Sunday 24 October 2021

A Pectoral Sandpiper at Port Meadow 23rd October 2021

Having spent three hours in a cold gloomy hide Bittern watching, well mainly waiting rather than watching if I am honest, I was delighted to get an Oxonbirds WhatsApp alert about a Pectoral Sandpiper that had just been discovered at Port Meadow in nearby Oxford, just thirty minutes drive away.

It had been found by Thomas Miller a fellow Oxonbirder who is a Phd student at Oxford and was leading the inaugural outing of the Oxford Ornithological Student Society to Port Meadow.

Despite it being a Saturday morning, traffic was light and I soon reached the car park by the meadow, parted with £2 for three hours parking and set off through the entrance gate to follow the track that leads out onto the meadow.

In the distance I could see a huddle of people, some looking intently through scopes at an area of flooded grassland and mud.This obviously was the location of the sandpiper but with horror I watched an out of control dog racing across the meadow and putting every bird up into the air. Port Meadow is situated by the River Thames, on the northwest edge of the City of Oxford and consequently is widely used by the general public and can get very busy. Sadly it is also used by a minority of irresponsible and inconsiderate dog owners and this was just the latest manifestation of such behaviour.

I joined the small crowd of birders, expecting to hear that the bird had flown but was delighted to learn that it was the one and only bird not to be flushed by the dog. The sandpiper was on the other side of the stretch of shallow water in front of us, working its way steadily and methodically around small grass tussocks in the waterlogged ground. 

It was very active, only occasionally stopping  to look about, alerted by something unknown to us but would soon resume its feeding and gradually made its way along the edge of the flood. A brief spell of preening and a couple of brief stops to stand and rest were the only interruptions to its almost constant feeding.

It was a juvenile bird judging by its pristine plumage and is part of quite an influx to Britain this autumn.They are in fact the commonest American vagrant to find their way to Britain, with most records coming  in September and October. 
The last one to be seen on Port Meadow was a moulting adult that stayed for one day, on the very early date of 29th of July 2011 and before that two juveniles that lingered from 30th of September to 14th of October 2007. 

In their understated way they are an attractive wader, maybe one for the connoisseur. There is nothing flashy about their plumage which is a neat and pleasing amalgam of brown and richer chestnut scallopy upperparts, by way of the presence of white fringes to the brown feathers. These white fringes form two obvious white stripes on each side of its upperpart plumage. Slightly larger than a Dunlin they have a slightly decurved bill and yellowish green legs. Their name derives from the finely streaked breast which comes to a point in the centre and is sharply defined from the rest of the white underparts. They breed both in northeast Siberia and North America and usually winter in South America. Personally I would plump for this bird coming from Siberia but who really knows.

Courtesy of Badger.

The students departed leaving a hardcore of Oxonbird regulars. I took a lot of pictures and then, relaxing had a pleasant chat with my fellow birders, almost all known to me,  even meeting people I had not seen for a very long time.

An hour  passed very amicably and then I left to head for home. Not a bad morning with a Bittern and a Great White Egret seen earlier and now a true rarity for Oxford, in the form of a very obliging Pectoral Sandpiper.

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