Saturday, 19 November 2011

West Country Wader Fest

There'd been a load of stuff turned up over the last week that I'd like to have seen. The cracking Veery in Highland, the Greater Yellowlegs in Northumberland, the interesting gull in Argyll... and then yesterday afternoon a juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper turned up in Somerset. Though statistically not as rare as any of the others this Sharpie was a juvenile and, though I stand to be corrected, the last one of this age was the legendary Shotwick (Flintshire) bird of '75. I'd seen an adult in August in County Clare, as well as a few in Hong Kong in the summer too, but I'd also never seen a juvenile Sharpie anywhere in the world so the plan was hatched.

John A, David B, Martin B and yours truly left the urban world of London just after 5am and, after purchasing the worst sandwich you're likely to lay your eyes on (a BLT but with no lettuce, one slice of tomato and some putrid bacon), arrived at Blagdon Lake a little while after first light. There was no sign... but the place was absolutely bird filled. What a quality site with a nice 1st-winter drake Long-tailed Duck, drake Red-crested Pochard and a couple of redhead Goosanders from the fishing lodge kicking things off. All quite distant, but it was one of those crisp mornings with crystal clear light.

We headed on round to the other side of the lake, where Dave B had seen the 2 LBDs earlier in the autumn. Loads of mud, and more quality... with a 1st-winter drake Ring-necked Duck picked up amongst the hordes of aythya, a Slavonian Grebe, 8 Bewick's Swans (including 4 juvs) and a drake ***** ****. Then John A picked up a gull on the near edge - bang, a nice 2nd-winter Ring-billed Gull and apparently a rather rare occurrence at the lake indeed. A pretty retarded bird, it then did a nice fly around being stooped upon by a Peregrine at times. Though the target wasn't in site, I was pretty happy with the crop of scarce we'd churned out. And then...
A rapid drive to nearby Chew Valley Lake, as the Sharpie had been relocated off Herriott's Bridge. We got there in quick time, despite a tractor trying to stifle us, and joined the crowd of twitcher types. The bird had flown round the reedbed and wasn't on view, although the two limnos were busy probing around, getting amongst it with the Lapwings on the fresh mud. These were my first LBDs of the autumn, and always lovely to see. Here's a nice shot of one I took about this time of year 3 years ago... (a bit closer than today's dynamic duo).
1st-winter Long-billed Dowitcher, Lagoa das Furnas, Sao Miguel, Azores Nov 2008
Right, so getting to the point, the juvenile Sharpie showed relatively quickly to those like me who weren't vertically challenged - the adjustable Swarovski meant I could get to see over the reeds where it was happily feeding amongst a small flock of Dunlin. A lovely bird - perhaps not quite as fresh as I'd expected - but I shouldn't have been such a dumb arse considering it is now mid-November. There was also a drake Goosander, and just for good measure swivelling around 180 degrees produced another bit of yankage to join the LBDs - the long-staying Spotted Sandpiper. It showed poorly, but we had to go as one of the team was due in Norfolk for dinner at 6pm and the brownie points were starting to run down.

John A and I got back to London, and spent the last hour or two of daylight at Cross Ness as per usual. 4 Yellow-legged Gulls the highlight here, as well as a decent flock of 250 Dunlin that promised more but delivered little.

A nice day out, and something I should do a little bit more. Very little beats going for quality birds that you genuinely want to see. Thanks to David B for the driving and invite.

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