Thursday, 18 August 2011

Stilt Sandpiper at Lodmoor RSPB, Dorset - August 2011

Stilt Sandpiper, Lodmor RSPB, Dorset - 5th August 2011

In a similar way to the Marsh Sandpiper at Blacktoft Sands, I caught up with this Stilt Sandpiper at the tail end of its stay, after assuming it would be long gone before I got down to the area for my family holiday.

The Stilt Sandpiper (Calidris himantopus) is bird of the Americas, breeding in the arctic north and wintering in Central and South America. It’s rare in Europe, but not unknown. Well, it was unknown to me, in the sense that I’d never seen one before. So I insisted (well, pleaded) that the family visit the reserve where one had been sighted as soon as we arrived in the area.

A quick look on the Internet convinced me that adult Stilt Sandpiper’s on passage in Europe do not hang around. Luckily for me I got to see the bird, and had plenty of time to study it, but not after dipping at the first attempt. Common and Green were the only “sandpipers” I saw, plus their calidrid cousin, the Dunlin.

The Stilt Sandpiper was present at Lodmoor RSPB, Weymouth, from the morning of 24th July to 7th August 2011. Initially, the bird favoured eastern area of the reserve. But this is a difficult area to view, and after a couple of hours (as long as my wife was prepared to give me) on Monday 1st August I had failed to see it.

Fortunately for me, the weather was hot and sunny in Dorset all, meaning we had a great holiday, and the western scrape at Lodmoor dried up enough to force the birds to the wetter western end. I was here on Friday 5th August.

Stilt Sandpiper, Lodmor RSPB, Dorset - 5th August 2011

Stilt Sandpiper, Lodmor RSPB, Dorset - 5th August 2011

The Stilt Sandpiper stuck out like sore thumb. Not because of its long, yellowy legs, its clear supercillium, or its long, black, slightly decurved bill. No, because of the barred pattern that extended from on the bird’s chest right down its belly and flanks to the tail, leaving only a clear white area around the vent – an unusual pattern for a sandpiper, with perhaps only the much, much larger Eurasian Curlew having a similar(-ish) pattern.

The other feature of note was the bird’s size. It is similar to Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) in being larger than the “stints”, like the Dunlins it was feeding near, yet smaller that the other non-plover waders, like the Godwits, ‘Shanks and Curlews. It had this lovely rufous cheeck patch too.

A really interesting and attractive bird. Fortunately, I also managed to get some video footage of the bird feeding, showing it’s feeding technique quite well.

Holidays in unfamiliar places often means you get to see unfamiliar birds, but I didn’t expect to see this in Dorset when I booked the holiday! Bonus.

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