So it was that at 4.25am the gentle tinkling of my alarm roused me from a well-deserved slumber and a short while later I hit the road. Yes, the road - I had to drive. Bradders' recent move to rural Colchester has selfishly made birding trips to the South of England less practical for picking me up, so I had to drive to the Brecks myself and get in his car there. Pffff. The new Braddersmobile - or rather the new MrsBraddersmobile - has heated seats and a fluffy Snow Tiger, so I felt quite at home for the short trip up to the coast. Arriving at Holkham we bit the bullet and donated some hard-earned cash to the ex-Earl of Leicester's slush fund, but secured the prime "mega-alert" parking spot at the very top of Lady Anne's Drive. Birders were already arriving so after a quick coffee and a Barn Owl we trotted east towards the drinking pool for what we would hoped would be the first of the day's special birds, a Red-flanked Bluetail found the previous day.
We were the first there, and took up positions either side of the pool. Penny C, a local Norfolk birder had it first though, having been there the day before she knew exactly where it liked. Good views were obtained in the gloom over the next thirty minutes, with minimal people. Gradually a procession of birders began to pick their way through the woods towards the pool, so it was time to leave for the next treat, a Blyth's Reed Warbler at the Wells end. When we hit the main path the extent of the green-clad activity began to become apparent - birders everywhere, all with the same idea as us - come to Norfolk to fill their boots. And who can blame them really? The Blyth's gave itself up pretty easily all things considered, helpfully takking to let you know where it was in the brambles, occasionally popping into view whilst picking off insect delicacies. This was a much-wanted new bird, having somehow not coincided with one over many visits to Shetland, nor of course the bird 200 yards from my house....
Next stop a Hume's Warbler on the way to the another Bluetail, which decided at the moment we were passing the general area to start calling its head off. A quick diversion into the wood and we were looking up at it at almost point-blank range within about ten seconds. Twitching the way it ought to be. It shut up within a minute and vanished, much to the consternation of the large crowd stood on the path wondering what they had heard. But ninja-like we were gone!
A relatively long march now, back to Lady Anne's Drive via some more coffee, and then onwards west via a relatively close and beautifully marked Isabelline Shrike which we watched pick off wasps. Another 'rare' under the belt and we were off again, non-stop this. This was the second Red-flanked Bluetail of the day - I always like to see several before lunch if I can, which on Bradders Birding Tours obviously gives me most of the day. I jest, but it wasn't long before we looking - in solitude - at yet another of these stunners, feeding in a sheltered tangle just off the main path. Frustratingly fleeting for most of the time, completely stymieing my attempts to get a decent photo of it, but allowing wonderful views. Not easy like the Geosetter or Gloucester birds, but somehow appropriate to the situation. Midday and the plan was going very well indeed.
The afternoon couldn't possibly be as good of course, and so a second attempt at Pallas's Warbler back east in the Wells half was beset by massive crowds and very poor views of the bird hovering high up in oaks. With this final bird done we high-tailed it to Beeston for a second Isabelline Shrike as one is always insufficient. This showed pretty well in deteriorating weather, but sadly didn't give itself up for the type of wondrous photos I've been seeing on the internet of it. Nevermind, they all count! A quick trip to Muckleburgh Hill to look for the OBP proved fruitless, and our frustration with crowds proved ultimately to be our undoing as we left Pipitless as it started getting busy. The bird was picked up a short while later and showed well, but we could hardly be disappointed at our day - more rarities than I can remember seeing for a long while. Although I didn't go to Shetland this year, Saturday 17th October was so productive it almost felt like I did.