Tuesday 7 June 2011

White-throated Robin, Hartlepool… on my list!

Irania … a Latin name that appears to spark quite some excitement for a lot of British birders. There’s only one member of that genus: Irania gutturalis, the White-throated Robin, a summer migrant to Turkey and areas to the east, with two previous records from the UK. Neither were twitchable. And with the spring apparently going out with a whimper, I certainly wasn’t expecting to see one any time soon.

Happily, I was wrong, though – birding’s constant ability to deliver massive surprises is one of its many attractions, and the pager message early yesterday is a classic example. I imagine a fair number of people suddenly got taken very ill on their way to work just before 9am… though not me. (Maybe I have too many principles to be a top notch twitcher?)

It sounds like yesterday’s events in Hartlepool were bizarre yet entertaining: although the bird was generally showing in a garden enclosed by 3 metre-high walls, this was nowhere near enough to deter a few hundred rabid enthusiastic twitchers! Check out a couple of videos that set the scene:


And the photo on BirdForum of a guy standing on his mates’ heads while he leans on the wall is absolutely priceless!

Anyway, despite the prospect of mad shenanigans, I managed to provisionally secure a day off… and then upgraded it to definite when positive news came through early this morning. I really hadn’t been expecting the bird to stay, but no complaints! Drive up was very straightforward (250 miles @ 50mpg in just over 4 hours, for those who care about such stats), and we were delighted to find the infamous Doctor’s Garden was open for visitors – many, many thanks are due to the local birders for getting this organised. What’s more, the bird showed almost immediately on the lawn – never really close enough for my 400mm lens, though:


It was very charismatic as it moved around – considerably bigger and paler above than the Bluetail which was originally advertised, with a rather long and strong bill that reminded me of Isabelline Wheatear. I enjoyed a chat with Ash Fisher of Scilly pelagics fame, as the bird flicked in and out of the adjacent Allotment Garden, and motor drives periodically fired. The Doctor’s Garden was easily big enough for the crowd of less than 100 birders to spread out around the edge, and with the bird showing regularly people were coming and going throughout.

After about 90 minutes, we’d enjoyed excellent views and, in the absence of anything else noteworthy nearby, opted to head back home – very well pleased with a completely unexpected mega bird. I hope it’s still around for a few more days so others can catch up with it… but given that there appears to be no access to the favoured garden tomorrow, it might be a struggle to connect! I’d also be surprised if the bird lingered much longer, but then again I’ve already said that birding throws up surprises pretty regularly, so who knows…

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