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Varied Thrush on Papa Westray!

3 november 2021  ·  David Roche  ·  5638 × bekeken

Hieronder het ontdekkingsverhaal van de derde Bonte Lijster voor de WP! Precies één week geleden, op 27 oktober, werd deze MEGA in de namiddag ontdekt door David Roche.

“I still dread being sent a photo from the island of some Yank mega asking, “What’s this?” That was the message I posted to my fellow comrades back on 5th October, bound for a week on the Isle of May. Having found Papay’s first Western Bonelli’s Warbler that same day (a species high up on my “there’s no reason why I couldn’t find one of those on here” list) I was counting myself lucky that the bird had had the decency to turn up when it did. A week later and I would have missed what would surely prove to be the islands bird of the autumn...

With a patchy historic record of island coverage, Papay has been my adopted patch since 2016, broken by a season’s hiatus on Fair Isle in 2018, but with me returning to the island the following year, where I have since been permanently based. Having not left the island for any length of time since early October 2020, my normal reluctance to be off island during peak migration seasons saw me head away for a break and a change of scene to spend ten days on Sanday in mid-September, before agreeing to an invitation, joining a team to man the Isle of May bird Observatory from 9th October. Although always very much in my mind, the fear of being off island and missing the “big one” fortunately never came to pass

Returning to Papay on the 17th October, for what had been a month largely devoid of common migrants, a brief spell of south east winds, shortly after my return, saw the autumn’s first main arrival of Redwing, with a skulking Bluethroat then appearing along the beach of the south Wick the following day. Now into the final stretch of October, the prospect of a late autumn flurry felt like it was slowly fading by the day. Goldcrests had been virtually non-existent (prior to my return I had seen just two birds!) whilst the previously unimaginable absence of Yellow browed Warbler was looking set to become a reality. By the final week of the month I was on the verge of almost giving up on autumn 2021.

With recent days taken up by packing and cleaning, moving out of the small flat above the kirk, time in the field had been rather more limited than usual. Being one of those folk with multiple island jobs, the morning of the 27th saw me begin with my usual routine of walking the short distance down the road to empty the islands post box; being greeted in the process by two ringtail Hen Harriers, hunting over the field opposite the Post Office, with a third bird sat on a nearby stone dyke. Later returning for my shift in the Post Office itself, my intention of first making a short diversion to look around Links and the nearby beach found me slightly short for time, although I was still able to enjoy a subadult male Hen Harrier, passing over the same field. With birds in previous winters, having roosted together in a small patch of reeds, just behind the house of Links, a late afternoon wander to see what might come in seemed well overdue. Though ringtail Hen Harriers are a daily sight, adult males are very erratic in their appearances, often not being seen for weeks at a time. Curious to see if this bird would end up roosting on the island, I set off with my girlfriend just after 16:30 to make the short walk down the road.

Situated just above the NE corner of Tredwell Loch, we turned off the road to walk down the track to the house of Links where, being about half way down, I noticed a thrush feeding on the small lawn just behind the garage. Thinking nothing of it, but still raising the bins to check out what I naturally assumed would prove to be a Redwing, found me instantly reduced to a hyperventilating wreck. Falling to the ground, grabbing the camera out of my bag and delegating Papay broadcasting news to Claire, it was all too startlingly clear as to what I was watching, even if my own eyes were refusing to believe it. Worrying that the significance of the original WhatsApp message may have not been fully realised, “Varied Thrush Links garden” was swiftly upgraded to the somewhat more urgent message of “F***ING VARIED THRUSH. 2nd BRITISH RECORD”. My ambition to find an American passerine on Papay (something which took a while to realize I had actually done) had just been blasted into the stratosphere. Papay ranger Jonathan Ford was first to arrive, later followed by Neil and Jocelyn Rendal with Tim Dodman and Jennifer Foley also arriving in the fading light, as the bird continued to feed on the open lawns just outside the house. Later explaining the enormity of the record to Sue and Tony Curtis, both of whom had been away from the house when we arrived and were happy for me to release the news, Jonathan’s mock prediction of the bird having already “been around for ages” was found to be very much a reality when I showed my photos to Sue. “Oh, that’s been here at least a week!” Staying on site until near darkness, we returned home where I broadcast the news to the wider world, opened the whisky, watched twitter explode to life and attempted (very much the operative word here) to sleep.

Varied Thrush Ixoreus naevius, Papa Westray, Orkneys, 27 oktober 2021 (David Roche)

Varied Thrush Ixoreus naevius, Papa Westray, Orkneys, 27 oktober 2021 (Jonathan Ford)

Returning at first light found the bird still present, with the first local birders arriving from Westray on the early morning school boat, shortly followed by the first chartered flights and boats coming direct from Kirkwall. Though occasionally going unseen, where it would sometimes feed among compost heaps, in an out of view compound at the back of the house, the bird remained remarkably faithful to the front lawns, rarely straying far from the house and regularly offering extended views, often at close range.

With the wind staying largely in the south for the duration of the birds stay, a change to the North West on the night of Nov 1st saw it depart overnight, much to the disappointment of those arriving the following day with a showy Grey Phalarope, feeding in a small pool next to the Knap of Howar, doing its best to provide a small level of comforting support. A frustratingly brief Blyth’s Reed Warbler that I found around Holland farm however proved to be far less cooperative, vanishing after just a few minutes and somehow disappearing without trace. Currently standing at just short of £1,300 (£575 from the on-site collection bucket and just over £700 from the online crowd funder) the combination of funds will be split two ways, with one half going to a local cause, decided upon by islanders and the rest to Bird Conservation Nepal, promoting education and sustainability through the Ranibari community forest project and its role as a bird and biodiversity community learning centre.

Varied Thrush Ixoreus naevius, Papa Westray, Orkneys, 29 oktober 2021 (Adrian Webb)

Though the island may not be able to claim such regular scarce migrants as the likes of North Ronaldsay, increased observer effort has more than aptly demonstrated its potential for rare vagrants. With many parts of Orkney crying out for more such coverage, it is impossible not to fantasise about what else could be unearthed, were more visiting birders not to divert from our neighbours to the north and explore new ground…

Varied Thrush Ixoreus naevius, Papa Westray, Orkneys, 30 oktober 2021 (Daniel Gornall)

Varied Thrush Ixoreus naevius, Papa Westray, Orkneys, 31 oktober 2021 (Mark Rayment)


Gijsbert van der Bent  ·  4 november 2021  09:09, gewijzigd 4 november 2021  09:10

'......found me instantly reduced to a hyperventilating wreck', hoop ik ooit ook eens te kunnen gebruiken in een relaas over een mega. That would be something!

Jan Hein van Steenis  ·  4 november 2021  12:59

Papa Westray had a Chestnut Bunting in 2015 and a Steller's Eider overwintering in 2019-2020, showing just what is possible there!

David Uit de Weerd  ·  4 november 2021  13:22

Thank you for sharing, David. Great story, great find!!

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