Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Not so dusky

This really is the year which keeps on giving. Up to today I'd got 10 UK lifers, 2 more than last year. Some pretty good birds in there as well - Siberian accentor, Isabelline wheatear, Stejnegers stonechat, arctic warbler, great knot, great spotted cuckoo to name a few. You never want to give up though and December can often drop in a nice bird or two - buff-bellied pipit, Western sandpiper and lesser white-fronted goose come to mind. When the internet started to go mad yesterday though it was a less predictable bird which was sparking interest.
The weather systems throughout Autumn have been mainly bringing in birds from the East - sibe's as they are known. This is what caused the influx of accentors and yellow-browed warblers, mainly on the  East coast, but over the last 3 weeks or so the weather has changed and we have been getting no real rarities popping up.
No one was predicting another true Siberian rarity, a dusky thrush, and certainly not in the middle of the country. This is what occurred though. One had been frequenting a small village called Beesley in Derbyshire for about two weeks, feeding on apples in an orchard with the local redwings. It was only when a local posted a photo of a strange bird on the inter web that someone spotted it for what it was and all hell broke loose.
Dusky thrushes are very rare in this country. There has only been 10 previous sightings  although one in Margate two years age was well twitched, but not by me!!! So, the wheels started to turn and a major  twitch got under way. Fortunately the bird was frequenting an orchard next to a local outdoor activity charity so there was parking and easy access. It was a small village though and over 400 turned up on the first day.
So, I set out just after 5 on a very foggy morning and headed up the largest area of roadworks in the UK, also known as the M1. Three sets of roadworks and one breakdown delayed me a bit, but I still got to the centre about 8. Some people regard twitches as a pain in the proverbial, here though they saw a big opportunity. Volunteers were on site to help you park (£3 donation), give access to their loos, sell tea and coffee and prepare bacon butties (£2). If the bird stays they could make a fortune!!
It was only a 20 yard walk through the carpark to the orchard, where I suppose 50 people were already 'scoping the field.

I got onto the end of the line and almost immediately it flopped out of a tree onto the floor and started munching on apples.

The bird was about twenty yards away, albeit in very dull and misty tending to foggy weather so it was difficult to get good images.

You can just about make out the main features though. Superficially like a redwing, a small thrush with a very bold eye-stripe. No red on the wing, so not a redwing, and that very striking white throat patch. 
It didn't hang about long though, with the local blackbirds giving it a hard time. After no more than 5 minutes it flew off. The crowd was building and by 9 was well over 200 now scattered around the orchard as well as other points in the village trying to relocate the bird. I stayed put and was rewarded 30 minutes later with it popping back and having a munch on an apple, this time in a tree, giving better views.

You can see a few more of the characteristics here as well. Note that really white undertail, definitely not creamy, the very large, regular chest markings and that throat patch. It also has what look like furry leggings, suitable I suppose for a bird which over winters in Siberia!!!
Again it didn't hang around and after only 2 or 3 minutes flew off strongly into the village. The crowd generally started to disperse to partake of the teas and bacon butties or wend their way home. I decided to do the same. As a footnote the bird was only very briefly seen throughout the rest of the day, so the people arriving late got very poor or no views at all. You also wonder how many other rarities might be out there. This one probably arrived with the easterlies and has gone unnoticed since then. Always pays to check the thrush flocks.
I headed off for a cross-country drive to Deeping Lakes for some roosting long-eared owls. They have been present for a few weeks but are apparently hard to see. That was not an understatement. By the time I got there the fog was really setting in. 

The owls are on the island in the mist, not exactly showing well. Fortunately three other birders were just leaving and put me onto the two birds.

The owl is in the top left of the photo, honest....
I gave up after 15 minutes with the fog getting worse and worse and headed back home a very happy person. A cracking bird and pretty surprising and even better that I didn't go for the Margate bird so a grip-back as well. Only three more weeks of the year to go, can there be any more surprises in store? Would be nice wouldn't it!!