Monday 29 April 2013

Rocky Road to Hull 26th April

Female Rufous tailed Rock Thrush
c Mark Hows
A text arrived on Thursday evening from Hugh. 'Are you going for the Rufous tailed Rock Thrush?' 'Er' no', as this was news to me. I do not carry a pager so am sometimes late in getting the news. A quick reaction from yours truly by consulting Birdforum online elicited the fact that a female Rufous tailed Rock Thrush was just south of the Bluebell Caravan Site at Kilnsea, not quite as far as Spurn Point in East Yorkshire and had been showing itself really well all day. I sent a text to Paul, my long haul twitching buddy asking if he was interested in coming. The answer was no. Never mind this would have to be one of my solo sorties on the highways and byways of this fair land. 

I had earlier promised my wife that I would drop her off at the railway station at Kingham next morning at 9.30am so she could go up to London. This was non negotiable. I was, perversely glad as this meant that I was mentally and physically constrained and as a result could relax and check the thrush was still there the next morning rather than take the proverbial mad dash flier and leave in the middle of the night, with the chance of arriving to find the bird had flown. Next morning at 7am there was only one entry on the online Birdforum Rare Bird Alert, a mega alert with three exclamation marks,  'Rufous tailed Rock Thrush, Kilnsea, still present !!! ' I was raring to go. It seemed to take an age for the time to come round to drop my wife at the station so I contented myself by loading the car with all my birding paraphernalia and setting the Satnav. Finally with that achieved I drove my wife to the station and I was on my way. It's strange how anxiety distorts one's reason and causes all sorts of irrational behaviour. Why was I so anxious? Reason and just plain common sense said if the bird was still there, which it was, it was likely to remain as it is a night migrant but then little doubts creep in and become enlarged into great anxieties. 'What if a Sparrowhawk gets it?' 'What if it does decide to fly off during the day for some totally unfathomable and exceptional reason?' Ludicrous I know but these little seeds of doubt inflate over time to become tree sized worries. Senseless and irrational I know but that's how it works. 

On the map it does not look that far to Kilnsea compared to some of the trips I have done but in reality the journey still took over 3.5 hours and seemed a very long way indeed. Paul very kindly updated me on the various reports of the bird's presence as I drove North. At twelve a heart stopping text informed me that it had last been reported at 9.40am. Did that mean it had gone missing or just that no-one had reported it to the information services? Anxiety levels went up a few notches. Then an hour or so later another text from Paul advised it is still in it's usual place on fence posts but mobile. Anxiety levels decrease and the car speed slows down. Thankfully the roads and motorways were accident and traffic jam free and I arrived in a sunny Hull at 1230. Traversing the city was surprisingly easy and then it was a frustrating drive on a slow single carriageway road that seemed to go on forever as I headed out through the flatlands towards Kilnsea, almost but not quite on the farthest point of the Spurn Peninsula. Finally I arrived at literally the end of the road, on the coast at the Bluebell Caravan Site and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's Bluebell Cafe just beyond Kilnsea. 

Yet another high stakes twitching gamble had paid off. There was no mistaking where the bird was as the car park was full of cars and birders in small groups were watching the bird either from an elevated bank situated between the bird on the fence posts and the sea, or just from the car park itself. The bird  was clearly visible from where I parked the car feeding from the line of fence posts running off east from the car park. I extracted my optics from the car only to discover I had left my camera and lens at home. Not a huge drama but somewhat worrying as to my state of mind. Still it was one thing less to worry about and I could now concentrate on actually watching the bird rather than fussing about camera settings and angles 

Fence posts frequented by the Rock Thrush
Bluebell Cafe and Car Park in the background
c Paul Wren
Declining to take the lazy option of scoping the bird from the car park I made the short walk from the car park up to and along the bank to view the bird from there. For one thing it would be closer. I have never seen a female Rock Thrush before. I have seen a male in the Pecos de Europa in Northern Spain but now had the set so to speak and the fact that it was only the thirtieth Rock Thrush ever to grace these shores and the last one seen in the UK was some nine years ago, made the experience all the more sweet. The bird itself was, for me curiously attractive in an understated way. Somewhat dumpy with a shortish tail in relation to it's size and quite a long bill. I have a thing about vermiculations and this bird had plenty of those. Although fundamentally non-descript, being greyish brown on top and a pale orange buff below, the plumage on both upper and underparts was enhanced by numerous wavy squiggles created by the thin dark fringes to the individual feathers. The crowning glory and suitably subtle for such a drab bird was the rusty orange tail only shown in all it's splendour when it flew down from and then back up to it's perch on the fence posts. When the tail was closed there was only the slightest hint of orange as the central tail feathers were brown and covered the other orange tail feathers. In fact it looked superficially like a giant female Redstart. Even down to the quivering tail. 

I watched it feeding, constantly dropping down from the various fence posts into the grass to seize it's prey and then back up onto another fence post. It worked it's way along the fence posts and then took a long flight around us and over the beach behind ending up back in front of us on the chimney pot of a house facing us across a field. Everyone left the bank and walked round to the house by which time it had dropped down into another field and played hide and seek, first appearing on one side of a bank and then after everyone had walked to view it from there promptly went over to the other side of the bank and became invisible. I can safely say we all got a fair amount of exercise as we  moved around the minor roads trying to keep it in sight  but with persistence we were rewarded with excellent views. 

A glorious male Common Redstart, feeding from the bushes nearby kept us happy when it was not in view. The warden told us that the fence posts running east from the car park were the Rock Thrush's favoured location and sure enough after an hour of hide and seek it duly returned  and treated those of us remaining and who could be bothered to walk back there, to excellent views. It went up and down along various fence posts feeding constantly before just sitting for an extended time on one post as if contemplating how it was going to make a hazardous and long journey back to it's proper environment which is at elevations of over one thousand feet in the mountains of southern Europe. Currently it was just a few feet above sea level. 

I called Paul who could not come with me due to an upset stomach and he told me he was going to drive overnight in the hope of seeing it first thing in the morning. That night was cold and clear with a following north wind. I feared the worst and indeed the bird had gone the next morning.

c Paul Wren

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