20 Sept 2020

20 Sep 20 - A Long Awaited Dream

My favourite Wader on the UK List is Buff-breasted Sandpiper. However, it's a species I've not had a good track record with seeing. My first failure was Sep 80 when Pete Aley & I managed to get a lift from our edge of Kent/London homes down to Cornwall for a Semi-palmated Sandpiper. After seeing it, we carried on to Predannack airfield for a couple of Buff-breasted Sandpipers that had been showing well in previous days. However, there was no sign when we arrived. After a long wait, we picked up two small Waders flying high over the airfield. They looked hopeful, but a Merlin appeared from nowhere, caught one & the other disappeared. A few days later Pete heard the remains of a Buff-breasted Sandpiper had been found. Almost certainly that was what we had seen, but untickable views (UTVs). The following month, I was in the Cley area with my Southampton Birding mates. As we got out of the car & started walking behind the beach, we could see a lone Wader in front of us. Rather than stop & check it with the telescopes, we tried walking closer. As Dave Bishop identified it as a Buff-breasted Sandpiper, it took off West, was seen soon after flying over the East Bank as it left the area. My third set of UTVs. In 1981, things got even worse when we tried for one at the Perry's Oak Sewerage Farm, near Heathrow, but it had left before we arrived. I finally saw one at Pennington after a blow in Sep 1982. We arrived & were pleased to find a Pectoral Sandpiper, until we met the local Combridge brothers who had found my first Buff-breasted Sandpiper. After breaking the duck, I managed to see a couple more on Scillies a couple of weeks afterwards & then two more singles on Hayling Island & the Scillies, in the following year.

It was a long wait to my next Buff-breasted Sandpiper, as I didn't spend a long of time on the Scillies after the mid 80s & I wasn't interested in going a long way to see rarities I had seen before. In 1996, I moved to Dorset & started paying attention to my Dorset list. But circumstances meant I didn't connect with my first Buff-breasted Sandpiper at one of their traditional Dorset sites at White Nothe until Sep 15: in a ploughed field on a high stretch of the Jurassic coastline.
Buff-breasted Sandpiper: White Nothe (17 Sep 15)
In 2011, Nick Hopper found Poole Harbour's first Buff-breasted Sandpiper on Brownsea. It was late afternoon & I was off work for a week of Birding. But I had also put my back out & could hardly walk that afternoon. Normally, I could have made it to the hide within the time available, albeit I would probably have had to run & rely on Nick to be there with a scope. But I had no chance with my bad back. The back wasn't so bad the following morning, but I was too late as it had left overnight. A few years later, Poole Harbour's only other record again departed very rapidly from Lytchett Bay. Had I left when I heard, I should have connected, but getting ready for work & having breakfast cost me the Bird. Clearly, I was back to my standard track record of little success with this species, especially, as I would rather go Birding on my local patches, than twitch another, elsewhere in Dorset.
Redpoll: Not the best of photos, but this early morning individual dropped into the weedy field at the top of Pier Bottom valley with three mates was one of the best species seen on 20 Sep. A good view for St Aldhelms, where typically they flight straight over this area, calling as they disappear
Jumping forward to 20 Sep 20. I was out on the St Aldhelms patch again. Since the August Bank holiday, I have been trying to spend as much time as work & the weather will allow on the patch. I had been out on the previous day, where despite a noticeable NE wind, it had been a good day's Birding with some migrants around. My first Harbour Porpoises off the Head had been a significant bonus. But the NE wind seemed colder on the 20th and there were few migrants around. Around early afternoon, I decided to give up & head home for a very late breakfast. The quickest route was back along the coast path and to cut back up Pier Bottom valley, as it's a stiff walk up the hill to the Chapman's Valley path. Cutting up the valley, gives me the excuse of avoid the steep steps, whilst allowing me the opportunity to check the bushes in the valley.
Pier Bottom Valley: The bushes on the top of the left hand slope can sometimes hold migrants
Given the lack of migrants, I decided I might as well keep to the footpath as it would be quickest route to the car. There is an excellent field to the North of the valley, but I was dismayed to see the farmer had cut the plants in it during the previous week. For the last few years, it's had what looks to be a nitrogen fixing plant perhaps Lucerne in it, which had made it attractive to Autumnal Butterflies. With it cut, I expected I wouldn't be stopping as I walked along it, unless there were some Wheatears & Whinchats in it. When I was about half way along the field's length, I could see four Golden Plovers with a smaller pale Wader in with them. Although I couldn't see it well, I was already speculating that the most likely species was a Buff-breasted Sandpiper. Fortunately, there was nobody else on the footpath, so little chance of the Waders being disturbed before I got to them. I stopped early & grabbed some photos, as I didn't want a repeat of the Cley scenario. I quick look at the back of the camera confirmed the id. Superb: a long awaited dream to find a Buff-breasted Sandpiper & equally good, it was the first St Aldhelms record. I made a few photocalls & put the news out. I wanted to wait until a few others arrived to ensure it didn't move before the first people arrived. First on the scene was Phil Saunders. Phil would typically have also been at St Aldhelms that morning, but had switched to Durlston. The news from Phil wasn't good. Despite the cold wind, both the St Aldhelms & Worth Matravers car parks were full. He had finally found an on road parking place in Worth Matravers, but it would be nearly an hour's wait before he arrived. Peter Moore also was on his way from Portland and experienced similar parking problems. A few more Birders started arriving by mid-afternoon, but were more lucky to find places in the car parks.
Buff-breasted Sandpiper: With a couple of the Golden Plovers. At this point, they were the closest I was to see them. In hindsight, I spent too much time getting the news out compared to getting photographs
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Buff-breasted Sandpiper: Showing how it gets its name
Golden Plover: This was a darker, less golden, individual than the others
I finally made it home & had my first food for the day about 15:30. It had been a much longer day than I had expected, but I'm not complaining.