5 Nov 2023

5 Nov 23 - A Poole Harbour First - Schrodinger's Sandpiper: Spotted, But Not Spotted

It was promising to be a reasonable day at Studland & I headed for South Haven, in the hope of some arriving Wildfowl through the Poole Harbour mouth. There have been the occasional records of Whooper Swans or Grey Geese in and there are still only two records of Glossy Ibis for Studland. With only three or four flyby records of Egyptian Geese at Studland, a flock of pale buff Geese would still be a result. But there was little on the move.

Time for Plan B to have a look around the back of the South Haven Pool, walk the beach to Pilots Point in the hope of a Snow Bunting and have a look along the Heather Walk in the hope of a lingering rare Phylloscopus Warbler. Being an optimist is an essential quality for a Birder, albeit I'm generally more realistic than optimistic, in general life. I was checking the South Haven Pool, when Paul Morton rang to say there was a likely Spotted Sandpiper that had just been found by Mark Wright by the Tank Traps. The Tank Traps are on the other side of South Haven and just to the South of the Houseboats, which was on my list of places to check later in the morning.

About ten minutes later, I was carefully approached the Tank Traps through the trees so I could look over them from where I expected Mark to be looking from. But there was no sign of either the Spotted Sandpiper or Mark and his partner Debbie. There is a very limited view from the trees at the Tank Traps. I rang Paul back for more directions. He confirmed that Mark was still watching the Spotted Sandpiper, but he didn't have any directions. I guessed it was probably on the small beach at the base of Jerry's Point. I carefully walked in that direction, to ensure I didn't flush it if my hunch was correct. A couple of minutes later, I could see Mark, Debbie & the first of the local Birders on the beach at the base of the Jerry's Point track, but I still couldn't see the Spotted Sandpiper. I backtracked out to the road and walked to the beach, via the Jerry's Point track.
Spotted Sandpiper: It looks superficially like a Common Sandpiper, but the bright yellow-orange legs stand out compared to the greenish-brown-yellow of Common Sandpipers. Other features are 1st Winter Spotted Sandpipers have plain edged tertials compared to pale spots on the tertial edges on Common Sandpipers. Spotted Sandpipers have pale pink bills with a dark tip, whereas, Common Sandpipers usually have all dark bills. Also, Spotted Sandpipers have a more rounded body with a short tail, compared to a more attenuated shape and a long tail in Common Sandpipers. In flight, Spotted Sandpipers have a thinner and shorter central white wing stripe especially on the inner wing
Finally, I could see the Spotted Sandpiper which had been just out of view, from my previous viewpoint. It stayed till 12:30 with a party of Turnstones, four Dunlin & a Knot. It stayed in the area even when the other Waders flushed, until it was flushed by two selfish dog walkers who insisted on their right to boot it so they could wade past it, as the beach was still covered in water. They were asked not to, but then that would have needed the missing considerate genes in their DNA. The Spotted Sandpiper flew to Jerry's Point, where they flushed it again. We couldn't relocate it around Jerry's Point, Sandy Point or the Redhorn Quay area for the next hour and a half. But it finally returned to its preferred beach with the Turnstones, where it spent the rest of the afternoon.
Spotted Sandpiper: Adult Spotted Sandpipers are spotted in the breeding season. All ages are unspotted in the Winter and yet it was cleared spotted by all Birders who saw it on its one day visit to Studland. Clearly, a birding variation on Schrodinger's famous cat hypothesis which was also in two states at once
I hoped there would be the chance for some better photographs on the following day, as these photos were disappointing. But it disappeared overnight and hasn't been relocated locally since. This is the first Poole Harbour record and the tenth Dorset record.
Common Sandpiper: A Brownsea Common Sandpiper for comparison (2 Sep 17)