Wednesday 1 November 2023

White's Thrush: the rematch

On the final day of my Shetland trip this time last year I had frustratingly poor flight views through misted spectacles of my first White's Thrush as it tazzed around Clickimin Loch in torrential rain. By the end of that day my clothes were wet through and my camera had packed up, as a result of which White's Thrush remained one of about a dozen birds I have seen but never photographed.

White's Thrush, Bressay, 5th October
The discovery of another on Bressay on the afternoon of 4th October this year saw us heading out from our accommodation on Muckle Roe well before dawn on the morning of the 5th. The early start was necessary to get in pole position for the first ferry from Lerwick, which can carry only about 20 cars, at 0715. The plan seemed to work as we were the 6th vehicle in the queue, comfortably near the front. We then had to suffer an interminable wait for the ferry, particularly as Shetland Council in its wisdom doesn't open the public toilets in its largest metropolis until 0730, adding an additional layer of stress for the middle-aged men among us who were already clenching at the very thought of seeing a White's Thrush.
White's Thrush, Bressay, 5th October
Having just about managed to avoid soiling the quayside, the next stomach-churning moment came on attempting to board: despite being near the front of the queue, the callow youth waving cars onto the ferry appeared to ignore conventional lane discipline and beckon vehicles from the 2nd and 3rd ranks of parked cars to squeeze as many as possible onto the vessel. Just as we were about to mutiny, he summoned us forth to occupy the last remaining space on deck, thus avoiding what I believe is known in those parts as an almighty stramash.
White's Thrush, Bressay, 5th October
We disembarked and joined the small convoy of vehicles making the short journey to the dense plantation at Gorie, where the White's Thrush was last seen the night before. After an unnecessarily brisk yomp up to the plantation, the assembled birders formed an orderly line outside the wood awaiting advice from the finders, Gareth and Kevin Clements, who were staying on Bressay, on the best way to view the bird. They offered to go in to the plantation to search for it, a proposal which met with agreement from all present as a free-for-all would surely have sent the bird high-tailing it to who knows where.
White's Thrush, Bressay, 5th October
After a few traverses of the plantation, the Clements's reported no sign of the bird, and it looked like our early start had been in vain. Then a shout went up to our left, and the unmistakable shape of a large, black-and-gold-spangled Zoothera loomed over the edge of the plantation and banked to reveal the distinctive black and white underwing pattern. There were smiles and appreciative noises all round as the early morning gamble had paid off.
Magpie - first for Bressay - rarer than White's Thrush on Shetland!
The view of the Thrush had been excellent but too brief for a photograph, so we re-positioned ourselves on the other side of the plantation between the trees and the garden of the cottage where the Clements's were staying as the previous day the bird had been commuting between the two locations. I treated myself to a new Canon R7 last Christmas but it had let me down a few times when attempting flight photography, so today I came armed with my trusty 7D MkII and 400mm lens combination. This is the set up I carry on my bike as it's more robust than the R7 and 100-400mm zoom lens, but I had a feeling my only shot at capturing the Thrush on camera would be in flight and that, if so, the old gear wouldn't let me down.
Black Guillemot from the Bressay Ferry, 5th October
Eventually the Thrush burst out of the garden towards the plantation, giving a long, parallel fly-past, long enough for the camera to lock on for a series of record shots, two of which were reasonably sharp, albeit at high ISO. I was pleased to have got anything on it to be honest, and spent most of the rest of the day singing the praises of my old lens and admiring the grainy flight shot which had the feel of an old school rarity photo from back in the day. 
Guillemot from the Bressay Ferry, 5th October
Further excitement was caused when a Magpie landed in the plantation and then on the roof of the cottage - a first for Bressay and a much rarer bird on Shetland than White's Thrush. With birders still arriving we concluded it was unlikely we would get a better view and headed back to the mainland where a Common Rosefinch at Billister could only muster the title of the 3rd best bird of the day.
This Common Rosefinch took off just as I pressed the shutter - Billister, 5th October

No comments:

Post a Comment