Wednesday, 30 October 2013

MEGA ALERT: The HERMIT THRUSH in Cornwall

Porthgwarra, Cornwall
Photo by Adam Archer

After the rigours of the previous weekend I was hoping to take it pretty easy this week, catch up with my blog, make short work of a bottle of single malt whisky and relax a bit. The trouble is with the weather conditions looking ideal to displace a few stray American migrants over the Atlantic and deposit them slap bang into the midst of south west England that was never really going to happen.

It all started to kick off around lunchtime on Monday when news came through of a YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER on the island of Lundy out in the middle of the Bristol Channel. Then during mid afternoon an AMERICAN MOURNING DOVE was found in a garden on the Isle of Rhum off the west coast of the Scottish Highlands. To be honest I was not too fussed about the 'Myrtle Warbler' bearing in mind the pretty inaccessible location at this time of the year and luckily I had connected with an AMERICAN MOURNING DOVE previously during a memorable trip to North Uist in 2007.

Then on Tuesday morning I started to get all twitchy for the umpteenth time in the past fortnight. When would the madness ever end? Firstly a HERMIT THRUSH was found down in my beloved Cornwall followed quickly by news of yet another YELLOW-RUMPED WARBER but this time in Ireland. Then news of a LESSER KESTREL filtered through from Devon. At this stage I was not concentrating properly and nearly suffered a mild stroke as a consequence. For a few seconds I thought my pager said there was an AMERICAN KESTREL in Devon. I obviously had nearctic vagrants on the brain!

Thanks to my extremely understanding gaffer at work and my equally understanding boss at home, I found myself driving over to Coventry during the early hours of the morning. I was to meet up with 'The People's 2013 Year Listing Champion' John Jennings and his live in butler Martin Smyth for a hastily arranged soujourn down to Cornwall. During the long journey down the M5 I noticed that it was a mostly bright, clear night. I usually love to stare up at the stars in childlike wonder but I cannot abide the spangly little f*ckers when I am on my way to see a rare bird. I tried to remain optimistic but my recent run of good luck had to end at some stage. Would this be it?

The HERMIT THRUSH twitch!
Photo by Adam Archer

We eventually reached the rugged, beautiful valley of Porthgwarra at around 8.00am to find a whole load of glum looking birders milling around. There had obviously been no sign of the diminutive American thrush since first light. Despite the no-show I was far from despondent though. From experience I know how birds can disappear for long periods within the dense, tangly undergrowth of the Cornish valleys. There was still plenty of time for the bird to make an appearance and I remained pretty relaxed. Then suddenly whilst patiently viewing the sallows from the car park there came the distinctive sound of twitchers on the move, a rustling of waterproof clothing and the chinking of tripods and scopes. We joined the stream of birders that were heading for the narrow access lane on the other side of the trees.

The bird had apparently been seen well but very briefly as it fed on flies within the shelter of the small patch of woodland. We all positioned ourselves and waited. Up popped a European Robin. We waited some more. Then up popped a Wren. When this happens you become unfairly cynical. Had they really spied the rarity or was it just a figment of their over active imagination. An agonising forty minutes passed before I heard a quiet whistle just behind me. I turned around to see Josh Jones rooted to the spot and pointing wildly towards his feet. In the loudest whisper ever uttered I clearly heard him say "It's f*cking down here!" I peeked into the area towards where he was gesticulating and there it was flicking around in the leaf litter just twelve feet away, a magnificent HERMIT THRUSH. Unfortunately within about ten seconds the news rapidly spread and before we knew it our small group of six had swelled to nearly one hundred panicky individuals. Needless to say the bird picked up on the commotion and promptly flew off into the tangle of vegetation.

Typical views of the HERMIT THRUSH (first winter)!
Photo by Chris Bromley

For the second time in a few days I had been blessed to feel the rush of American aviform induced adrenalin pump through my emotionally drained body. It felt soooooooo good. As soon as the birders settled down slightly the bird showed once more, totally oblivious to the chaos it was causing around it. Luckily for the second time that morning I had chosen my viewing spot wisely and I continued to enjoy pretty amazing views as it took turns in feeding on the ground and then hopping up to snatch an elderberry or two for dessert. It would then disappear for a while but eventually return to more or less the same spot on its feeding circuit. As long as you remained cool you could obtain some pretty fine views indeed.

We then moved across to a blustery Mount's Bay. After a short stroll along the beachfront at Long Rock we managed to pick up a juvenile WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER feeding amongst a mixed flock of other wind tossed waders. Other species included 5 Ringed Plover, 13 Bar-tailed Godwits, 5 Dunlin, a single Sanderling and 6 Turnstone. There were also good numbers of Rock Pipit and Pied Wagtail feeding along the beach.  We finished off with a half-hearted attempt to look for a juvenile Rose-coloured Starling but failed in our quest after a ten minute search amongst the Starling flock on the nearby retail park. Before heading back home we celebrated in true Cornish style with a pasty from Philps Bakery in Hayle. It was yet another superb day chasing rarities in my most favourite part of the world.

St Michael's Mount from Long Rock Beach
Photo by Adam Archer

4 comments:

  1. A nicely written account of a good Trip and stupendous little Yank Thrush, cheers for the day shared

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  2. Cheers my fellow Warwickarian brother!

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  3. What size pasty did thy av Adam?

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  4. Medium - cheese & veg youth!

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