Thursday, 2 November 2017

Rock Thrush 'n' Roll! 28th October 2017

The day before leaving for Cornwall a common rock thrush (or rufous-tailed rock thrush if you prefer) was found by a dedicated patch worker in an old quarry near Abergavenny in South East Wales. We'd never seen a common rock thrush so whether to go for it on the Friday became the subject of much consideration in the Caley household. Our plans were to spend the day at Ham Wall in Somerset but this rock thrush was close enough to divert off of our route. In the end we decided to stick with our original scheme and head straight to Somerset. I knew that I'd probably regret the decision but it was made. All that Friday morning I kept checking the bird news, no sighting of the rock thrush by 9 o'clock, nor by 10 and again not by 11. I remember breathing a big sigh of relief and congratulated myself on making the right move since the bird had departed during the night! Then at 11:45 the bird was relocated. Aarghh!!! The situation was quickly assessed, we could drive back to Wales and hope to see the bird and then return to our overnight digs in Devon. But that would be plain stupid (told you I wasn't a proper twitcher) and would mess up our whole day and night. Besides the bird was proving pretty elusive at that time. So we decided instead to go and see the rock thrush if it was still there the following Saturday on our return home from Cornwall. Our good friend Badger, also in Cornwall for the week, is much keener and actually drove up from Perranporth to see the bird and then returned afterwards back to his holiday cottage. Fair play to him! For my part I kept an eye on the birds status all week. It of course remained in place so we'd get our chance. I also kept an eye on the weather and the Saturday was going to be "Storm Brian" day. Typical!

So to last Saturday the 21st October, rock thrush still present and thankfully settled and showing very well most days. No problem then. We drove away from Cornwall in absolutely atrocious conditions, heavy rain and strong winds most of the way through Cornwall and Devon courtesy of said Storm Brian. We pulled off for a coffee at Exeter and the rain eased off and we cheered up a bit believing that we had a chance. The drive through Somerset was made in reasonably good weather although still very windy, we crossed the new Severn bridge and shelled out our £6.70 charge to enter Wales (really!?). Then the rain started again and got heavier and heavier. Driving was treacherous to say the least but we kept going and eventually pulled up at the designated spot where the thrush was showing nearby. On the top of the hill it was howling a gale and the rain was driving in horizontally. Just a second out in it would be enough to drown a cat! We sat in the car for an hour during which time the rain increased in ferocity so we gave up. With over a mile walk to the bird and not wanting to make the remaining two hour drive home in a sorry soaking wet state we drove away somewhat regretfully. Fair weathered birders indeed! So it was back to fingers crossed time again for the following week although I was now reasonably confident that the bird would remain.

And indeed it did, so on Saturday morning we left home at an early hour and made our way West. And it was forecast to be a nice, wind free, sunny morning! Hurray!! We parked up alongside a half dozen or so cars already on site at Pwll-du (Black hole apparently) and followed the track around the hillside.
Tilers this way apparently!
We passed a couple of quarries to our left and enjoyed the stunning views to our right before arriving at the third quarry where the bird was present. A couple of birders we passed told us that it was showing well but was high up on the quarry walls doing what a rock thrush does. As we approached however I saw the thrush fly down and land on some loose rocks at the bottom of the quarry. I quickly checked it through the bins for the tick and then fired off a couple of record shots just in case. I needn't have worried.
Need that record shot just in case!

The rock thrush is first winter male and a very fine looking chap indeed. It blended in remarkably well with the surroundings (understandably) despite its bright orange underparts and if it remained still could be hard to spot amongst the rocks and boulders. We settled in about 50 feet away and watched. The thrush began working its way toward us forcing most of the other birders to move to get a better view. We had the best seats though and at one point the bird must have been no more than 20 feet away. I fired off shot after shot of this lifer for both us.

A thrush on the rocks? Must be a rock thrush!

There has been a bit of consternation amongst birders on social media about people feeding mealworms to the thrush in order to entice it to come closer and thus obtain better photographs. Such methods are becoming commonplace and certain birds, the bluethroat in Lincolnshire is one such case, are thought to have been made unwell (and even ultimately killed) by such feeding since the mealworms are not part of the birds natural diet. Furthermore such supplementary feeding methods are putting birders and photographers at loggerheads but lets face it neither much like the other anyway. I didn't see any mealworms being administered to the area nor did I see any on the ground but obviously they could have been there. The rock thrush was certainly feeding well in front of me so could well have been picking up mealworms. A few meadow pipits were also feeding in the same area. I did see the bird locate and eat 3 earthworms so it was quite able to find its own food.

Dinner time!
Meadow pipit

The thrush would feed for a couple of minutes and then rest unmoving for a short while before resuming its feast. At one point a sparrowhawk flew in strongly scattering all of the birds and it pursued a pipit up and over the cliff face but was ultimately unsuccessful. When this happened I thought that would be it and that the rock thrush wouldn't be seen for a while but to my amazement it was stood on the ground hunkered down in the same place in front of us. Maybe it was totally sure on its camouflage to defeat the sparrowhawk, if it is then I dare to say that is one dangerous game to play and I wish it luck!


Hunkered down after sparrowhawk attack

We stayed for only an hour preferring to leave since the site was getting busier with more and more birders and toggers arriving. I had taken over 250 frames of the same bird! It would take me far longer than an hour to go through them all but I am more than pleased with some of them! 

The rock thrush was a beautiful subject to observe and take memories of. I hope to see another soon.


  1. Glad you caught up with the little stunner,
    it was a nerve wrecking week (for both of us).

    1. It was definitely a bird worth waiting for! Next time though I’m with you.

  2. Cracking shots mate very nice .........