Ring Ouzels and Black-throated Thrush, Scorriton Down

Field Paintings

I have been visiting Scorriton Down over the last few years to watch the herd of farmed red deer there. On the 21st October 2009 I was sketching them from the moorland edge near Chalk Ford. Thrushes were moving south over the Down in large flocks, at least 300 fieldfares and 150 redwings – the first big flocks of the autumn for me. After finishing sketching the deer I had an hour free so I went for a wander across the nearby moorland. Several flocks of fieldfares were feeding on the wind-stunted thorns and looked stunning in the sunshine. I made a plan to return as soon as possible to sketch them.

I returned on 27th October and found some fieldfares feeding in a berry-laden rowan by the River Mardle above the deerpark. These were joined by redwings, bramblings and two superb ring ouzels. I was soon engrossed sketching the ouzels as they craned their necks to pluck off the plump scarlet berries.

At 2.30pm a small flock of redwings arrived with the ouzels at the top of the tree. I then found myself looking at a thrush which I couldn’t identify! As it sat with its back to me my first thought was ‘do you get grey fieldfares?’. It then turned side on and I could see a dark moustachial stripe and a scaly black breast – black-throated thrush? I made a quick sketch then a sparrowhawk attacked the thrushes sending them in all directions. I followed the thrush until it was out of sight at the other end of the deer park. It seemed a hopeless task to chase after it and anyway I was too engrossed in sketching the ring ouzels to leave at that point.

My suspicions were soon confirmed that evening – it was indeed a black-throated thrush. I phoned Mark Darlaston and Mike Langman who informed me that it was a new bird for the county.

I didn’t have high hopes that the thrush would be seen again but Mark was more optimistic. This proved to be well-founded as he relocated the bird the following afternoon. I was relieved that Mike had managed to get some good sketches and Dave Stone some photos as I had only the time to make a quick sketch before it was flushed the previous day. Mike thought it was a 1st winter male.

I returned with Mark and Charles Tyler on 29th. There were large numbers of thrushes about, many more in fact than on the previous days but they were all on the move. The ring ouzels had gone and it looked like the black-throated thrush had joined them.

John Walters

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