Naumann’s Thrush – Chingford February 1990

 Try going on a journey with one or more fellow birders and just see how many tales are told. Birding Frontiers plans to host lots more stories, old and new. On seeing some of John Cantelo’s memory-evoking colour sketches attached to a wee tale, it seemed a grand place to start. Do you have a story to share?

John Cantelo

In my case the usual brake on twitching, a career, family and mortgage, was compounded by my long standing reluctance to drive (now cured).  This meant that, to save frustration, I rarely worried about distant out-of-county rarities  … unless they stayed long enough to sap my resolve.  Hence the appearance of a relatively long staying  Naumann’s Thrush in Chingford got me poring over train timetables, but fortunately a normally non-twitching friend decided to go for it with surprisingly little encouragement ….. largely because the bird had turned up near an old friend he wanted to see.


paintings045 jc1
We got there fairly early, but had to wait an hour or two before the bird appeared at c9:30. It then appeared intermittently feeding in ivy covered trees in back gardens which backed onto some dense woodland before flying off at c11:00. It was only after it flew off that we were joined by a birder who’d been there when I arrived. He’d opted to rove around searching for it and by a cruel twist of fate walked past the small crowd only when it was not in view and, typically, most birders were gossiping and not in a “we’re-watching-a-lifer” mode. Hence he hadn’t realised the bird had been relocated. He was gutted. Taking pity, I helped him search the oak wood behind the gardens for it and, miraculously, found it within minutes sitting high in an oak in a dense tangle of branches. It took some very tense few minutes before I managed to get him onto the bird, but the stress was well worth it – few things in birding equal showing a fellow enthusiast a lifer.

Another  abiding memory of seeing this bird concerns probably my worst ever ornithological pun (and that’s saying something). I had an earnest conversation with some guys about the taxonomic status of the bird and whether it was a race of Dusky (as most authorities then suggested). Poker faced I told them that new research proved it to be an isolated Asiatic race of Island Thrush. My ‘proof’ was the well known poetic line   “Naumann’s is an Island entire of itself” . I still don’t understand why I wasn’t lynched on the spot!  Reflecting on it decades later, I realise that, by helping another birder, I was following John Donne’s precepts so perhaps, at least, he wasn’t spinning too fast in his grave.

One thought on “Naumann’s Thrush – Chingford February 1990

  1. Paul Bright-Thomas

    John, thanks for the flashback. This extreme rarity was made more significant for me by the fact that it was regularly seen on the playing field of my old school (a bog-standard comp). It would have been all the more amazing if it had fulfilled my BOLBBB-fuelled schoolboy daydreams outside my very classroom window, but in fact I had left school and had to twitch back from Uni. As it only came to my attention thanks to a friend hearing about it on the radio, I went several weeks after it was first seen, and as I arrived, two birders told me the Naumann’s had just flown off from the playing field. I looked up, saw a lone thrush overhead that was sort of Song-Thrushy, sort of Redwingy, and confidently said “That’s it, it’ll be back on the field”, and indeed when I got to the other side of the wood, the little brick-coloured beauty was hopping around on the rugby field. I can still picture it, viewed through someone else’s scope … amazing.


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