Siberian Thrush – Gugh, Isles of Scilly

Having managed to get the 2:15pm boat from St Mary’s Quay we landed on Agnes and excitedly made our way past Covean Tea Rooms and then down over the sand bar to Gugh. The island is fairly barren consisting mainly of ankle/knee high ferns and heather with occasional rocky outcrops. The Thrush had been seen in an area of abandoned small fields, fringed with stone walls and tall, thick hedgerows. This favoured area was around 100 yards by 75 yards.

We made our way to a suitable spot and having talked to a photographer we realised that this bird was not going to be easy. It was apparently best seen at one of the corners of the favoured area and so we set up and waited. There were roughly 100 birders assembled and they were dotted around the entire perimeter of the abandoned fields. The photographer explained that he had been here every day since the bird was found (5th October) and had still not got one photograph! It became clear that the skulking reputation of zoothera thrushes was well founded and that every time the pager had reported that the thrush had been seen well in flight it was only because there had been some very concerted flushing going on. At this stage, however, people were just milling around without really entering the abandoned fields.

It was now 3pm. The boatman had warned us that the sand bar between Gugh and Agnes would be covered by the tide at around 5pm. Richard had, however, taken the wise precaution of arranging a private boat charter so that we could be picked off Gugh and taken back to St Mary’s. This meant that we could stay at the site until dusk without fear of being stranded. As the minutes passed we pinned more and more hope on the fact that the bird had been reported every evening between 5pm and 6pm although looking back I think this was probably because people were beginning to get desperate as dusk was approaching and they were entering the abandoned fields to start the flushing! 

We hardly moved from the one spot although it became clear that many birders were now in the abandoned fields, some of them making a fair bit of noise. The bird had last been seen at 1:30pm in flight with Starlings; surely it couldn’t still be in the abandoned fields with all this disturbance going on? During the afternoon single birds kept flying out of the fields, they were merely Blackbirds and Starlings but they kept us interested.

As 5pm came and went and with the sand bar beginning to disappear under water a well organised cordon of shouting and clapping birders entered the abandoned fields! I’m ashamed to right this but at the time I was happy for it to taking place. The whole incident smacked of last chance desperation, if this lot didn’t disturb the bird then it wasn’t in there! Although we may not have agreed with this sort of approach we weren’t going to turn our backs and so we readied ourselves for any action.

As the line of birders was half way through a thrush flew out from the longest side of the abandoned fields and turned and flew directly towards us as we stood on the corner. As it came closer it flew between us and the corner and turned to fly around the shorter side of the abandoned fields. The bird looked slate grey, this must be it! As it banked to make the turn it revealed its blue grey underwings relieved by a dazzling white stripe and the celebrations began! The bird then dived into the bushes on the perimeter edge.

Most birders, however, hadn’t seen it yet and there were several more organised flushes before everyone was satisfied. On the next fly past I decided to concentrate on the head pattern and this way I was able to get excellent views of the striking white supercilium. The trip back to St Mary’s was made on a huge private boat, and at only £4 each. Several other birders had to make do with wading across the sand bar, still I expect it was worth it!

This was the sixth record for Britain, a 1st winter male. This bird would have left the breeding grounds in Eastern Siberia some 5,500 miles away but headed towards Britain instead of India. We’d enjoyed a fantastic day on Friday and we were tired but happy as we made our way back from the quay in Hugh Town to our flat near the hospital.

We hadn’t even made it back into the porch before the pagers reported the dramatic news that the White’s Thrush had been relocated on Agnes. It had been seen along Porth Killier Bay at around 6:30pm. First located on Wednesday 6th it had not been seen on Thursday and it was assumed that it had departed on Wednesday night. There was no doubting where we would be going tomorrow!

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