Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Local patch: Spotted Sandpiper, Brockholes Nature Reserve LWT, Lancs - 30th May 2011.

The past two weeks on the local patch had seen some excellent wader passage through the site thanks to a persistent westerly airflow, coupled with cloud and showers, THE best weather and wind direction for good general passage through the site in my opinion. Crucially, I also had the availability to spend lots of time onsite and had been putting in lengthy daily visits of up to 11.5hrs.

Totals of some of the species recorded during the period included: 1+ Wood Sandpiper, 1 Little Stint (first spring record since 2000), 24 Turnstone (including a site record flock of 15), 22 Sanderling (including a site record flock of 8), 1 Grey Plover, 5 Knot, 1 Bar-tailed Godwit (the 5th record this spring), 3 Black-tailed Godwit, 15 Whimbrel (moving NW, not roosting), c100+ Dunlin & c120+ Ringed Plover (involving many birds moving straight through and maximum numbers of 20 grounded birds of both species), 6 Arctic Tern, 5 Common Tern, Little Gull, Garganey, Osprey & Blue-headed Wagtail.

The morning of 30th May saw me once again on the patch at 07:15, later than planned. Tom Darbyshire (TD) was already onsite and viewing from the ‘Family Hide’ viewpoint on No1 Pit. We chatted briefly and I complained that although the weather was cloudy with rain, the westerly had died to the point that there was virtually no wind which I thought may curtail passage through the site. And on that note I moved on to walk my usual route, meeting Roy Lambert (RL) briefly enroute.

Having walked and checked the M6 end of No1 Pit, I arrived at one of the back pits, now known as Ribbleton Pool, which has a small edge I have been keeping an eye on for perhaps a sneaky Temmincks Stint. In heavy rain, a scan with the ‘bins’ revealed a ‘Common’ Sandpiper at some distance on the far side, which I scoped, and was confronted by a bird front-on showing not the clearly demarcated & fairly solid breast of an obvious Common Sandpiper, but instead a ‘peppered’ breast which extended further down the underparts onto the belly, giving at quite a distance an impression of dirty underparts.

I withdrew my eye from the scope, recomposed, zoomed in further, and took another look as it moved more side-on to reveal spots along the flanks and underparts. It also looked short at the back end, and I exclaimed to myself in no uncertain terms that the bird was a Spotted Sandpiper!

I rang Councillor John F. Wright, who coincidentally had just arrived onsite, as well as TD and RL and they all made their way to Ribbleton Pool with a couple of other birders in tow.

Mindful of a couple of past UK records which were thought to show mixed features of both Common & Spotted Sandpiper, I was keen to obtain the full suite of pro-Spotted Sand features so moved around the pool to join the others where much better, closer views were had over a period of several minutes. The bird was indeed short at the rear end with only a very short tail projecting beyond the primaries, rather dumpy in shape and the bill was orangey, darkening towards the tip. The legs were pale yellow, and although not as bright as I thought they should be were markedly paler and less ochre-green than that of the Common Sandpipers it was seen alongside later in the day. An obvious supercillium flaring behind the eye, dark eyestripe and a broken eyering were also noted. It then decided to fly over onto the NW shoreline of No1 Pit and we were able to note the wingbars were not as extensive as on Common Sandpiper. It was indeed a ‘good’ Spotted Sandpiper in all respects.

As stipulated by the LWT, The Brockholes ‘Twitch’ procedure would have to be implemented before ringing the news out wider than the east Lancs text group, so I contacted the reserve manager, Sophie Leadsome, who in turn informed the management and volunteer’s onsite. The Spotted Sandpiper meanwhile was now working its way anticlockwise around the island on No1 Pit, giving excellent views from the Ribble Way footpath hide to the growing gathering of birders, before settling on the shoreline below the artificial Sand Martin breeding wall in the eastern corner of No1 Pit where it showed very well to all comers from the ‘Family Hide’ viewpoint for the remainder of the day.

Sadly, the bird proved to be a one-day-wonder, with no sign from first light the following morning.

Although some naturally assumed the bird to be the same individual as that recorded at Stocks Reservoir in May 2010 simply moving through Lancashire for the second consecutive spring, the pattern of spotting on the Brockholes bird was different to the Stock’s Res bird and not as bold and blackish in colour. I and others who also saw both have concluded the Brockholes bird to be a different individual, however unlikely some may consider this to be.