Sunday, 20 October 2013

A late birthday present

Juvenile Semi-palmated Plover (c) Dave Campbell

After turning 20 (yes I feel ancient) this week I decided to attempt to twitch the juvenile Semi-palmated Plover in Hampshire on Saturday as a belated birthday celebration. Semi-p has always been high on my wishlist, a subtle birders bird and mega rare too, I decided this incredibly accessible individual was too tempting to turn down! After an early start I met Dave in Dorking at 08.30 and we headed off towards Hayling Island. Despite a few delays the journey went fairly smoothly and by 10.30 we had joined the assembled ranks and were scoping a mixed flock of small waders around 100m away on the mud. After much careful searching me and Dave independently got onto a juvenile Ringed-type Plover that we both thought looked pretty good. I was initially drawn to it by the small size, slender build and ridiculously short and stubby bill. Unfortunately we were too nervous to make the call and just as we were discussing what to do the flock all got up and flew around before settling back on the mud. While the flock was in flight I thought I heard a Spotshank-esque "chewit" call, further raising my suspicions about the bird.

Luckily soon after the flock settled the bird was relocated at the front of the flock and showed incredibly well. The slender build, small size in comparison to the accompanying Ringed Plovers and short, stubby bill gave the bird a very distinctive jizz. Plumage wise the narrow brown breast band and extensive white supercilium were notable and close scrutiny revealed narrow dark lores with a white whisker extending up to the base of the upper mandible. BOOM! SEMI-PALMATED PLOVER on my list! After five minutes the whole flock flew off just as Andrew Kinghorn, Harry Murphy and Michael Murphy arrived after a long drive overnight from Durham. Despite my elation at seeing the bird I felt somewhat guilty as they were all obviously crushed at the prospect of another long-distance south coast dip.

Satisfied, Dave and I headed off but about a minute down the road news of the bird's reappearance on the beach had us racing back. After some confusion and a fair bit of shouting, we found the site and got great views of the bird as it roosted on the beach in awful conditions. Having left my waterproof trousers in the car, my legs were soaked to the skin but it was worth it to get close views of this incredible bird. The drive back was a happy one as Dave and I reflected on what an incredible year we'd both had. Although my exploits pale in comparison to his, Semi-P joins Needletail, Bridled Tern, Great Snipe and Sardinian Warbler on my list of cracking ticks this year. A great twitch and definitely one of the best presents I could have asked for!

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