Today I want to talk about Eye-browed Thrush. Now I don't have an encyclopaedic knowledge of rarity stats, and I don't subscribe to any bird information services that can provide such, but this I do know: Eye-browed Thrush is presently a very rare bird! It always has been really, but there was a time when it seemed an October trip to Scilly virtually guaranteed one. That time began in 1984, and happily coincided with my first visit. Yes, I woz there.
In 1984 it was a rarity of unimagineable hugeness - everybody needed it. So when one turned up on our final Saturday there was a massive amount of very quick running. Justifiably so. The IOS Bird Report put it like this:
'The breathtaking beauty of a fine male at Salakee, St Mary's on Oct 20 induced something akin to a stunned silence amongst the assembled gathering as it periodically appeared in hedges or on grassy fields.'
Absolutely. It truly was a stunner.
There were then two in 1987 - either side of my visit that year - and another in 1990. I got a chance at that one, on Tresco, but dipped. Come 1991 and no one was that surprised when yet another Eye-browed Thrush was found at Telegraph, St Mary's on Oct 12. I saw that bird, which performed really well but was very different from the 1984 male, being a rather dull first-year. It was also present the next day.
And now comes the interesting bit. The bird was at Telegraph on Oct 12 and 13, but seemingly gone the following day. And then on Oct 15 an Eye-browed Thrush turns up on Tresco and also stays for a second day. Same bird? Could be, I've no idea - I certainly didn't see it and don't recall even going to try. Oct 17 dawns, and there are no Eye-browed Thrushes anywhere. It's all over.
Except it isn't! Early on Oct 18 an Eye-browed Thrush is found on St Mary's - again in the Telegraph area! What's going on? Is this the same bird, back from Tresco? Or, if the Tresco bird was a new one, is it now visiting St Mary's? Or is this the original St Mary's bird popping up again after a period in hiding? Or have there actually been three birds?! Herein lies the conundrum of the post title...
Because the official stance is that just ONE bird was responsible for all the sightings. As far as I am aware this remains the position today. I suppose this is certainly the safest approach, if by 'safest' we mean bo-o-o-oring! After all, let's not forget that Scilly was awash with Eye-broweds in the late 80s/early 90s. Seriously though, to this day I think a trick was missed here. I saw the Oct 18 bird, and I'll bet I am not the only birder who at the time was convinced we were not looking at the dull individual of Oct 12/13. My memory tells me it was noticeably brighter - still a first-year, yes, but not the same first-year.
Memory, eh? How useful is that after all this time?! Ah yes, good point, but thankfully I don't just have to rely on my memory. I have photos*! So I present them here, and ask that NQS readers cast a critical eye over them and see what you think. Same bird, or different?
Okay, there you have it. In case it wasn't obvious, I am in the two-bird camp. Of course it's a shame that one bird is facing left and the other right, but I still reckon there's enough evidence in the photos alone to conclude that two different birds were involved. My guess is that the first was a young female, the second a young male - hence the hint of grey in the head etc. That being the case, I suppose one or other may well have been responsible for the Tresco record...but when we consider the 'scarce migrant' status of Eye-browed Thrush on Scilly back then, well, it's got to be three birds surely?
Come on, dear readers, this is NQS in campaigning mode - let's right a 24 year-old wrong! That lovely young male(?) Eye-browed Thrush deserves recognition and its rightful place as a digit in a stats table somewhere...
* The photos are not mine, but I have no idea who took the second one. So, if the original photographer reads this, my apologies that I am unable to give credit where it's due, and my thanks for not suing me.