Thursday, 18 June 2015

Hudsonian Whimbrel, Pagham Harbour, West Sussex - 10th June 2015

Another in a long line of American vagrants in Britain this spring, this Hudsonian Whimbrel (a rare visitor to the UK with only eleven previous records) was found on the 9th June by George Kinnard (well done fella!). It took less than 24 hours for twitching fever to kick in, and I juggled my commitments around a bit and headed south from work late the following morning.

I arrived in Church Norton to sunny but cool and windy weather, and with the news that the bird had flown to the north of the harbour out of view, and hadn't been seen for around 2.5 hours...

The wait for it to (hopefully) show again wasn't too anxious. This was mainly because there was plenty of confidence in the few people who were present (far fewer than I'd expected, though it's a big site, so there may have been more I didn't see) that the bird hadn't gone far and it would soon be back once the tide came in.

Of course, the easiest way to pass time on a twitch is to actively look for the bird you'd come to see. Seriously, you won't believe the number of people who don't do this, but instead they stand around, chat, and stare at their phones. There were plenty of Eurasian Whimbrels and Eurasian Curlews around to pick through, as they were moved on from feeding on the sand into the cord-grass by the rising tide.

Each had to be checked, firstly to rule out Curlew (easy, but more difficult when some birds were in long grass a kilometre away) and then to check for the pale face and stronger pattern of the Hudsonian Whimbrel. Some of the birds occasionally flew, and all had white rumps. Well, occasionally it would be difficult to tell because of the angle and the strength of the light. I thought I had a good pale-faced candidate in one area, which frustratingly I couldn't nail the rump during a very brief fight.

I was feeling increasingly hungry, and after three hours I buckled and popped back to the car for ten minutes to pick up some grub. Of course, as I walked back the message came in the bird had been seen! Typical! I rushed back and was told it was seen in the same small area that I'd had my distant "candidate". No one could tell if the bird had just flown in or was picked out from those already present, so I had no idea of the likelihood of it being the same bird I'd picked out.

I couldn't see the bird at first, but eventually it took a flight which other Whimbrels and the speckled brown rump was clear to see. I could now check the face and it was clearly paler, with a bolder median crown strip and eye stripes. The bird made three more flights while I watched, including an extended one up the harbour and back again, coming closer this time.

I got some excellent views, though the same cannot be said of my photos. Three completely useless ones are reproduced below - you'll have to trust me when I tell you it's the brown shape in the middle. Instead, I'd recommend googling for some proper photos of this bird.

Hudsonian Whimbrel (trust me), Pagham Harbour, West Sussex - 10th June, 2015

It was well worth the trip to get good views of a truly rare bird in the UK.

As I left, I noticed the birder I'd been stood with was waiting at a bus stop. I went back and offered him a lift - he was heading to Havant, pretty much on my route home. I was pleased to find out he was Barry Collins, who had found the Semipalmated Plover at Hayling Island I'd twitched in 2013, amongst many others (inlcuding finding 44 Kentish Plovers in his time!). Respect!

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