Sunday, 5 January 2020

Black magic

An engagement with the family at the Warner Bros studios near Watford for the 'Making of Harry Potter' tour - a birthday present for my youngest son - saw us heading in the general direction of Watford this weekend to pay homage to J K Rowling's bumfluff-chinned occultist and his pagan pals. A birder's instinct is 'always on' they say, so I was pleased to see my first animatronic Phoenix and several Snowy Owls. I'm not sure whether Buckbeak, being half-bird, half-horse, is tickable, but I suspect it's included on the UK400 Club version of the British list.
Dumbledore's Phoenix, Fawkes
Potter's Snowy Owl, Hedwig
Hagrid's bird-horse, Buckbeak - tickable under UK400 Club rules
The trip had the added advantage of putting me within reach of Whipsnade Zoo, where a long-staying Black-throated Thrush has been delighting visiting birders and photographers for the last few weeks. Knowing that we would be heading that way at the end of the holiday period, and being the cost- and carbon-conscious type, I couldn't justify the trip up from Dorset to see this bird previously but as we were in the area anyway, it seemed almost rude not to.
Black-throated Thrush
Black-throated Thrush
Black-throated Thrush
Now before anyone accuses me of manipulating a Harry Potter-themed family excursion just to put me within striking distance of a rare bird - as if I would do such a thing - I should point out that the Warner Bros tickets had been procured some months prior to the actual studio visit, and long before the Black-throated Thrush appeared.
On the fence of the pig enclosure
Black-throated Thrush
Black-throated Thrush
On arrival at the Zoo I followed a few birders who looked like they knew where to go and after a short walk found myself by the pig pen which I recognised from several photos of the bird which had been posted online. If it returned to this spot, views would be excellent. Many other online images had depicted the Thrush feeding in a heavily-laden Cotoneaster. There was one next to the pig pen but I figured it couldn't be this one as it was right next to the path and surely too prone to disturbance, so assumed it must be somewhere else in the Zoo.
Black-throated Thrush
Damaged primaries on the right wing might explain this bird's long stay
Black-throated Thrush
If it was this Cotoneaster which the Thrush was feeding in, views would have been ridiculous. But within minutes, it appeared in the very same tree and gave, well, ridiculous views. Even when the crowds built up and prams, scooters and excitable toddlers were running around the base of the trunk, it continued to feed periodically out in the open. I had seen just one of this species before - in South Wales 2006 - but only distantly through a telescope, so it was a bonus to get such exceptional views as well as an 'English' tick.
The Thrush roosted in this tree between bouts of feeding
Black-throated Thrush
Plenty of Cotoneaster berries to keep it well fed
As for the speccy sorcerer tour, it was actually pretty good. It's where they made the movies and a lot of the original sets and props are on show, so it's more of a movie history tour, and not the theme park of my worst fears. Yes the queueing was a pain and the whole over-priced food/merch thing was a bit much, but thankfully the children are now old enough to be capable of leaving such places without pestering us into shelling out thirty quid each for a plastic wand. This also meant I could afford the Whipsnade entry fee (with 10% discount for booking online, if you're thinking of going).
A single Redwing kept company with the Black-throated Thrush
Normally a shy species, it was a bonus to see this one so well
Redwing feeding on Cotoneaster
So a good double-attraction day with something for all the family. It's been a while since I enjoyed point blank views of a photogenic top rarity, and with only a handful of birders present, and plenty of opportunities to point out the Thrush and explain the mysteries of migration to passers-by, it was a satisfying experience all round.
The Dursleys from the Harry Potter films. But fans of Withnail and I will know what I mean when I say I can't see this guy without thinking 'Monty, you terrible ****'!


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  7. Hi, Peter! A Phoenix would be a tempting addition to *any* birding list - and I agree, the birding instinct is terribly difficult to switch off, no matter where you are.
    Greetings from Sri Lanka!

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