Blue Rock Thrush – Porthloo, St Mary’s, Scilly

After a tremendous four tick Scilly I thought that my final day on the islands would be fairly quiet ahead of my 3pm flight and I decided not to take my telescope to make walking easier. We set out as a group, as normal, making our way up to the airfield, around the perimeter on the north side and then down the narrow fern sided track towards Porthellick. A Richard’s Pipit had been reported in the fields adjacent to the track and this was our goal. Half way down we joined a group of birders who were watching an overgrown weed field, they had their telescopes trained on a particular spot. Not having my scope I was forced to watch with binoculars. Fairly soon I noticed a large pipit fly off from near where they were looking. It was obviously out of their scope views as no one reacted. I mentioned that it had flown off and after a while I moved on a bit further and joined up with Nigel, Stuart, Peter, Richard, Martin & Linda. We watched a couple of Stonechats for a while and I decided to sit down to relieve my back. The CB crackled into life, I didn’t catch the message but almost immediately Nigel began running back up the track towards the airfield. Peter followed shouting “was that Rock Thrush?” Stuart, Richard and myself were quick to follow and as we ran the CB confirmed that it was actually a Blue Rock Thrush! It had been found on Porthloo beach, on the rocks below Juliet’s Café. This was a fair distance!

The long run was interspersed with brief walks but on each occasion as soon as one of our group began to jog again then we would all follow. Linda and Martin began to drift behind. As we passed the airport the pager Mega Alerts went off and the CBs gave an update. It was an adult male and it was still showing well on the rocks. I was pleased that I had left my cumbersome telescope back in the flat although I knew I would regret it once we got to the bird. As we ran we kept an eye out for passing taxis and we mentally planned our route. My lungs and thighs were beginning to burn as we entered Old Town and turned down the track to Lower Moors. Nigel, Peter and myself were pushing on the hardest and we began to pass groups of walking birders. We came out on the other side of Lower Moors and now that we were back on the road we increased the pace again. Most of the time we were silent and we were never passed. As we got to within viewing distance of the massive crowd we began to sprint. Virtually the whole of Porthloo beach was one person deep like human flotsam cast up on the tideline. I asked, with gasping breaths, for a look through someone’s scope and had my first views of the bird on a distant bank overlooking the bay.

It was then time to relax and celebrate. About now the CB carried the frantic voice of Lee Evans who was still on Tresco trying to arrange a boat off! After a while I decided to walk back to the flat to get Stuart’s and my own telescope. On the way back I watched as several intrepid birders who had hired a small boat from the Quay neared the shore in an attempt to beach in the bay next to Porthloo

I returned from the flat and through my own scope watched the starling-like thrush. The bird was dark blue with almost black wing coverts. When I left for the flat it had been up on the top of the bank but now it was flitting between the rocks on the sea shore. It never really came within about 150 yards although I had excellent views at 60x magnification.

The last Blue Rock Thrush in Britain (Hemel Hempstead) turned out to be an escaped cage bird and with it being a relatively short range migrant there will always be some doubt over the true origin of this species       

It seems likely, however, that an October Isles of Scilly sighting would be given the benefit of any doubt particularly when there are records of the species migrating at least 1,000km. The Scillies is perhaps 600 miles from the nearest breeding areas in Southern France. This sighting was a tick for us all with it being the first twitchable individual in Britain. Unfortunately for the massed ranks of twitchers who arrived on St Mary’s on the Saturday morning the thrush had departed on Friday night.

Remarkably, however, a female was found at Pendeen, Cornwall in May 2000 and offered the chance for many twitchers to catch up.

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