Monday, 24 September 2012

Baird’s Sandpiper and other delights – North Teesmouth, Monday 10th September 2012

The forth and final day of my birding long-weekend, and after all that twitching (here and here) and boating (here) it was a pleasure to just do some straight-ahead bird watching.

This area (comprising Saltholme, Seal Sands, Seaton Snook, North Gare, and so on – part of Teesmouth Bird Club’s recording area) is not too far from where I live, so even after a slow start to the day I was on the beach at Seaton Snook by mid-morning.

The juvenile Baird’s Sandpiper was with three Sanderling, running back-and-forth along the tide line. The birds were very confiding, but it wasn’t difficult to pick out the Baird’s even at some distance. It was the smaller, daintier bird of the group, with an obvious long primary projection, making the bird appear stretched lengthways. The legs looked longer and the bill looked finer than those of the Sanderlings.

With closer views the bill could be seen to curve downwards slightly. The breast was a buff-brown and well marked with fine lines of dark streaky spots; whereas the belly was off-white with a clear distinction between the two (c.f. Pectoral Sandpiper). The coverts were scaly brown/black/buff, with dark primaries extending beyond the tail. There was a hint of a buff supercilium behind the eye, with darker areas on the ear coverts and crown, and there were two buff lines from the nape down to the mantle.

When running it shot along like the Sanderlings on fast black legs, but when feeding it probed less frequently. It did occasionally find something of interest and would probe and peck at it for some time. In flight, the wings were long and thin, and appeared two-coloured: buff-brown on the coverts and greyish on the flight feathers.

There was no doubting this was an attractive, distinctive, and characterful bird.

Baird's Sandpiper, Cleveland - Monday 10th September 2012

Sanderling (left) and Baird's Sandpiper, Cleveland - Monday 10th September 2012

Sanderling, Cleveland - Monday 10th September 2012

After I’d had my fill of that lovely bird, I spent the rest of the afternoon at Saltholme RSPB, starting at the rather conveniently sited Phil Stead hide (in the car park, so you actually get some birding in before going through the gift shop).

After some minutes I managed to rustle up one of the moulting Garganey that were hiding in the reeds. These birds are often unobtrusive, even in spring and summer, when the male is in full breeding plumage and doing his thing. The eclipse plumage is a subtle thing, best picked out by looking for the softly-streaked head pattern. Nice supporting cast of Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Little Egret, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, and Coot was flushed briefly by a passing Merlin. And there was another cloud of Goldfinch coming and going too – seen so many this year, lots of good-sized flocks. Also, a Brown Hare came a sat in front of the hide for 30 minutes.

Brown Hare, Saltholme RSPB - Monday 10th September 2012

After a quick snack - and two Kestrels, Carrion Crow, Magpie, Coot, Mallard from the visitor centre - I finished off down at Saltholme Pools hide. I nice, close Black-necked Grebe was the highlight, though I could only see one of supposed two. A bit thin on waders today, but numbers of ducks building  nicely: Wigeon, Shoveler, Pochard, Teal, etc.

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