Sunday, 1 September 2013

An Unexpected Twitch

Stilt Sandpiper (c) Andrew Kinghorn

Stilt Sandpiper (c) Andrew Kinghorn

After a rather heavy Saturday night which embarrassingly saw me fail to even make it into Manchester, I was glad that I turned down Scott's offer of a trip to North Wales to twitch the long staying Dotterel on the Great Orme. While they were enjoying stunning views of the bird, I was enjoying a nice lie in before heading to the shops to buy some much needed hangover supplies. Upon leaving the Coop I checked my phone to see a missed call off Mark Payne. I half wondered if it was an accidental dial but called him back anyway to check that he wasn't trying to relay news to me of a rare bird. Incredibly the latter was true and after he informed me that the reported Curlew Sandpiper at Neumann's Flash was actually a Stilt Sandpiper I quickly thanked him for the gen before hanging up and running all the way home. As it was my mother's birthday I knew I faced a battle for a lift but with Scott in North Wales I had precious few other options and I simply could not afford to miss such a good local bird, especially when I was this close to 300!

To his immense credit my dad put up little resistance and when he realised that we could easily twitch the bird before having to be at the restaurant for my mum's birthday meal he begrudgingly agreed to take me. The journey to the site did not run smoothly however with two bad sets of roadworks sending me into a frenzy of angst. Reports that the bird was very mobile did little to assuage my fears of a dip although news that the bird had apparently been present three days did give me some hope. After what felt like an eternity, we pulled in to the car park at the end of Old Warrington Road and after some confusion I was running in the right direction towards the old hide. Somewhat out of breath I entered the hide to be greeted by Mark Payne and a few other local birders. The bird was still on show and I managed to connect when Frank Duff kindly let me look down his scope. BOOM! STILT SANDPIPER ticked and at Neumann's Flash of all places!

At this point the warm sense of relief flooded in and I was able to relax and watch the bird at fairly close range. Despite the bird being periodically obscured behind long vegetation, I managed to achieve decent and fairly prolonged views. The structure of the bird was longer and more attenuated than Curlew Sandpiper with a longer bill that drooped at the tip. Despite being in fairly advanced moult, the bird also exhibited heavy barring on the flanks and undertail coverts which, coupled with the bold pale supercilium and some retained dark scapulars, made the it quite distinctive. A really smart bird and an absolute mega for the county, this would have been a fitting 300th bird and this realisation made the Barred Warbler episode all the more frustrating. Incredibly I have seen both Stilt Sand and Black-Winged Stilt at Neumann's Flash, it must have a strong draw for birds of the Stilt variety.

It was also nice to meet Bill Morton here who was very grateful for my Cattle Egret find and subsequent finders report. A really nice guy who I hope to catch up with again in the near future on his home patch of Frodsham. As I had a very limited time period I said my goodbyes to the assembled birders before nipping round the path for a quick catch up with Alex, Scott and Austin. They'd had incredible views of the Dotterel on the Orme and Scott's incredible phonescoped shots left me feeling rather jealous. They'd headed to Neumann's as soon as they'd received the news and were enjoying the Stilt Sand, a tick for all 3 of them. Soon I had to take my leave and headed for home extremely satisfied with a totally unexpected bonus tick. I'm now almost definitely out of action until I head across to Spurn on Wednesday for a 5 day trip during which I'm hoping to break the 300 barrier. I've spent a fair bit of time pondering what that bird will be and ironically the most likely option appears to be Barred Warbler! Such is the way of birding.

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