Thursday 31 October 2013

Back to normal

Back to normal. If 'normal' means insomnia, loss of appetite and gut-wrenching stress then I'm definitely back to it. Or at least I was until about 0950 this morning when I finally set eyes on a Hermit Thrush, at which point all these negative emotions were replaced by a strong sense of relief and, eventually, something approaching satisfaction.
Hermit Thrush, Porthgwarra
In my last post I eschewed long distance twitching and extolled the virtues of staying local. But when news of the Hermit Thrush in Cornwall broke yesterday morning, all that tosh was forgotten and a roller coaster of emotions began. I had promised the family a day out, see, and, well, a promise is a promise. At the time the Thrush was found, we were already at Corfe Castle and the kids had their teddies ready to hurl down the specially erected zipwire thingy. I suggested that perhaps I could get away early but it was made clear to me that doing so would result in me spending the rest of my life living as a hermit myself in the shed, or beyond, if kicked hard enough. So I honoured the promise, with less than perfect grace, I've been informed since, and secured agreement to head off yesterday evening.
Note the rufous tail, bold chest spots and almost unmarked flanks
The thought of an overnight drive or kipping in the car really didn't appeal so I made for Penzance at a sensible time for a 'B&B' - or, more accurately a 'B' as the second 'B' wasn't going to be necessary. Arriving at Porthgwarra at first light, the next couple of hours produced no sightings and my edifice of optimism began to crumble, particularly when it came under pressure from James Lowen's 'if it's not here by 9, it's not here' theory.
A difficult bird to photograph - all of these taken using Manual Focus at high ISO ratings
As if aware of this counsel of doom, the Hermit Thrush revealed itself with about a minute to go to the deadline. However, it did so only to those on one side of Porthgwarra's small wood, and eluded the other half of us who were stood on the 'wrong' side.
White-rumped Sandpiper, Marazion
It took somewhere between 50 minutes and forever to then get a tickable view, before which the assembled crowd had visibly divided into the happy smiling faces of those who had seen the bird and the tense, fraught expressions of those who hadn't.

And here's the white rump
A constellation of twitching stars came and went. Jol, Caroline and Joe (aged 10) of Wareham Under-11s Touchline Bistro renown were there, young Joe facing the ignominy of having Hermit but not Song Thrush in his list. Famous author James Lowen travelled with Josh Jones and Kit Day in a car stuffed with more lenses than a branch of Specsavers. And Birdwatch October 2013 'Star Letter' writer and cat lover Paul Welling came back for more despite already having seen the bird the previous day, no doubt to offer me some moral support in case it had gone overnight.
These pictures don't convey the gale that was blowing at the time and the lashing rain it brought with it
The range of regional accents (from 'thrush' to 'throosh' to 'frash') at Porthgwarra hinted at how far some had come for this bird, and so rich in variety was it that the BBC News HR department could have filled their quota several times over.
White-rumped Sandpiper (front) with Dunlin for comparison
There was just time to pull a back muscle lying down to photograph a White-rumped Sandpiper in a hurricane on Marazion beach before heading back to Dorset. A hug from two sons as I opened the door reminded me that there are more important things in life than vagrant Catharus thrushes. But not that many.
Good job I didn't dash off for the Hermit Thrush yesterday - I would have missed this death-defying leap at Corfe Castle's zipwire for teddies

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