Saturday 9 November 2019

Blue is the colour, rockfall is the game

There are several small piles of rubble dotted about the hard-standing of Tense Towers. They are a mixture of rocks and stones unearthed whilst digging and weeding or, more loudly and scarily, mowing the lawn. They are also a source of significant marital disharmony.

My official line is that they are a ready supply of building stone and infill to repair the dry stane dyke which borders one side of the garden. This reasoning is somewhat undermined by the lack of actual repair work that has been carried out in the past five years (just two small sections fettled), but, hey, I'm getting around to it. Our Lass remains serially unimpressed.

Today, however, I have discovered their true purpose, but I am rushing ahead with the tale, so let me just take you back to yesterday afternoon.

At a quarter to two, I was leaving the house to catch a bus to Stromness in West Mainland. I needed to collect my van from the garage which had been Waxoyling it. However, my phone pings with an alert of a rare bird, a Blue Rock Thrush, which has been seen in a nearby quarry. It is a calm, sunny day, perfect for a spot of bird watching, but I really do need to collect the van. Predictably, by the time I return home, the bird has reportedly disappeared and with clear skies overnight, it is presumed to be heading south. Reading online forums in the evening, it appears there is some dispute (it involves birders, of course there's some dispute) as to whether this is the first or second official record of the species for Orkney. Either way, I have never seen one, so it would've been a lifer for me.

An hour after sunrise this morning, keener folk than I were on site to check out if there was a possibility of the bird still being present. It was. Messages were texted. Within Tense Towers, a bowl of muesli was thrust aside and a dressing gown was discarded in favour of fleecy trousers and umpteen layers of coats. I should explain that the nearby quarry is a mile and half from home (though it is on a small island, so there's a stretch of water in the way), and the opportunity (again!) to record a new species for my life list, virtually on my doorstep, was not to be sniffed at.

By the time I arrived on site, the bird had disappeared once more, so I spent a freezing hour in the company of the original finder (Thank you, DS) and a few hardy souls in the hope of its return. We saw several Robins, a couple of Meadow Pipits, some Redshanks and many Starlings, but nothing particularly thrushy. Eventually, the brisk easterly breeze and occasional showers meant that folk began to lose hope and drift away, so I headed home to finish breakfast and thaw out.

Forty five minutes later, and there's another shout. At least this time I had the good fortune to be correctly dressed and properly awake. Bundling my gear back into the car, I high-tailed it around the coast road, over Churchill Barrier One, and across Lamb Holm to the quarry. About a dozen of the local Birderati were assembled by the cabins on the quarry floor. Telescopes, binoculars and camera lenses were all pointed to a spot on the western rock face where, helpfully, the Blue Rock Thrush was perched near a snow white feral pigeon, as I was kindly shown its location (Thank you, AL). I should point out that at this time of year, 'Blue' is a relative term, the bird's colour being more grey, resulting in excellent camouflage in a rocky terrain. The bird was busy feeding and spent the next half an hour or so moving around the quarry walls and scree slopes.

OK, this cannot be called a twitch!
Although the species is resident in southern Europe and east as far as Japan, it is a very uncommon visitor to northern and western Europe. It was most pleasing to watch this individual unconcernedly hunting for insects in an industrial site, undisturbed by excited birders. Everyone kept a respectful distance, which is my way of saying that my photos are poor, but I am looking forward to seeing the results from some of the big lenses which were present, which will hopefully emerge on social media later.

Oh, my rubble piles? Hey, as the Blue Rock Thrush flies, one and a half miles is nothing. I have created the perfect habitat.


Coastal Ripples said...

I’m not sure your wife will see the logic to that argument but you have me chortling at your breakfast antics. Glad you finally got a shot :) B

Imperfect and Tense said...

Ha ha, you're probably correct!

SharonLarkin said...

If you want to add to your rubble pile, then you are most welcome to have a rootle around in the raised beds in our back garden ~ they are flippin full of bits of rubble from the work we've had done LOL

Imperfect and Tense said...

Sharon, it is a very kind offer, but don't you think I'm in enough trouble already :o)

SharonLarkin said...


Spadger said...

Rubble piles must be painful!

I'm soooo pleased you managed to see that bird - albeit a bit of a faff and run-around. A species I've never seen in UK.

Imperfect and Tense said...

JD, the rock thrush is still here...