Saturday 13 October 2012

White's Thrush. Lucky for some. 13 October 2012

This enigmatic species is a very rare visitor from Siberia to the UK, usually found in September and October following strong north easterly winds and is much desired by UK birders, especially twitchers. So far this autumn there have been at least four that have arrived on our shores. One caught on the Farne Islands, one seen flying over South Ronaldsay in the Orkney Islands, a third seen briefly in the far west of Cornwall and another recorded from Barra in the Outer Hebrides today. 

For this species this is an almost unprecedented annual influx into the UK. They are notoriously hard to re-locate once they have been initially flushed, although you know they are somewhere nearby and for such a large thrush (it is larger than a Mistle Thrush)  they manage to conceal themselves so well as to become virtually invisible. Only the lucky original finder that flushes them, usually from deep cover gets to see them and those that dash to see them afterwards often fail or only get the briefest of views although there have been exceptions. 

I have never been lucky enough to see one in the UK as they are typically only seen once and never again and I have never been near any of the locations when they have been found. Realistically one's only chance of seeing one is to be near enough to the location to get there the same day and even then your chances are very slim at best, although again there have been exceptions where a bird has remained for some days and allowed visiting birders adequate views of it

However, I  have been lucky enough to see no less than four separate individuals in China and two of these very well indeed. The first was in the middle of Shanghai, in the Botanic Gardens surrounded by high rise flats with all the concrete and noise of a large and bustling city. It was flushed from under some trees and flew up into one of the  trees and perched there immobile but in full view for at least thirty minutes allowing me to study it at leisure in my telescope. I could not believe my luck as I had, until this encounter, always assumed, based on reports of birds seen in the UK, that they were exceptionally hard to see and never gave prolonged views. Not in China apparently. Apart from the wonderfully patterned plumage two features of it's appearance struck me. The first was the large dark eyes and the second the bright pink legs. The latter are  really quite striking in the flesh. It remained absolutely still throughout, just occasionally changing its position ever so slightly and appeared relatively relaxed although keeping a close eye on me. In fact towards the end I was getting a little bored as it  remained so still. I left it there still motionless when time ran out and I had to be elsewhere. Maybe the fact they remain so still and well up off the ground is one of the  reasons they are not easily re-found in the UK as most people would look at ground level for a thrush and also by remaining immobile with their patterned plumage they would not attract attention. 

The second encounter with this species was on the coast, a couple of hours from Shanghai, in some small trees by a path through a village. It  repeated the same performance as the first by flying up into a tree as I approached unaware of its presence, and then remaining there motionless, but unlike the first, after about forty minutes when I moved away, it dropped to the ground behind me and commenced feeding, allowing me to take some photos with a digital camera attached to my scope. 

Note the large dark eye and bright pink legs
Looking at these photos I confess to being tempted by the bird just found on Barra. If it stays I might try my luck.There again I am due to go on a business trip to China early next year so maybe I will wait until then but it would be nice to see one in the UK

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