Delighted to see a Mistle Thrush in the garden a few days ago, gathering Ivy berries, one of its favourite foods.  As I was reviewing Sony’s new A7r at the time, I was able to grab a short 1080/50p video clip and some stills in APSC crop mode when the bird moved into the Cherry tree. I’m pleased with the stills quality from Sony’s new full-frame, mirror less camera, with 36Mp and no low-pass filter, detail is pretty phenomenal and it’s great to be able to grab video and stills consecutively at the touch of a button and as you can do both using the electronic viewfinder, you don’t have to take the camera away from your eye when switching from Stills to Video. That’s something I can’t do on my D800, where video can only be composed on the rear LCD screen.

A relative rarity, a Mistle thrush or 'Storm cock' as the old name goes, amongst Cherry blossom in a Surrey garden late April this year.

A relative rarity, a Mistle thrush or ‘Storm cock’ as the old name goes, amongst Cherry blossom in a Surrey garden late April this year. (Taken with Sony A7r and Sigma 150-500mm lens via LEA2 adaptor, APSC crop mode)

The Mistle thrush is quite a spectacular bird, bigger than a blackbird, with distinctive brown spots.  It gets its name from its most often eaten fruit, the Mistletoe berry.

Berries of Mistletoe, the aptly named Mistle thrush's favourite food, rooted in a host tree, probably thanks to a Mistle thrush depositing the seeds there.

Berries of Mistletoe, the aptly named Mistle thrush’s favourite food, rooted in a host tree, probably thanks to a Mistle thrush depositing the seeds there. (Taken with a Fuji XT-1 I have been reviewing for Outdoor Photography Magazine)

In fact the Mistletoe is itself dependant on birds like the Mistle thrush ingesting its seeds in the berries and then excreting them in the tops of trees where the Mistletoe can grown.

A tree burdened with parasitic Mistletoe which is able to grow at great heights in the host tree thanks to the seeds being deposited in guano from birds like the Mistle thrush. (Taken with Sigma DP2m)

A tree burdened with parasitic Mistletoe which is able to grow at great heights in the host tree thanks to the seeds being deposited in guano from birds like the Mistle thrush. (Taken with Sigma DP2m)

The Mistle thrush is also a great song bird with a distinctive, flutey song and is known to sing in all weathers too, hence its old name of the ‘Storm cock’, due to its tendency to be the last bird still calling before a storm!

Reports on the status of this bird are mixed, with some sources saying the species is not of concern, while a BBC Nature report last spring quoted an RSPB source as describing a ‘staggering’ rate of decline of this bird in British gardens. As a result it has RSPB Amber status. More on the BBC Nature report here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/21143664.

The RSPB results were derived from the Big Garden Birdwatch survey which suggested that Mistle thrush are seen in less than half the number of gardens than they were 10 years ago. I have certainly never seen one in our garden before, despite keeping a close eye on our local nature for around 15 years, so my experience would seem to bear out the RSPB results, which claim a decline of a significant 28% in the 15 years from 1995 to 2010. Over the same period, Song thrushes which are also a species of concern, increased by 13%, which puts the apparent decline of the Mistle thrush into stark perspective. Reasons for a decline could be many, but possible leading contenders are the loss of traditional pasture.

I think the bird visited our garden because it is quite wild, with hedges and Ivy.  Maybe we need less pristine, tailored gardens and more wild and untamed areas would not come amiss and would attract wildlife like the Mistle thrush and probably many other species too – a great reason for a more relaxed gardening stye! The results of the Big Garden Birdwatch for 2014 can be seen here: http://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/

AL April 2014