Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The nuclear option in Suffolk 24th September 2013



A Lesser Grey Shrike had taken up temporary residence in some horse paddocks between the Suffolk villages of Leiston and Sizewell. It had been there for around ten days but it was only on Monday after a hectic weekend that I finally got it together to go and see it. Travelling to Suffolk from where I live in northwest Oxfordshire is not to be undertaken lightly as there is not really a direct route and it seems to take an age to get there. Planning to make a day of it at Leiston and then nearby Sizewell necessitated an inordinately early start in order to get around the M25 before the usual automobile insanity of rush hour motorway driving got into full swing. Even so by the time I reached the M40 and then the M25 at 6am, the motorway was full of vehicles. Monday, a back to working day for most people and everyone in a hurry and devoid of patience with doubtless one and all wishing they could be anywhere but going to work. I weaved around huge articulated lorries and avoided the infamous white vans, as usual being driven with reckless abandon in the fast lane. The night sky almost imperceptibly gave way to a misty and still morning, the sun a watery shape soon to disappear but still casting it's light through a hazy sky. 

I arrived at Leiston and headed for Halfway Cottages where I could apparently park and walk across the road and up a bridleway to see the shrike, below some electricity pylons running from the dominant and obtrusive  bulk of Sizewell Nuclear Power Station, all too visible a couple of miles away on the nearby coast. A veritable colossus of concrete and technology, a true eyesore amongst the sedate rural charms of this part of Suffolk. The huge pylons strung with high voltage cables ran from the black heart of the power station and vanished deep inland. 


This however was the shrike's chosen habitat for it's transient stay. I wandered up the bridleway. No one else was about. A ChiffChaff, no doubt deluded by the unseasonably warm, humid weather sang away in the bushes. Unsure of where to go exactly I called Gnome who had come to see the shrike a couple of days earlier. It was now 8.30am. Gnome informed me to go under the pylons and the shrike should be in the horse paddocks just beyond them. I passed under the scarily crackling and vibrating cables wondering what kind of malignant force field I was subjecting my body to as I passed underneath. It has been suggested that to live anywhere near these cables is dangerous and can give you leukemia. I surmised that a couple of hours would probably not affect my well being but still felt uneasy at the  close proximity of the high voltage cables. I scanned the fence posts dividing the horse paddocks and sure enough the shrike was sitting, dumpy, grey and white, on top of one. Relaxed and unhurried it was contemplating the ground below.


I watched it for fifteen minutes, noting the differences between it's larger cousin the Great Grey Shrike. Similar in colour, being grey above and white below, with a bulbous conical beak and only a slightly hooked tip to the beak. I noted the standard black highwayman's mask on the sides of it's head and the pure white cheeks. A flash of white at the base of the outer primaries and slightly smaller in build. It was a first year bird, lacking the black forehead of an adult. The last one I saw in the UK was an adult, way back in the spring of 1985 at Great Wakering in Essex, so this had been a long time coming and it was good to become re-acquainted with this species. I looked down briefly and on looking back the shrike had gone. Damn. A couple of other birders arrived and the shrike was soon relocated, having moved to the top of a large bush in an adjacent paddock. I watched it for another thirty minutes as it got progressively more distant and in the end decided to go to nearby Sizewell, planning to return later in the afternoon to see if the shrike had come any closer and would give some photo opportunities. 

I drove to Sizewell. It would be such a pleasant place if it were not for the towering, monolithic colossus of the Nuclear Power Station, protected by a plethora of closed circuit cameras and coils of barbed wire. A distinct vibrating hum emanated from it as I walked along the beach and klaxons kept going off announcing safety drills and the whole edifice stretched for around half a mile adjacent to the back of the dunes and beach. 




Such a contrast to the still, mirror calm sea and the miles of unspoilt dunes and beach stretching as far as you could see in both directions but no matter how steadfastly you look out to sea you are always aware of what is behind you, dominating your senses both audibly and visually. The only good thing that can be said, referring to matters ornithological, is that the power station is home to Black Redstarts but today, despite walking the length of the perimeter fence surrounding the seaward side of the power station, not one could be found. 

Why was I in such an unsavoury spot you may ask? Well, an Arctic Skua had taken up residence on the beach directly below the power station and had been present for some days and, even better for photographers, was allowing close approach. I have seen literally thousands of Arctic Skuas, usually in spring on their migration north up the English Channel but always in flight and at a distance. So to see one on the ground and close to was definitely not to be missed. Some had speculated this particular skua was not well, others said it was partially oiled but on viewing it I could not concur with either suggestion. It's flight feathers were pretty tatty admittedly but that did not seem to interfere with it's flight in anyway and it would occasionally take to the air and harass the local gulls in typical skua fashion, going through a series of breathtaking aerial acrobatics literally, at times, right over my head before gliding falcon like, back down to the shingle. It's demeanour was that of a typical skua in that it carried on in it's own insouciant way, leisurely going about it's life and not giving an apparent toss about anything or anyone. I could see no evidence of oil on it's plumage and I was looking at it from no more than ten feet away.

 Arctic Skuas usually moult in their winter quarters so it is entirely plausible that
this bird's plumage is so worn. It was also ringed but unfortunately the details
on the ring were unreadable






Skuas are the pirates of the bird world. Kleptoparasites that gain their food for the most part by forcing other, usually smaller seabirds such as terns and Kittiwakes, to disgorge food following a prolonged aerial attack by the skua. This was one such pirate. Dark, brooding and a little menacing but with no lack of charisma. A bit scruffy with it's heavily worn plumage but still a bit rakish. If birds had sex appeal this was it and ladies would throw themselves at it's raffish mercy as it downed a dry martini at Rik's Bar in Casablanca. A true pirate of the seas. Technically it's plumage is called intermediate, being a combination somewhere between the two usual extremes of dark and light morph and due to the lack of barring on the underwings it would appear to be an adult. I took lots of pictures. 

Looking out to sea the outfall from the power station was attracting a lot of gulls to feed on whatever was being turned up to the surface by the upwelling of water from the power station discharge. A line of immature Herring Gulls squabbled amongst themselves, disputing every morsel that came to the surface. Strung out in a line, a respectable distance from the quarrelsome juvenile Herring Gulls were some smaller gulls. The first two were Black Headed Gulls but then an even smaller gull became evident. It was a winter plumaged adult Little Gull. I scanned further and in the end found no less than sixteen, all second year birds or adults and all in winter plumage. They fed daintily, picking fastidiously from the surface of the water and flying back to the source of the upwelling once they had drifted too far from the outflow. Little else was around apart from a dark smudge of ducks further out on the glassy sea surface. A quick check in the scope revealed around eighty Wigeon, which soon after took off and headed inland. I went back to the car, had some lunch and then returned the two miles back to Halfway Cottages for another look at the shrike. This time it was a little closer to the bridleway and I attempted some photos but distance and heat haze still made things difficult. 





Nonetheless I watched it for an hour or so during which time I saw it catch and consume at least two grasshoppers or crickets and a bumble bee which it caught in flight. Eventually tiring of the shrike I resolved to return to Sizewell for another bout of skua communing. As I walked back to the car, a shiny, copper coloured Slow Worm, almost under my feet, sidled across the grassy track disappearing at a leisurely pace into the grass and bracken. 

Back at Sizewell and there was still no sign of the nuclear Black Redstarts. It was just not going to be my day but I cannot have it all. I returned to the beach and the lone figure of the skua stood, in solitary and silent contemplation on the shingle ridge.





I approached from the sandy waveshore and as I did a small wader, shining white below and spangled above like the shingle, in myriad colours of black, grey, buff and white, ran before me. A juvenile Sanderling. I stood still. So did the Sanderling. Each of us uncertain. 



Endearingly it looked at me, head tilted to one side and deciding that I posed no immediate threat, with tentative steps, approached ever closer. So lovely in the late afternoon sunlight, positively gleaming in it's juvenile freshness as it ran back and fore following the wave curve on the sand. 







It was joined by three more juveniles, quietly communing to each other with soft twitterings. They came very close but then thought better of it and with fast pattering black legs retreated to what they considered a safer distance. I left them and turned for home. We both had a long way to go. This memory would sustain me on the long miles back to Oxfordshire.























Monday, 16 September 2013

Showing well 15th September 2013




c Ron Marshall
Saturday afternoon and I am lazing on the sofa after a hard morning's local birding with Badger. I checked the RBA app. on my i-phone. A Great Snipe had been found in a ditch at Kilnsea in East Yorkshire. I shuddered inwardly. I still bear the mental scars from the abortive trip I made with Badger and Paul to Norfolk a year or so ago to try and see the last Great Snipe to be properly twitchable in Britain. The result was a fruitless day stuck in a cold and windswept hide, crammed in with eighty other birders and Garry Bagnell, and with a no show result that still gives me cold sweats to this day. This one at Kilnsea was apparently being seen regularly until lunchtime on Saturday when it flew off out of view and was not reported again. With the weather conditions the way they were, bringing increasing wind and rain, I thought it unlikely that it would be gone overnight and there was a good chance it could be twitchable the next day. However I dismissed such notions and retired early to bed to get a very much overdue 'good night's sleep'. This was duly achieved and rising refreshed at eight the next morning I decided to go to Otmoor to pick some sloes in order to make some more sloe gin. Nice and relaxing before the forecast rain arrived at lunchtime. 

So it was that at nine that morning I left the house informing my wife of my mission to pick sloes. 'Do you want your camera?' she enquired. 'No thanks. I will just take the bins and the scope. There is never much at Otmoor and I want to concentrate on picking the sloes. I may have a look at the Pill to see if any Whinchats are still there'. Casually I looked at the latest RBA reports for Sunday on my phone and saw that the Great Snipe was still there and showing well. This news itself constituted two minor miracles, as Great Snipes do not usually hang around for long and often the only view obtainable, even if they do remain, is a brief few seconds of it flying out of a ditch and disappearing into the proverbial long grass or other concealing vegetation. I felt a pang of disappointment and regret at the news of it's continued presence but was philosophical as there was no way I could have driven overnight or early in the morning up to Kilnsea. I desperately needed sleep and had got it and now felt pretty good. 

I drove slowly onwards to Otmoor and on getting to Woodstock saw that the time was now 9.30. Sometimes it occurs to me how much we are restrained by convention, by what is considered normal and a reluctance to indulge in what we consider other people would think is odd behaviour. Or is that just me? I suddenly thought there is nothing to stop me going to East Yorkshire. Right now. There really isn't. I stopped the car on a grass verge and stared ahead through the windscreen. Lost in thought. Outwardly calm. Inwardly in turmoil. How long to get to Kilnsea? The only other twitch I did there was to see a female Rufous tailed Rock Thrush earlier this year and it took four hours. That would mean if I turned the Audi north immediately and forgot about the pastoral pleasures of Otmoor and the sloes I would get there at around 1pm or just after. This would give me around seven hours of daylight. The Great Snipe was bound to move but this would give me and the other birders who would also be there, ample opportunity to re-locate it if such a thing occured. Currently it was reported as still showing well in the garden of Southwell Cottage at the bottom of Beacon Lane. 
 
I wondered if anyone would want to come with me? I tried Andy, who on answering his phone told me he was at Farmoor not seeing much. He added on hearing my suggestion, 'I have something on this afternoon. but give me two minutes to think about it'. 'OK' I replied.  A few minutes later a text duly arrived to advise he was not coming as he had a commitment that afternoon and could not get out of it but wished me luck. I tried Clackers. 'Hi Keith. Fancy trying to see a Great Snipe?' 'I would love to but my mother is still very ill in hospital and I cannot really spare the time'. 'No problem. I quite understand.'  Paul? No reply so I  left  a voicemail.  Andrew?  'Hi Ewan. I would love to come but am in Devon attending a wedding.' Fair enough. I had run out of options. So it was just me then. There had been no further updates about the snipe since 9.15. Mentally I went a little bit wa'hey! A little bit wa'hoh!. I went into full geezer mode. This is madness. I headed, almost in a trance, for the M40, threading the Audi through the quiet Oxfordshire lanes, not quite believing what I was doing.  
 
It really was surreal. I had no time to mentally adjust to my sudden decision. All sorts of doubts and anxieties assailed me as I drove for the motorway. A voice of reason in my head told me I was being stupid. The voice said 'It's miles away. Four hours on a Sunday! The snipe will undoubtedly be flushed and never be seen again. It's a major risk. Think of all that driving'. The geezer in me replied 'But you have never ever seen one have you? Remember Norfolk and how much you wanted to see that one? Think of the great feeling if you pull it off against all the odds and do see it. Go on - jump that fence of reason and common sense and go for it. You are a the man!' With all these conflicting thoughts passing through my head the drive up the M40 and around Coventry passed in a blur and I only found myself regaining a sense of place and reality somewhere on the M69, heading for the M1 and then north. A Hobby flew as fast across the road as I was going up it. A pull off at some motorway services to get an update on the pager was again surreal as I was just not attuned for all these people and cars. I was still mentally programmed for the gentle surrounds of Otmoor not motorway services mayhem! Finally an update on the pager came through. The Great Snipe was still in the garden and showing well. That resolved it. I felt more confident. I was now in full twitching mode. It's Kilnsea or bust! Fully committed I headed up the M1 at high speed.  On and on I sped up the motorway. M1 junction 32 and smoothly onto the M18 and then the M62 to Hull, the latter two wide open, windswept, straight as an arrow motorways with very few cars. I made excellent progress reaching Hull by twelve noon. Grey, windswept and damp. It's seedy charm never ceases to fascinate me but I had no time to indulge in such flights of fancy. I passed through Hull, the huge, turbulent River Humber on my right with white crested, mud brown waves rushing seawards and then on out through a decrepit industrial area and into the open, flat, rural countryside of East Yorkshire. Grey clouds scudding east, being hurled along by a strong gusting southwest wind. Then onto a single carriageway road that went on for ever through tiny villages with strange sounding northern names such as Thurgumbold and even crossing the East West Greenwich Meridian, so a sign by the road informed me. 

After what seemed an age of observing speed limits through the numerous small villages I arrived at the even smaller village of Kilnsea, directly facing the North Sea, right at the tip of the long promontory I had traversed, and there was no doubt about the approximate location of the snipe. A long line of cars, birders cars, stretched back along the grass verge of the narrow approach road into Kilnsea. There is a tiny cross roads in Kilnsea at the end of the approach road. But where is Beacon Road and Southwell Cottage? I need not have worried. I parked the car in a space on the grass verge with a hedge running along beside the verge and walked up to the crossroads. I could see one or two relaxed birders by the cafe on the other side of the crossroads but surely there were more people than this for such a bird? Look at all the cars here. I got to the corner and turning left almost collided with a birder who was at one end of a scrum of birders who were standing on the grass verge of what transpired to be Beacon Road apparently looking at their feet with binoculars. Telescopes and tripods abandoned behind them.  Huh? What's going on? They were in fact looking down into a soggy ditch running between the narrow grass verge and the hedge, at the bottom of which was a Great Snipe, oblivious to all the attention it was attracting and probing for all it's worth in the muddy, leaf soggy bottom of the ditch. Showing well? It was virtually flinging itself at us. I just could not believe it.




c Wayne Gillatt


c Ron Marshall
No more than six feet away from me, this vision of loveliness, a lifer, probed away for some minutes between a discarded banana skin and an empty can of Strongbow, had a brief sleep with bill tucked into feathers and then walked up the bank towards us before going back down the bank into the ditch and up the other side to become invisible in the tangled vegetation under the hedge.

Taken with my I-phone
From the left  Banana skin, empty can of Strongbow and Great Snipe!
All showing well
I must have been up close and personal with the snipe for around fifteen minutes. Now with the snipe temporarily invisible, I reflected on what I had seen. It struck me as much chunkier than a Common Snipe and a bit larger with a proportionately smaller bill although still a fair length. I pinched myself while cussing about the lack of a camera. I could have got fabulous pictures. It was so close I even attempted some images with my i-phone. With my fellow birders we stood about but it did not return. Some fifteen minutes later a lady came up to us and told us it was roosting in true snipe fashion on the other side of the hedge! We went a few metres up the road, through an open gate in the hedge and into a grass field and down the hedgeline to approximately opposite where we had originally been standing on the other side of the hedge.




c Wayne Gillatt
The Great Snipe was in the corner of the field, in the open, bill tucked into feathers, in the green grass. We formed a discrete semi circle around it without causing it any alarm. 




Another I-phone masterpiece.
The Great Snipe is just visible as a brown lump in front of the left hand side
of the pile of dead mown grass!
I set up the scope and studied it's plumage in minute detail. It was so close in the scope I could even see the sky reflected in it's eye. All the diagnostic features were there to see. 


c Wayne Gillatt
The two long creamy white lines running down each side of the mantle. The prominent white tips to all the coverts especially the greater coverts, creating the impression of white lines across the wing. The broad, orange tips to the tail feathers with the large amount of white in the outer ones. It's profusely barred, white underparts. As I said earlier, stockier and larger than it's commoner cousin but with similar shortish pastel greyish green legs and it's wing tips hidden by the long black and brown marbled tertial feathers. It hunkered down in the grass. Occasionally the strengthening wind buffeted it so strongly it was almost blown over. It filled the scope's eyepiece. I just could not take my eyes off it. The sheer beauty of the orange buffs, dark browns, black squiggles and intricacies of it's plumage patterns took my breath away. It remained in this position, calmly roosting with it's attentive audience  for some twenty minutes. A birder unzipped something, the noise sounding like a muted version of a snipe alarm call. The Great Snipe was instantly on alert, bill whipped out of compressed feathers and crouching for instant take off. It quickly relaxed, fluffed out it's feathers and tucking it's bill back into it's feathers, carried on dozing. Everyone was waiting for it to make a move. A light rain squall arrived and the pattering rain drops stimulated it to commence preening. It used it's long bill to smear oil from it's preen gland, located just above the tail, onto the bill and then to preen it's belly feathers. Moments later it walked up onto a nearby mound of  dead mown grass and there it was, gloriously isolated, in full view, side on. It does not get better than this. It looked around and calmly came walking back towards us, closer and closer, now no more than four feet away. 


c Wayne Gillatt
Cameras went berserk with a fusillade of shutter clicks and then it casually turned back into the hedge bottom and went through the tangle and back down into it's favoured ditch. We in turn went back up the hedgeline, through the gate and rejoined it at the original grassy verge overlooking the ditch, where it repeated the same performance as when I first encountered it. 

Sensational just sensational. I never really expected this. Just a view of it flying, maybe hunkered down in dense vegetation, barely visible, was what I expected, hoped even, not a grand stand diva performance such as this. It was totally fearless. Two hours now since my first and unforgettable encounter with it, and virtually constantly on view. A text from Andy came through advising that his band practice for that afternoon was cancelled. So he could have come after all. The rain came on harder, driven by the now almost gale force wind and it looked like it would be prolonged. I left the snipe in it's ditch along with it's assembled admirers and returned to the car. Nothing can beat this feeling. A successful twitch and a lifer. I called my wife. 'Hi, I am in Hull'. 'I thought you were going to Otmoor?' 'Yes but something came up'

Many thanks to Wayne Gillatt and Ron Marshall who saved the day and allowed me to use their excellent photos to illustrate this blog

Potscript  Sadly the confiding nature of this Great Snipe was ultimately it's undoing.
                 On Monday it was killed by a cat which is a great shame

Monday, 9 September 2013

Twitching and Bitching 8th September 2013


Keyhaven Lagoon
Saturday morning at Farmoor Reservoir was dire. Badger, myself and Andy wandered morosely up the length of the Causeway bemoaning the lack of anything interesting to look at and the general awfulness of Farmoor. Today it excelled itself with a  tasty combination of goose gauno, a million discarded gull feathers and a random selection of either dead or dying gulls whilst not forgetting the occasional rancid trout carcase floating at the water's edge. Three Dunlin, minding their own business and running along beside the water's edge, received an excess of unwarranted attention. It was that bad. There was nothing else to look at. Gone were the heady delights of the Black Terns and Mediterranean Gulls of Thursday. Back at the car park we gave the day up as a bad job and headed more in desperation than hope for Otmoor. That was predictably just as uninspiring. In yet another car park we moaned  and groaned, finally deciding to cut our losses and make a day of it on Sunday and go and twitch the Semi-palmated Sandpiper at Keyhaven Lagoon which is on the Hampshire coast. I went home to make some sloe gin. Andy went back to work and Badger-well who knows. Sunday dawned. I left my bed at 6.30 and something was wrong. I did not feel well at all. Not quite so unwell that I should get back to bed but bad enough to feel listless and severely lacking in my usual energy and enthusiasm. I told myself that once I got going I would feel a bit better and watched the weather forecast on Breakfast TV. A cheery presenter (they always are - why?) announced that the following days would be fine with just the odd shower. At least I think that is what he said. I was still only half awake so it was hard to concentrate. Re-assured by the forecaster's confident prediction and still feeling a little dazed I did not bother with waterproof clothing.

All was well as far as I was concerned, it was already a nice sunny day outside the house and so I duly headed to the nearby village of Leafield to collect Andrew, a new and innocent recruit to our endless quest for birds and adventure in Oxfordshire and beyond. Mission accomplished in collecting Andrew, it was then off to Abingdon for a rendezvous with Badger and Andy and then we set off for the coast. Andy and Andrew compared experiences of electric guitars in the back seat of Badger's car while I slumped in the front seat next to Badger, consulting at regular intervals my RBA App on my I-phone. No news about the Semi P. This continued to be the case, despite regular checks, until our arrival at Keyhaven Car Park. It was not looking good. Leaving the car I accosted a birder who was obviously returning from a fruitless quest. He told me there had been no sign of the Semi P since dawn. It was now looking very bad. I noted that the sunny blue sky that had accompanied us from Oxfordshire all the way down the miles of Motorway was being chased rapidly eastwards by a brisk westerly wind and following hard on it's heels was an ominous grey mass of angry clouds with already a few spots of rain beginning to fall. We took the track out to the seawall and the rain increased. I sheltered under a large tree with Andrew until the others joined us. They all had wet weather gear but I did not. Obviously they had watched a different forecast to mine or more likely been more awake and alert at the time of the forecast. A cheery lady came along and told us enthusiastically it had rained all night in Keyhaven and it looked like it was going to really rain hard again. 'Still you will be alright you have the right clothing' said she looking at Andrew. She giggled and looked at me 'Oh dear' was all she said. Just smile Ewan. 'Thanks for that' I mumbled. I ventured a little further along the path but the location of the still absent Semi P about a mile away and adjacent to The Solent was totally exposed to the elements. There was no shelter whatsoever. To stand out there and get the inevitable soaking would be purgatory especially as I was not feeling well and my mood would only go from bad to very, very bad. A Water Rail squealed from a nearby reedbed. The rain had by now already soaked the front of my trouser legs and my fleece was showing signs of abject capitulation in the water repellent department. I gave it up. Cussing and complaining about bloody forecasters, the UK climate in general and my usual 'It was never like this in Africa' refrain I retreated to Badger's car and sat it out. The others steadfastly made their way along the sea wall impervious to the elements.  At least I could use the down time to answer a few work emails on my I-phone and send a few un-necessary texts to birding friends and business associates. It was however, a very frustrating time although I had the consolation of knowing that the dratted Semi P had not shown up in my absence as Badger had not called my phone to alert me to any good news.

The rain went on for an hour or more. I felt snug in the car but finally the rain relented and the sky gradually brightened as did my mood. I headed out to the others which was a fair distance along the seawall and finally joined them along with numerous other hardy souls - all seemingly in waterproof clothing. The usual inane chatter and slanderous statements about absent birders known and unknown whiled away the tedium whilst awaiting the now inevitable non arrival of the Semi-palmated Sandpiper

Andrew and Badger looking in vain

We stared out at a large area of mud and shallow brackish water populated by in excess of a hundred Dunlin with at least five exquisite Curlew Sandpipers amongst them. One of my favourite birds. Such an elegant and evenly proportioned small wader, their legs and bill ever so slightly longer than the Dunlin and with a more streamlined body shape possessing none of the hunch shouldered dumpiness and small headedness of the Dunlin. All the Curlew Sandpipers were juveniles, their plumage as immaculate as their body shape with a delicate apricot wash to their breasts, beautiful turtle shell scalloping to their upper-parts and flashing a huge white rump when they flew. The longer legs of the Curlew Sandpipers allowed them to wade deeper into the pool, almost at times swimming, although they were also not averse to joining the Dunlins pattering around in the thick gloopy mud.They would regularly haul mud encased worms from below the water submerging their heads entirely in the process.

Juvenile Curlew Sandpiper
Every so often the entire flock would take alarm and with good reason as a Peregrine had made at least two low passes along the sea wall but after wheeling in a tight formation of alternate grey and white, as in unison they tilted from one side to the other, they would settle again on the pool.


The birds were remarkably tolerant of our close proximity and showed little fear allowing those of us with cameras to sit literally within feet of them and take their pictures to our heart's content.










Juvenile Curlew Sandpipers 


Juvenile Dunlins moulting into winter plumage
Time slid by. A flock of Grey Plovers flew in, some still in their appealing combination of black, grey and white breeding plumage. A Little Egret stalked along the far bank and an occasional Ringed Plover would betray it's arrival with a querulous, melancholy call. The Semi P was still absent and realistically we had to come to the conclusion it was gone and not returning.

Remarkably my first attempt at twitching a Semi P was at this very spot some years ago. That one, like this one had been present for a number of days but the day I chose to go and see it was the day it chose to disappear. Since then I have been fortunate to have seen three separate individuals in various parts of southern England, one of which was again at this very location. Today, however was, in twitching parlance a dip. For me it was not particularly troubling as the opportunity to get such close views of one of my favourite waders in the form of the Curlew Sandpipers was ample compensation. Andy was a bit miffed, having missed a new bird for the UK but as he is relatively new to birding the Curlew Sandpipers were also new for him. A wander further east along the seawall to restore the circulation brought us to some wooden stakes sticking out of the water, a little offshore, and populated by Sandwich, Common and best of all, two juvenile Black Terns. The terns stoically perched head to wind, buffeted by the strong westerly airflow.


Black Tern, Common Tern and Sandwich Tern
A small flock of Turnstones ran amongst the discarded seaweed on the sandshore in front of us. Rapidly acquiring their winter plumage they were remarkably well camouflaged amongst the brown seaweed and sand. I was surprised at their strength as they tossed aside lumps of seaweed as big as themselves or dug vigorously in the sand in their search for invertebrates


Well camouflaged Turnstone
Four hours had now elapsed and yet another large black cloud was looming menacingly in the west so we made our way back to the car deciding to call it a day.

Now Keyhaven is very adjacent to the New Forest and as those of you who read this blog regularly will know there is a place in the New Forest called Acres Down and at Acres Down there is Acres Down Farm that sells possibly the best value cream teas in the south of England. Andrew needed to be initiated. Oh yes he did. It would be unfair of us to deprive him of this culinary and sensory extravaganza I am sure you will agree. We sat at a table covered in a red and white gingham tablecloth. Four cream teas please - as the rain came down again. Heaven.