some birding in a nice place away from huge crowds of other people. With this in mind I decided to visit Burnham Overy Staithe where a Great Grey Shrike had been seen and where I would be likely to find other birds that were exciting to me. It proved to be a successful and enjoyable visit.
Great Grey Shrike by Nick Upton
Although it is a regular passage migrant and winter visitor to UK I have only seen Great Grey Shrike once before, as I am seldom in Britain at the right time of year, so finding this bird was high on my list of priorities. I managed to make quite hard work of finding the bird, having been pointed in the right direction I actually walked past the bird, but as I was talking to some other birders it appeared in a bush on the southern side of the dunes. It spent most of its time hiding at the rear of the bush, which explained why I had struggled to spot it, and I watched it catch and eat a Blue Tit before it decided to sit atop these bare twigs.
The walk to the dunes from the village was encouraging with large numbers of shorebirds on the creek – Redshank, Grey Plover, Turnstone, Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Ringed Plover – as well as a Woodcock flying inland quickly and parties of Brent Goose, Wigeon and Shelduck. Lots of birds were in the bushes along the way but in the wind they were typically difficult to see although small numbers of Redwing showed themselves as well as several Blackbirds, Robins, Song Thrushes and a flyover flock of Mistle Thrushes. In the fields I also saw Golden Plover, Egyptian Goose, Pink-footed Goose, Meadow Pipit and Greylag Goose; some flyover Snipe, a party of 4 Rock Pipits, a few Goldcrests and 6-7 Reed Buntings completed quite a number of species before I even reached the dunes and the target of Great Grey Shrike.
Robin by Nick Upton
The next few hours turned out to be exactly what I had been hoping for with good numbers of migrants coming in from the sea and feeding within the bushes and scrub, close to Holkham Pines, protected from the wind by the dunes. Large numbers of Redwing, Blackbird, Song Thrush and Robin were in every bush with a few Stonechats being easy to spot but there were plenty of other migrants to find including 4 Blackcaps, 1 Chiffchaff, 2 “Siberian” Lesser Whitethroats, lots of Goldcrests, a nice Fieldfare perched in the open, a pair of Ring Ouzels, 1 Wheatear, another Woodcock flushed from the undergrowth and several flyover calling Crossbills. A real surprise was a Nightingale showing very well after calling from the undergrowth which I spotted moments after a Great Egret in a distant pool. A look around the pines turned up more Goldcrests and a pair of calling Willow Tits.
Next I walked through the dunes and onto the beach spending some time looking out to sea. Lots of Cormorants and Gulls were to be seen but also a nice flypast of 3 male Eider, 2 Velvet Scoters and 40+ Gannets before a Short-eared Owl came in off the sea and perched on a buoy to rest. On the beach and in the creek there were still more species to add to the impressive day list with 1 Sanderling, 3 Bar-tailed Godwits, more Brent Geese and Grey Plovers.
Brent Geese by Nick Upton
So far the day had been what I had been hoping for with many of these species being “year ticks” for me but the birding kept on delivering as I spotted a pair of Spoonbills feeding in the creek and then flushed a group of Grey Partridge where the dunes met the saltmarsh. By this time I had been out for 6 hours and was hungry so I started walking back to my car. As I was walking through fields, close to getting back, I came across more activity in the hedges where I came across a Tree Sparrow, a flock of around 20 Brambling as well as lots of Redwing and Song Thrush; a Cetti’s Warbler was the final addition to the day list!
Siberian Accentor by Nick Upton
Well, there was no Siberian Accentor for me (this one is from my South Korea tour) nor did I find any major rarities but I did enjoy a great day of birding in a scenic location and I was on my own for the most part of the time finding a good number of species that were of interest to me (Rock Pipit, Eider, Velvet Scoter, Great Grey Shrike, Pink-footed Goose, Nightingale and Fieldfare were year ticks); one of my better days of birding in UK and made the decision to get up at 4am worth it.