Friday, 30 December 2016

Rock and roll thrush

I thought this year was about finished as far as birding was going. A year tick or two perhaps but nothing exciting. Then, the day after Boxing Day, I spotted that a blue rock thrush has been seen in Stow in the Wold. Apparently it had been there for two weeks happily feeding in a garden before a photo was posted and the bird identified. There was, shall we say, a degree of scepticism on the inter web about its provenance, with a bird park 5 miles away, and this being a relatively popular aviary bird. Photos taken the following day though showed it to be fully unringed, with little sign of cage damage, it was wary and was a 1st winter bird. All of this helped its claims for authenticity so a major twitch was underway.
At 6am when I left the house it was misty and cold. The drive up was slow, with the mist keeping the speeds down but to be honest I was really early and arrived to the car park in Stow about 8.15. Two other cars were disgorging their inhabitants who to judge by the 'scopes were after the same thing. We all walked the short distance to Fisher Close, which is part of a quite nice modern estate on the edge of Stow. There were I suppose 80 birders on site mostly in one spot where the bird was originally sighted. What the residents were thinking I don't know with a few hundred thousand pounds of optics pointing at their bedroom windows!!The lady in the house was collecting for a local charity though and another house was selling tea and coffee so all seemed good.
Over the next three hours the crown swelled then dispersed around the estate as there was no sign of the thrush. We trudged the surrounding roads, scanning rooftops and gardens, checking starlings and blackbirds but no sign of the rock thrush. There was a bonus bird of a flyover waxwing, but the general feeling was "it's done an offsie overnight". I had quite a long chat with one birder from Essex who gave up about 11.40 and headed off. I had a carpark ticket till 1 so I stuck it out. I pottered back to where I started hoping it would come back to favoured haunts but nothing.
Then, suddenly, from the top of the close was a shout of "it's showing". Twenty birders collectively scooped up their gear and ran, literally in my case, following the hordes to a nearby garden. The birders collective sense of fair play kicked in as there was a limited viewing area and we quickly milled through it so everyone "got on" the bird. Then we could relax.

The blue rock thrush is really a native of southern Europe or Northwest Africa, even as far across as Asia. It is a very rare bird here with only 5 accepted records. It should be in mountains and high altitudes, but this Winter has seen any number of rare thrushes and assorted other birds so it's not a given that this isn't a genuine vagrant.
As I said, it's natural habitat it rocky cliffs, and here it was loving the rooftops as a good surrogate.

Size-wise it is about as big as a starling but slimmer and whereas starlings perch vertically it is more horizontal. Of course, it is also blue! The colours were often difficult to make out as the fog was hanging about in the village. You could easily make out the lovely markings on the breast and the sharp, almost pointed beak. Although it is called a starling it is actually in the chat family, or old world flycatchers, hence that beak.
Over the next 45 minutes we followed the thrush around as it moved around a few hundred yards of housing estate, mainly on the rooftops then dropping down into gardens to feed,

It did keep returning though to where we first spotted it, and this was the only area where we could get it on the ground in open sight. It was a bit of a scrum to get to the front, which when owned was not given up easily so I ended up leaning over a fortunately short lady with my 500mm lens trying not to brain her. The thrush did oblige though with sitting up on a flower pot once and "giving itself up".

When it flew off again for another tour I took that as a sign to head home, as did many others. A slow but happy band walked back to the carpark for a celebratory coffee before wending their collective ways home. A stunning end to the year with a real bonus of a mega lifer. I know I said it before but surely there can't be any more surprises in the next two days!!