I made the Mid-winter Jewels post https://wp.me/pa4Ku3-gd about December rarities I’d seen and realised I’d forgotten about a magical three week period in 2016 when I photographed three rare thrushes in a three week period in December. I had to dig deep to unearth the images as I had not saved the original Raw files in the usual place nor in my main photo archive. Instead they all laid in a folder on a portable HDD that I had filled.
A year and a day since ticking the Crag Martin in Chesterfield on 5th December 2015 as it flew around the famous twisted spire of the Church of St Mary and All Saints I was back in Derbyshire for Britain’s 13th Dusky Thrush. I love thrushes, especially after having a memorable few hours with White’s Thrush at Easington in October 2004. The only other time I had twitched Dusky Thrush was the Kent individual which had scarpered overnight before I left the North West with my Fizzing Football Fan friend.
The bird had been found by Rachel Jones a photographer who was watching the orchard from her home in Beeley that overlooks it. Rachel didn’t know what she had taken photographs of and tweeted out her images to Chris Packham and others. Little did she know what effect she would have on the small rural village on the Chatsworth Estate. Monday & Tuesday several hundred birders descended on the village and the bird made the local BBC East Midlands Today news programme where Stuart Elsom was interviewed. An article in the in the Telegraph also showed the bird with the usual birding clichés littering the article. I managed to see the bird on Wednesday along with other friends from the North West and elsewhere. It was good to see Tom Tams from the North East and Jack Levene from Suffolk who Tom nicknamed Skeletor
What turned out to be some of the best sightings of the bird during the first week, in the best light ensued in front of the delighted massed twitchers. With a fantastic blocker being served up what could make it better? Well, the Duke’s Barn turned the twitch into a fund raising event for the disability outdoor centre. I have been on some memorable twitches before where the locals have gone the extra mile to make the birders welcome. Who could forget the the Chipping Norton Oriental Turtle Dove where you left your shoes at the front door, paid a fiver entrance fee and where shepherded into a deluxe kitchen that had under floor heating? The bird also showing superbly well. Or indeed the Kidlington Baltimore Oriole, where upon arrival I was shown into the back garden where the bird was showing by the owner of the house. How could it compare to watching the Black-throated Thrush in the walled garden of Ina MacDondald in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute? Ina was not accepting visitors but let in both Paul Hackett and I and fed us fairy cakes and cups tea in a china tea set whilst we watched the 1st winter male Black-throated Thrush through her kitchen window. The Duke’s Barn though beat all of those experiences. They laid on parking, toilets and even had bacon & sausage sandwiches with chips and tea laid on for a donation. Later that became mince pies and fairy cakes. I can’t say as a birder have I ever felt more welcome at a mass twitch. Days later even laid on a free shuttle bus to get to see the bird from the weekend parking site.
Next up was Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius, another tick for me and astonishingly this bird was found not in a quarry, nor cliff face or rocky outcrop but a housing estate in Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire. Even the Latin name of this bird screams ‘Not in a housing estate thrush’. Monti meaning mountain, cola from colere meaning to dwell and solitarius, well. So as you can expect this bird had the keyboard warriors out in droves pounding the keys in disapproval. They pored over every feather, what the bird ate from the feeding station and checking the state of the birds feet in an effort to have it struck off. The attitude that really meant, you can’t tick it there, It has to be on rock on Scilly or some other sort of nonsense. I didn’t care, I just went to see the bird. It could be said that it was loyal to the area it was feeding in as the weather was poor with snow and ice on the ground. For me it was a great bird to see in the UK.
Final instalment of a festive feast of thrushes comes with a female Black-throated Thrush in parkland adjacent to the River Elwy, St Asaph, North Wales. This was perhaps the most elusive of the three highly mobile and covering a fairly large area of the park. Eventually we found it tossing frosted leaves over near a large rhododendron bush. this female was the third that I had seen in the UK and the second female following the male on Bute and a female in the North East. Decent bird to see an hour away from home.