A MEGA end to a MEGA Year

2016, what a year it’s been; from the UK’s first Red-footed Booby, Eastern Kingbird, Western Purple Swamphen, Dalmatian Pelican, Masked Wagtail, Lammergeier & astonishing influx  of Siberian Accentors, to record numbers of Yellow-browed Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail, Pine Bunting, Alpine Accentor, White-crowned Sparrow, Brown Shrike & Isabelline Wheatear without forgetting of course the never ending fall of MEGA’s throughout the year: Eastern Crowned Warbler, Short-toed Eagle, Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, Eye-browed Thrush, Great Spotted, Yellow-billed & Black-billed Cuckoo, Blyth’s Pipit, Syke’s Warbler, Black-faced Bunting, Western Sandpiper, Green Warbler, Greater Sandplover, American White-winged Scoter, Tufted Puffin, Great Knot & the remarkable record of a Cory’s Shearwater soaring over Regent’s Park in London, is just the tip of the iceberg. So it’s no surprise then that it’s now official that 2016 has been the best year for birding in the UK with a record breaking 458 species being recorded across the United Kingdom, 7 of which are new to the British list.

For someone who’s trying to bump up there UK Life List (link) like myself in order to catch up with other people my age, 2016 couldn’t of been a better year to do so as so far the year has provided me with 43 new additions to my list including the likes of King Eider, Honey Buzzard, Great Grey Shrike, Great Knot, Siberian Accentor and 4 Dusky Warbler! For many of fellow young birding friends: Ellis Lucas, Darragh Hudson, Luke Nash, Toby Cater & Frank Osterberg they’ve either just about reached the magical 300 mark or already on their way racing towards the next mile stone of 400. So as you can see I’ve got a fair bit of catching up to do…

Before December my UK Life List was standing at the respectable number of 277, with the latest addition being Water Pipit (A bogy bird for me) and the last “MEGA” bird being the jaw-droppingly striking, gorgeous, sublime and exquisite Siberian Accentor of Easington, East Yorkshire. With it now being December and the only MEGA’s about being in the likes of Shetland (Killdeer) and Cornwall (Hudsonian Whimbrel), I thought that I would have to resort to getting small fry lifers such as American Wigeon, Hawfinch & Green-winged Teal, of which I’ve dipped 11…But on the 4th of December it appeared that 2016 was going to go out with a bang, and one that I won’t be forgetting for a long time.

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Water Pipit was one of the few “common” birds I still had tick this year, which as you can see I successfully did at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands

 The UK Bird Identification group on Facebook had already assisted in identifying an Eye-browed Thrush in Northumberland this year which shook the UK birding community, but the group stuck gold once again when on the 4th of December when amateur wildlife photographer Rachel Jones posted a selection of images in the group, were just moments afterwards it was revealed that Rachel had in fact photographed gone and photographed the UK’s 13th record of a Dusky Thrush in the little old village of Beeley in the Peak District.

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One of many Rachel Jones’s (@lilwag) stunning shots of her remarkable find

Within minutes of word getting out Social Media had gone into a melt down with twitchers across the country going a-wall at the fact that there was a Dusky Thrush the UK. There had already been one record of Dusky Thrush in the UK this year with a captivating adult male photographed on the Isle’s on Scilly in September, but to everyone’s disappointment the bird didn’t linger for long before making its departure. For those who had missed all previous records then there hope of seeing one in the year they thought they’d finally nail one, all hope died. But as a result of Rachel posting her images in the group and those within the group identifying the bird as a beautiful 1st winter female and news then quickly as ever coming through along with that the bird had in fact been at the site for 2 weeks already, the race was on and the quiet village of Beeley soon became alive and sound of overwhelmed twitchers wanting to catch a glimpse of this Siberian wonder. But unfortunately for me the bird had been identified on a Sunday evening which meant that had to wait for a long, slow and painful week until the weekend was back upon us.

It was now the 11th of December, it was 11:56, I was at Chesterfield train station admiring the iconic spiralling church which was home to the Crag Martin of December 2015 (Wishful thinking as you can imagine when I saw it), when my knights in shining armour arrived, Mark & Ellis Lucas along with Mr Harry Witt’s pulled up before we set off to end 2016 on a high.

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One of the many Robin’s in Beeley

 On arrival at the now internationally famous Orchard of Beeley myself, Harry & Ellis set up camp awaiting for the duskies arrival, and well after 5 minutes we couldn’t believe it. An irruptive, explosive, extraordinary yet distinctive sound came erupting from a few meters to the right of us; so we looked up only to see a Thrush sp rocket out from a conifer over to the back fields. I’d never heard anything like it before, it was neither a Redwing, Fieldfare, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush or Blackbird….it was infact the Dusky Thrush! All three of us had seen it and got tickable views of it in flight but we weren’t satisfied and decided that we weren’t going to leave till we’d had much better views and attempted a handful of record shots. So once again we stood there in what was apparently a lawn in cold awaiting for its return.

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With feisty Blackbirds all around its no wonder why the Dusky was keeping its distance

 As the evening was now approaching and the light was disappearing are hopes of seeing the Dusky one last time slowly began to slip. Only bringing my camera to attempt to capture the bird I had resorted to photographing some of the more common birds about such as Robin, Treecreeper, Dunnock & Blackbird, that at least pasted some of the time. The wait continued and it had now been 2 hours and nothing was happening, the place was dead. But then things started hotting up, ever so slowly small parties of Redwings started to make their way into the Orchard, whenever a new one flew in or over all eyes shot over to it to check to see if it could the now rather elusive Dusky Thrush.

It was now approaching 3pm and the low light was reaching a point where it would be too low to photograph anything, but then at last after a two and half wait we heard the words “Yes…there it is”, Harry, Ellis & I went in to a mad panic trying our best to see the Thrush which had just appeared in a bush on the far side of the Orchard which was out for most of us, but we thankfully found an area in which we could take it in turns to view the bird as it perched on a branch right out in the open were we could all witness what a beauty it really was. For me the eye catching silver strip above the rump was by far my favourite feature of this Nordic thrush.

The Dusky continued to show like that for an extended period of time for me to not just photograph it but also attempt a shot video of the bird which you can view below. The three of us along with a few familiar faces: Gary Carter, Daniel Gornall & Calum Urquhart to name a few continued to observe the bird for as long as we could before it was time to depart from the quiet village of Beeley and head back to camp. Like many of the birds I’ve added to my list this year I never would of thought that I’d ever see a Dusky Thrush and for that I not only have to thank Rachel Jones for photographing the bird, the guys in the UK Bird ID Group who identified it but also to Ellis & Mark Lucas for going out of there way and taking both me & Harry to and from our stations and thanks for such a great day out and for ending the unforgettable year of 2016 on one hell of a high.

Also thanks to both Harry Witts: @Polychloros and Ellis Lucas: @Ellisthanfox  for allowing me to showcase there images on my blog.

Thanks for reading,

Elliot.

PS for those who are interested to watch the video I managed to get of the Dusky Thrush then click on the following link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vh_Y4yUBvg4https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vh_Y4yUBvg4https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vh_Y4yUBvg4

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