Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Hermit Thrush tales (30 October 2013)

1987.  On 15 October a Hermit Thrush was seen on St Agnes in the morning.  Friends, including Andrew Moon and the late and greatly missed Rupert Hastings, looked in vain in the afternoon but it was not seen again that day.  On that news I decided not to go down to the Scillies, big mistake in hindsight.  The next day it was refound in the bracken behind the Big Pool and most observers on the Scillies saw it although it was suspected that some ticked Wren, Dunnock or Song Thrush!  I drove down to Penzance that night, saw Parula Warbler at Nanquidno and went over on the Scillonian.  Halfway across news got around the boat that the Hermit Thrush was still present on St Agnes although it soon became apparent that this was a misunderstanding.  When we docked on St Mary's we were told it had not been seen.  I went through the motions visiting St Agnes but flattened bracken, Wren, Dunnock and Song Thrush was the closest I got.  To rub salt in the wound the 1987 hurricane had wrecked loads of Sabine's Gulls on the Sussex coast, all of which had gone a couple of days later when I got back.  A Blackpoll Warbler was the only bird of note seen on Scillies.

1993.  On about 12 October a Hermit Thrush was seen briefly by a couple of observers on Tresco but could not be relocated.  On the evening of 15 October (a Friday) it was seen again briefly, but on the other side of the Great Pool.  It didn't seem firm enough to go down for but I did not think it through - there was no transport to the Scillies on Sundays and the Scillonian was on winter timetable and not running on Mondays either.  The bird was seen on Saturday and Sunday but I was reluctant to go down on Sunday night and hope to be able to get on a flight.  I left it, compounding my error as Richard Kemp took a chance and got over on the Monday.  As soon as I heard that the bird was seen on Monday I booked a flight the next day, coming off on the Wednesday.  I drove down overnight, caught the flight and got a boat to Tresco.  There was no news of the bird and I joined another 10 birders looking for it.  After a couple of hours a pager message came through that it was still present.  Panic ensued but no-one knew who was supposed to have seen it.  Five minutes later the pager corrected to negative news and that was as exciting as it got.  On Scillies I saw Upland Sandpiper, American Golden Plover, Bluethroat and Little Auk.  On my last afternoon I walked back over the golf course to look unsuccessfully for a Tawny Pipit.  When I got home it had become a Blyth's, I went back at the weekend on a day trip and missed it again but the Upland Sandpiper, American Golden Plover and Little Auk were still there.

2013.  Having passed up on opportunities to go to Cape Clear or Barra it was not until 30 October 2013 that the next chance at seeing Hermit Thrush in the UK was presented to me when one was found at Porthgwarra the previous day.  Having been too slow to move for the previous two I was keen not to make the same mistake again and left Shoreham with John & David Cooper just after 8pm.  I drove non-stop, but rather slowly, seeing two Barn Owls and arriving at Porthgwarra at 02:30.  At 06:30 it was light, there was then 2.5 hours of nothing when I was convinced the bird had gone, a sighting on the opposite side of the wood which I was too late for and a couple more which I got closer to.  At about 09:45 I got a good view of the bird feeding on berries - what a relief!  In the next two and a half hours we saw it well at least four times, feeding on berries and on the ground and perched on low-mid level branches.  It was superb, especially through my telescope although the light was too poor for digiscoping (and I was enjoying watching it too much). Nice to see some Sussex faces there too - Matt, Chris & Ads and Gordon & Garry.  Also nice to see two old friends from my University and formative birding days in Cardiff - Maurice and Hadyn.

Hermit Thrush at Porthgwarra (very slow shutter speed)
most of my images were taken at 1/640 second - an erroneous setting that I wasn't aware of for most of the time.  As a result they were very dark.

By the way, its got a nice rufous toned tail!  About the only feature visible in my images.

Better images by David and John showing all its features can be found here:

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