When news broke on Sunday of a Siberian breeding Thrush in the Peak District national park it was not to be missed. Collins lists seven Asian Thrushes that occur as stragglers in western Europe through autumn and winter. Like the star passerines that enlivened England’s north-east cost during October they really ought to migrate the other way into south-east Asia, and I myself had yet to see any of them until now.
I believe some of these and other native European Thrushes are known affectionately to some birders as “The Turds” due to their Latin genus name of Turdus. Today’s Dusky Thrush Turdus eunomus is the same shape as a Song Thrush and a little larger than a Redwing with attractive variegated patterning. As if to demonstrate how very many rare migrants must go undetected in usually unwatched areas, this individual had apparently been present in the village of Beeley, just inside the national park boundary for around two weeks. Then a local resident photographed it, word got out and a major twitch ensued.
I had spent a perfect sunny winter’s Sunday scouring local woodlands for Crossbill that is still missing from the 2016 Oxon year list that local form dictates I do not admit to keeping. The result was mild dark season depression. Walking the south Oxon downs hoping to cross paths with a Merlin recently had produced the same effect and the prospect of starting all over again in January really doesn’t enthral me. Drifting lethargically into the new week, upon seeing a lifer’s presence confirmed 137 miles from home I searched online for local accommodation, found a last minute room in a well-rated B&B for £45 and booked it straight away. Having made that decision, with the prospect of hitting the road and a new bird to see, I felt alive again.
After Monday afternoon at the charity shop where I volunteer, I set off northwards at 6:30pm. Yes there is life after 5 o’clock in mid-winter, and propelled along by the best driving at night sound in the world ever (that’s another Slash reference) I soon found myself on the M1 motorway north of Leicester. It was a pleasant and uneventful run and around 9pm I drew up at my B&B in a very frosty Matlock. Checking RBA at breakfast the Dusky Thrush was reported early. I arrived on site at 8:50am to a very well-organised twitch, with coffee, bacon sandwiches and toilet facilities all laid on by Beeley’s Duke’s Barn outdoor activity centre (a registered charity) where I got the last parking space and made a donation.
Local birders who were stewarding the event confirmed the instruction on RBA that the bird could be looked for in an orchard from behind one of the centre’s barns. I walked around that building to find a large group of visitors all crammed into a rather cramped and obstructed viewing area. The picture above gives the general impression. This struck me at once as a gathering of seasoned, traditional birders as belied by the near absence of big camera lenses. Proper field etiquette was being observed that included not talking loudly until the bird has been seen, and everyone just watched and waited patiently.
Things didn’t take too long. After 20 minutes the Dusky Thrush, a first-winter probable female was located in dense tree cover at one end of the orchard and a certain amount of jostling and getting in one another’s way ensued. That was inevitable in the circumstances and guess what, I was one of those who could not get on to the bird. But then the DT moved left to feed in one then another apple tree, revealing all it’s subtle plumage detail. To me it resembled a rather pale Redwing with a broad and prominent supercilium. This superb image (here) on RBA shows exactly how I too saw the bird, so it was just as well there were one or two big lenses present after all. For the full RBA gallery of this bird see here.
I had stepped up onto a boardwalk behind the watching group and concentrated on watching the Thrush rather than trying to get pictures myself. The above image is the best record I could manage. All this lasted for around 10 minutes then at 9:20 the bird flew off into the village. Much of the crowd now dispersed but I elected to hang around for a while and hope for a better photo opportunity. I began chatting to two nearby birders about our earlier sighting and new arrivals nearby told us to be quiet. Well, I can’t have it both ways! Occasionally over the next hour people would claim obstructed views but the DT did not show well again in that time.
By 10:30, mindful of the need to head back to work early in foggy conditions, I went for a wander around the village. Birders and their cars were now everywhere, possibly to the annoyance of local residents and play group mums. Well that’s poetic justice, but if I’m referring to parents of disabled children using the centre I withdraw the sentiment of course. There was no way the Duke’s Barn car park alone could have contained such an influx as had been instructed on RBA. Everyone was searching for the DT, apparently with little success. The bird was seen a few more times later in the day but I had been party to it’s best showing.