Monday, 26 September 2011

Mega south-east score

On Saturday night, a juvenile Pallid Harrier found by Chris Gibbard at Cliffe RSPB, Kent gave me a good excuse to venture slightly further out of London than normal. I picked John Archer up shortly after 7am, arriving at Cliffe a bit after 8am. As I'd faffed around getting petrol, we missed the bird leaving its roost area and spent an hour or so scanning the fields north of the 2nd viewing mound in vain. With high tide being mid morning, we bust a move to the Flamingo Pool to see what would come in while a few others headed off east towards Northward Hill to try and locate the harrier.

Ok, so it didn't take long after we'd split up to receive a text from Barry Wright saying that he'd refound the Pallid Harrier at Northward Hill. But, with distant views and John having seen one at Tacumshin a couple of weeks ago, we hung on in there at a rather birdless Flamingo Pool. We'd been told that the wader action often happened on, or shortly after high tide, so joining themany Avocet and single Dunlin it was nice to see a fresh juvenile Curlew Sandpiper and then a juvenile Spotted Redshank drop in. Not exactly the hordes of smalls we'd been hoping to scan through. But then - all of a sudden - whoosh; a load of Grey Plovers and smalls came in to join the party.

They whizzed around for a bit, before inconveniently ditching down to roost on the saltmarsh at the northeast end of the pool (distant from the footpath). However, a small number of Dunlin and Grey Plover settled down to feed in the closest area of the pool to where John and I were standing. At c.150m range, there in amongst the Dunlin were half a dozen smaller birds... juv Little Stint, juv Little Stint, juv Little Stint, juv Little Stint, juv Little Stint and then, hang on, a pretty obvious juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper!

Now I'm well-versed in Semi-p identiification having done so many Irish trips in recent years (and found the species too). But this is Kent, and this is the second county record and the first since I was 3 years old. It's not like Ireland either... you need a description (in Ireland, reliable observers - of which I am apparently one(!) - don't need to stoop so low as to provide a description of such a menial species) and you can't just get up close and personal to nail those close scap markings or get the semipalmations. This is shitty old Britain, where you'll get a warning from a nob jockey RSPB voluntary warden for getting too close to juvenile waders that wouldn't give a toss as they've never seen man before. But anyhow, we had to watch this cold-toned juvenile bird at distance as it fed lethargically with the Little Stints.

The bird was pretty pot-bellied, proportionately shorter-legged in fact than the Little Stints with a nice deep-based, slightly decurved bill that was longer and thicker tipped too. It was also a lot more chilled out in its feeding action too. The mantle and tertials were all concolourous grey, with slightly pale edgings and zero hint of any mantle braces or rufous edgings. The coldish brown/grey tones continued on the breast sides, with a bit of streaking in it too. Nicely darkened ear-coverts, dark crown and supercilium just made this bird one of those 'typical' Semi-p's (and I've seen and found some tricky ones, including one particularly warm toned bird on Corvo in September 2009). Anyway, back to today and after 15 mins of viewing the flock got disturbed and took flight to the main roost. Only a couple of the stints came back to the feeding area, and that was that for the Semi-p. A few other birders arrived but to no avail, with all the birds roosting in the saltmarsh. We moved on, seeing 4 Gannets on The Thames off Cliffe, and at Grain managed the dizzy heights of a single Wheatear amongst the chav scum...
Ian had found four Avocets at Cross Ness on the early morning tide, so we headed back into London to see what was on the ebbing tide late afternoon. Buoyed by a few reports from the West London reservoirs - including a flock of 30 Sandwich Terns - we arrived at the outfall off the golf centre. Immediately, there was a ghost of a tern in front of us and at the same time the Spot'shank style calls coming from the middle of the river quickly sealed a nice moulting adult Roseate Tern - a mega for London. It all became a bit bizarre though as we could sometimes hear it calling when it didn't seem to be there. And after a bit of head scratching, this was solved when it caught a fish and a 1st-winter got fed! I'd never really had any experience of 1st-winter Roseates, so this was a nice learning curve - it looked like a pale, subdued Common Tern, with that typical long-bodied appearance, slight flush and fairy-like flight action.That barred juvenile mantle had already been moulted through.

Spurred on by the haul of a Semi-p and a couple of Roseates, I managed to pick out a juvenile Garganey in amongst the Teal on the Thames foreshore before the light started to go and my hoovering chores back home beckoned.

Sunday was considerably better than Saturday when I gave Rotherhithe a go, with the joys of Inner London birding producing 'highs' in the form of a couple of Egyptian Geese in Southwark Park, a Little Grebe, a few Chiffchaffs and this repulsive creature...
Greylag x Canada Goose, Southwark Park

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