Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Master Rodders strikes again - PECTORAL SANDPIPER at Wilstone


Although nothing of the strength of the previous two days, a strong westerly still bathed the Chilterns area today. It was also fine and dry for much of daylight hours and quite bright at times.

Like Dave and Roy, Steve Rodwell is a master of the trade and this evening proved his worth yet again. Despite a strong westerly, he braved the elements of the exposed jetty on the east bank and got well rewarded for his efforts. He found and identified the first PECTORAL SANDPIPER at the reservoirs since 1989..........


Having much the same idea as Steve and Dave, I rolled up at Wilstone this evening to see what new birds had dropped in during the day, particularly as the likes of two Sabine's Gulls and a Manx Shearwater had been seen elsewhere inland and Farmoor Reservoir was hosting a juvenile White-winged Black Tern. Noticing DB's Peugeot parked precariously on a notorious bend, I knew something must be up. Glancing over at the jetty from the car park, I noticed Steve, Dave, Mike Hirst and Paul East 'grilling' something and on contacting them, they declared ''We've got a Pec Sand''

Steve had apparently discovered it about ten minutes before I arrived, not long after 1815 hours. Within a couple of minutes I was with the four of them on the jetty and there it was - a very fresh-plumaged juvenile PECTORAL SANDPIPER. It was feeding along the southern edge of the main bund at the edge of a new shelf of algae and weed and was loosely associating with the 10 hiaticula Ringed Plovers and 5 TUNDRA RINGED PLOVERS. It had presumably only just arrived as after a short spell of feeding, it walked up the stony bund to the higher centre ground and hunched down to sleep. It was a very small bird - not much larger than a Dunlin - and was presumably a female. After a short rest, it resumed feeding in the shallows and algae and remained until the light faded at 1940 hours.

It was a particularly fresh and bright juvenile with conspicuous mantle 'V's' and white fringes to the scapulars. The crown was also quite richly coloured but not as rich rufous or capped as in the closely related Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. I was struck by how long-winged and tapered the bird appeared, much more so than in a typical adult Pec. The breast was finely streaked, crucially finishing abruptly in a line across the upper belly, with the bill slightly paler at the base. The rest of the underparts were gleaming white. Many of the upperpart feathers were rufous-fringed, particularly those of the scapulars and mantle. but there was little sign of the split supercilium usually associated with juvenile Pecs, most likely because of the distance the bird was being observed (190 yards). The legs also appeared dark in the fading light, most likely because of the mud and algae it was wading in. It was not heard to call and was not seen in flight.

The news of the Pec Sanf's arrival at Tring was immediately broadcast to RBA and consequently on the local network. Roy Hargreaves was quickly on the scene, followed shortly by Mike Campbell, Mic Wells and Rob Andrews. Budding photographer John Foster was also on site and as the light faded, JT, Ben Miller and Jack O'Neill arrived amongst others. By nightfall, 15 observers had connected.

Pectoral Sandpiper is a rare vagrant to Hertfordshire with just NINE previous records. Over half of these have been at Tring Reservoirs, where the last recorded was in September 1989........

1-2) The first record involved a juvenile at Marsworth Reservoir on 14 September 1949 followed by another some eight years later at Rye Meads on 9 September 1957;

3) A juvenile that arrived at Startop's End Reservoir on 19 October 1969 began an extended stay and commuted between there and Wilstone until 13 December 1969. This was my first ever in Britain;

4) Yet another juvenile arrived at Wilstone Reservoir on 3 September 1973 and again began a protracted stay - last being reported on 10 October 1973;

5) An adult spent four days at the infamous Royston Sewage Works from 28-31 August 1977;

6) One was seen feeding and flying with Common Snipe at Tring Sewage Farm on 11 October 1986;

7-8) A juvenile was feeding with other waders at Wilstone Reservoir on 29-30 September 1988, the same year that a juvenile visited Rye Meads on the afternoon of 14 October and at dawn the following day;

9) An adult female was seen daily at Startop's End Reservoir from 9-19 September 1989 and on Wilstone on 20-21 September 1989. Incredulously, this bird was ringed and studying intricately its plumage, it was considered to be a bird trapped and ringed on 29 August at Marston Sewage Farm in Lincolnshire.

This tenth bird's arrival was no doubt induced by the stream of gale force westerlies associated with a deep Atlantic depression - the remnants of Hurricane Irene that caused so much devastation along the Eastern Seaboard of North America. It was also one of ten juveniles to arrive in recent days, including four together at Drift Reservoir in West Cornwall.

Two BLACK-TAILED GODWITS (an adult and a juvenile) were present early morning only (RH, DB), as well as the juvenile male RUFF, whilst other waders this evening included two newly arrived GREEN SANDPIPERS, the long-staying juvenile LITTLE STINT, 3 Common Sandpipers and the one remaining COMMON GREENSHANK.

Yesterday's juvenile BLACK TERN was also still present, whilst COMMON TERNS had climbed back to 4 (3 adults). 21 Little Egrets remain.

Other migrants included 6 COMMON SWIFTS, 240+ House Martins and 3 YELLOW WAGTAILS.

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