Monday 5 February 2018

Mi-chan the Thayer's becomes a statistical irrelevance

For 10 years Mi-chan has winged her way south to winter on the Costa del Tsu, I say 'her' befitting the name but I don't know whether 'she' is female. For 10 years she has been the only game in town, a tick for anyone unable to make the long trip from Kansai to Choshi. And in return was affectionately dubbed with the Mi kanji of Mie prefecture. She's the only adult Thayer's I've ever seen. And she's an absolute stunner!

I had tried for years to find an adult Thayer's down here but in this part of the country hen's teeth are ten-a-penny by comparison. When I did finally connected with Mi-chan I was ecstatic and unlike repeat sightings of many rare birds the novelty never faded and every time I saw her I felt the same rush... Yes! Thayer's!!! Now, I don't for one moment imagine I'll be less excited to see such a fantastic gull at anytime in the future, it's just I'd already seen glaucoides kumlieni in Kansai. So wonderful as Mi-chan may have been, may still be, she has been reduced to a statistical irrelevance for me by the unfeeling red pen of the IOC.

Feel free to lump the Redpolls guys. And I'm not too fussed how many bars a Greenish Warbler has either, lump them as well if you must... but come on, the Thayer's? Seriously?!

Anyway, I went gulling in Mie last Friday and I spent all day on the beach. None of the usual fields ploughed or scrubby, no woodland edges, neither ponds nor riverbanks, no estuaries, no mudflats and definitely no sandbars. Much as I love gulling I'd never dedicated a whole day to the beach because the Tsu/Matsusaka coastal stretch has so much good habitat and attracts so many good birds; a day can never do it justice. That's without even considering the gull beach north of the city. But I was keen to look for Thayer's and whatever oddities the ever changing gull population might throw up.

I timed it to arrive around dawn before the tide began to drop and when I popped my head over the bank the beach was solid gulls in both directions. As the tide drops the loafing masses begin to stir and hunt shellfish in the surf but right now they formed a deep, white border along the high tide mark... which direction to walk? The advantage at high tide is the loafing flocks are quite approachable but it's difficult to check the majority not on the landward side of the gull-belt as the beach suddenly angles down steeply. Once they begin to hunt it's much easier to view all the birds but the downside is that if you do find something interesting it could be patrolling a three-kilometre stretch of beach meaning a lot of exercise legging it back and forth along the shore trying to keep up with it.

The morning was calm but sunny which is often the case here. The wind frequently picks up dramatically in the afternoon, not often to tripod toppling strength but sufficiently buffeting to render the scope next to useless. So as the morning progressed I was considering a midday move but the wind never picked up, cloud cover rolled in and the light was gull perfect. Great light, no wind and ideal timing with the tide (and on my day off), it's so rare for these things to coincide that I had to stay and it was well worth it. But I'm getting ahead of myself, back to the early morning and Thayer's... sorry, Iceland.

I walked south towards the area of beach, which in my experience, Mi-chan tends to hang out. And it wasn't long before scoping southwards I picked her up, a sore-thumb (sighs) Iceland way down the beach at the end of the line.

When I got down there doubts began to creep in. It was certainly a Thayer's... but was it Mi-chan?

I hadn't seen the bird for a year and winter markings might be a little different year by year but there was sufficient doubt to make checking this bird against last year's images the first stop when I got home. It turns out this is a different Thayer's. So are there now two Thayer's in Tsu or has Mi-chan handed on the batton?

Mi-chan the Thayer's becomes 'new bird' the Iceland

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