White’s Thrush – St Agnes, Scilly

The Sunday morning raid to Agnes was another exciting trip particularly as the White’s Thrush had been seen again on Saturday evening by one of the St Agnes locals just after our boat had left the Agnes quay. The trend was developing for the bird to be seen well in the mornings and evenings by those staying on Agnes before and after the boats from St Mary’s.

We had been on Agnes for only a few minutes before the CBs reported that there had been a sighting at the campsite near Troytown. We quickened our step and five minutes later we joined several other birders at the campsite, unfortunately they weren’t looking in the same direction and it was clear that the thrush was several minutes ahead of us again!

Over the next few hours we visited every possible location on the island, there were very few sightings of the bird although there was some feeling that the thrush may still be in the Troytown area of the island. As late morning drifted into early afternoon it began to dawn on me that we could end up spending the rest of our holiday on Scilly chasing this one bird. Would it be worth it? The longer the bird eluded us the greater the feeling of elation would be should we strike lucky, the thought of success kept us going.

Shortly after 2:15pm Peter and I headed to Covean for a cream tea, we had split up from the rest of the gang and we were beginning to feel very weary. At around 2:45pm the pager reported that there would be an organised flush at Troytown in one of the fields that the bird had been favouring earlier on in its stay. We quickly finished our scones and headed off.

The crowd at the arranged flush was huge, surely 400 people and the feeling was that this was our last chance, would we come back tomorrow if there were no further sightings today? The flushers entered the field, out of site to us, and they clapped and encouraged the thrush to move. They proceeded slowly through the area and as they did so hope began to fade, there was no sign, what an anticlimax!

As several hundred disappointed birders began to disperse there was a sudden rush, the bird had been seen again up near Covean. It really felt as though the White’s Thrush was playing with us, giving tantalising views to the odd lucky birder and teasing the majority of us. We dashed to Covean but as expected the bird had moved on, we had to anticipate its next move and we had to do it quickly before the trail went cold.

The group wanted to view from the Covean ridge, this gave panoramic views but at a distance. Up until now I had been content to go with the majority decision but now I felt certain that we should go to Barnaby Lane, I strode off and Peter came with me. For about half an hour we wandered up and down Barnaby Lane looking for inspiration and trying to second guess the thrush.

At about 4pm Peter and I found ourselves at the far end of Barnaby Lane, Peter whispered to me “ I think they’ve found something” and pointed towards a couple who were moving towards us from the adjacent private field. As they approached a number of birders began to look interested in what they had to say. They said that it was in several private fields just over the ridge, that it was nailed and that we were allowed in.

That was enough for me and I was straight over the five bar gate, I felt sure that we weren’t allowed in but nothing was going to stop me now not even a farmer with a shotgun. As the crowd followed us someone began to jog passed me, I suggested that he shouldn’t run as it might scare the bird, he slowed down and as he did so I cracked, increased my pace and jogged straight past him. Peter and I joined a crowd of about 25 people, although there was lots of people just behind us.

Across the other side of some very small fields I could see one or two other groups of birders with Binoculars raised to their eyes. At that moment there were cries of “THERE IT IS!!!”. I looked up to see two thrushes flying together, the White’s Thrush was one of them but I hadn’t seen them well enough to decide which. At that moment the two birds separated and I followed the wrong one! The White’s Thrush apparently flew straight along in front of our group while I was following a Blackbird over the ridge. Peter asked me if I had seen it, in shear desperation I said yes. The thrush had disappeared into the hedge, would I see it or would it disappear forever. I felt sick with nerves.

Just then a large thrush flew out from the hedge and flew roughly towards us and as it banked I could see the dazzling white stripe on the underwings and as it landed I could see the cryptic black, gold and white markings.

The bird made 2 more flypasts before it disappeared over the ridge and the huge crown roared their relief and approval. I stood up straight and silently raised both of my arms skywards before slowly turning in a full circle with arms aloft while birders all around me hugged each other. This was my 400th species in Britain and a defining moment in my life.

This individual became the 1st twitchable in England. The nearest breeding population is in the Ural Mountains around 2,500 miles away although the main population breeds as far away as Lake Baikal, 4,500 miles to the east.

The last 18 hours of heartache had brought about one of the most amazingly exiting 2 minutes of my life. At 4:30pm Peter and I departed the scene like two naughty school boys who had been trespassing but who had got away with it. Day after day for the next week birders made the daily trip to Agnes to spend 9 fruitless hours searching for the White’s Thrush, we had been lucky.

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