Friday, 14 September 2012

Double Dowitchers!

I had a ridiculous, brilliant, and tiring few days of birding/twitching last weekend, after getting agreement from Mrs Indie-Birder for me to disappear for four days. I’m playing catch-up with the blog at the moment, so here’s a quick account of day one.

Friday 7th September: The plan all along had been to spend a long weekend on the east coast, picking up those usual September migrants around Spurn and Flamborough Head, and hoping for something more interesting to crop up. But, with the wind coming stubbornly from the west all week, it came as no surprise that East Yorkshire was quiet, whereas the South West was full of American goodies. Long-billed Dowitcher, Lesser Yellowlegs, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, etc, etc, and most of them lifers for me. Now when Britain’s only second twitchable Short-billed Dowitcher turned up in Dorset earlier in the week, the die was cast.

I set off later than I wanted, but arrived at Lodmoor RSPB in Weymouth around 10am. What a beautiful morning, hot, sunny, slight breeze off the sea… Yes, yes, but what of the bird? “No sign”… Well, I’d made my choice and I was here now. I’d even brought a toothbrush and enough clothes for four days. I wasn’t going home empty-handed.

Lodmoor was good to me last year, when looking for another Yank wader: Stilt Sandpiper. Okay, I spent an afternoon then looking at nothing but Juncus grass, but that bird showed brilliantly in the end. I clung on to this thought as I stared intently at the Juncus grass hoping the Black-tailed Godwit that kept passing the gap I looking at would suddenly shrink and develop shorter legs and some tertial notches…

Waiting, watching…

Then an eagle-eyed chap picked it out, just where it had been last seen briefly at dawn five hours earlier. After this, it stayed in view all the while I was there (another 2.5 hours). It wasn’t exactly close, but at least it was relatively still, allowing us to all check those salient ID points:
  • Dowitcher? Yes.
  • Short bill? Hard to tell, the Long- and Short-billed types have overlapping bill-lengths.
  • Juvenile? Crucially, yes. Paler, buffier chest and flanks than the richer coloured adults, and with scaly upper parts.
  • Tertials, tell us about them. The tertials looked black with bold orange notches, a bit like tiger stripes.
  • Good enough for me!
Now off to Slimbridge WWT to see the Long-billed Dowitcher, to contrast and compare…

I arrived at the WWT headquarters a fair bit later than I expected. Why? One obvious clue would be: I don’t have a sat-nav. Anyway, it was still a gorgeous day, and so a stroll around here would be lovely. After dodging the zoo animals, I arrived at the Zeiss Hide to find the sun right behind the area where the waders were feeding. With a little help from some regulars, we picked out the LBD feeding with Black-tailed Godwits. The other wader (godwits, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, and Snipe) made it very easy to pick out on size and gait alone. It looked scruffy, obviously in full moult. This made picking out the finer ID points a little trickier, but it was clearly a moulting Dowitcher, and the one we all agreed was the Long-billed Dowitcher.

Right then. Good work all round. Successful trip. Very happy. Now I just needed to get home. I had to be at Bridlington harbour for 08:00 the following day to catch a boat

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