Thursday 25 April 2024

A Marsh Sandpiper on the South Coast 22nd April 2024

On Sunday I called Mark P, who lives in the next village to mine in Oxfordshire asking him what he was doing on Monday.

Nothing much he ventured

I am of a mind to go and see the Marsh Sandpiper that is on Normandy Lagoon at Lymington Nature Reserve in Hampshire. Do you fancy coming? I responded

Mark being relatively new to birding had never seen a Marsh Sandpiper nor even been to Lymington NR so was naturally keen to go

I'll pick you up at 8am at yours once I know it's still there on Monday.

Monday arrived, slightly wet and dreary with the northerly airflow still holding sway.The Marsh Sandpiper was reported on Birdguides at just after 7am, as still being on its favoured lagoon at Normandy Marsh.

I called Mark to advise the twitch was on, collected him from his home and away we went on the two and a half hour drive to Lymington. The journey passed easily enough as we took it steadily down the all too familiar A34 to the distant M27 motorway  that would take us westwards and bring us near to Lymington.

We eventually turned off the motorway and passed through various congested New Forest villages before following a back street route through Lymington, emerging close to the coast on a narrow lane that ran through pleasant trees to arrive at the open expanse of Lymington and Keyhaven Nature Reserve. We came to rest on a wide grass verge where we left the car and after passing through an entrance gate into the nature reserve it was but a short walk on a gravel track leading up onto the seawall that protected the lagoons from The Solent that lay between us and the Isle of Wight with the iconic Needles away to our right at its westernmost point.

I realised that I had been here a long while ago when I came to see a Long billed Dowitcher.

Any doubt about where to look for the sandpiper was quickly dispelled as we saw a number of birders on the sea wall looking through scopes and cameras at the nearest lagoon.  A  birder pointed out the Marsh Sandpiper when we got to the top of the sea wall and with some ease, it has to be said, Mark had another lifer and me my fourth Marsh Sandpiper to be seen in Britain.

Marsh Sandpipers  are scarce vagrants to Britain, breeding in open steppe and taiga wetland from Finland and the Baltic States where they are scarce, east across Russia to central Siberia and the Far East. The birds that breed in eastern Europe and Scandinavia winter in Africa mainly south of the Sahara.Those further east winter in India, southeast Asia and Australasia.

The Marsh Sandpiper kept pretty much on its own, wading erratically, on its long legs, in the shallow water although a closely related Greenshank was, at times just metres away.The Marsh Sandpiper is smaller and more delicate than its larger cousin with a long fine bill and very long greenish legs and this was pretty much what we saw on first setting our eyes on it

Marsh Sandpiper

The two species, here in close proximity, provided an interesting comparison in size, the Greenshank being much the larger of the two, and although elegant, appearing more substantial and with an upturned bill.

Common Greenshank

The Marsh Sandpiper wandered through the water, delicately picking off invertebrates from the surface with a rapid jabbing motion of its needle like bill. At first a little distant it eventually came a bit closer but was always just too far away for my camera and lens to do it justice. The morning was still and a strange filtered light hung over the coast, the sun just about obscured by a light cloud cover making everything look slightly washed out.

The star turn was an adult in summer plumage which I have not seen before.In winter plumage they are the standard grey and white that many wading birds adopt but now its head, neck and breast were covered in fine dark streaks and spots, its upperparts grey but barred darker and a number of feathers had distinctly brown or black centres, creating a chequered impression. The bird had what I can only describe as a subtle understated beauty of both form and feather

There was plenty of company for  the sandpiper with Black headed Gulls breeding on the small islands and scrapes in the lagoon and filling the air with a nonstop background of harsh calls. There were at least two of the aforementioned. Greenshank and up to twenty Avocets, some on nests at the far side of the lagoon by the seawall. A trio of much smaller waders, on being checked through my scope were revealed to be two Dunlin and, much more exciting, a Curlew Sandpiper that was commencing its moult into summer plumage, a distinct stain of reddish brown breeding feathers appearing on its fore flanks

Mark is quite into numbers and especially lists, so was a happy soul as his day list as well as  his life list began to increase.

A diminutive tern caught my eye, smaller than the Common Terns that were in a group on one of the islands.Its movements were quick, snazzy, its flight darting and erratic.It flew up above the still water and hovered, maintaining position with rapid beats of its wings as in the style of a kestrel, before descending in jerky stages to drop into the water in an attempt to seize a fish.Time and  again it tried but always looked to be unsuccssful.

Little Tern

That time came when you feel sated and consider it would be a good idea to leave the main attraction and explore your surroundings further.We walked along the sea wall, part of The Solent Way, which ran a few hundred metres parallel to the sea and then curved round at the far end of the lagoon. High overhead a pair of Mediterranean Gulls gave themselves away with their distinctive cries as Sandwich Terns flew past us, forever excitable, their kirrick kirrick calls coming from over the sea, their white bodies in the strange light almost as one with sea and sky.

A cheery whitethroat sang from some brambles right by the seawall and further on a male stonechat posed in classic fashion on some yellow gorse.

Spring, don't you just love it! The charge of energy, the lifting of one's spirit as nature suddenly burgeons into an unstoppable life force and the promise of renewal.

Beyond the main lagoon was another smaller lagoon populated by more waders, not many, maybe a dozen. Half the number were Common Redshanks but the remainder, split into two groups were Bar tailed Godwits, a mixture of males and females. A male 'Bartail' in its terracotta summer plumage is a joy to behold and we tarried for some time enjoying looking at them as they fed virtually non stop, jabbing their long bills up to the hilt below the water to probe the soft mud below.

Male Bar tailed Godwits

Female Bar tailed Godwit

They may have spent the winter locally or already travelled a long way, possibly from as distant as West Africa, and they still have a long way to go yet, as they breed in the Arctic but there is plenty of time for them and they will be content to wait until the northerly winds finally cease and they can continue their  migration.

We never did find the Spotted Redshank that was alleged to be present but after such a pleasurable time at Normandy Lagoon it did not seem to matter too much 


No comments:

Post a Comment