This was a nice and easy twitchette for a Nearctic wader that I had seen just once before. But I retain little recollection of that sighting somewhere in Cambridgeshire in 1993, and was abroad when much more recently a Spotted Sandpiper spent a few days at Oxford’s Farmoor Reservoir. Hence the appeal of a 30-mile drive today to the outskirts of swingingest Swindon.
Use of the bird hides at Coate Water requires a permit and key obtainable from the country park activity centre here. That meant a walk the longer way around the Y-shaped lake, but on reaching the LNR I was greeted by some birders one of whom said the visiting attraction was showing well. This Spotted Sandpiper was active in a muddy area to the right of a cramped and dingy hide that on my arrival held several other birders. But views of it were spoiled by an untidy protective fence (pictured below).
At a distance the adult individual at first looked like a Common Sandpiper but once I had it in my scope the dark breast spots, yellowish legs and bold supercilium all stood out. This was indeed a cracking bird. It now remained to wait for the Spot Sand to come closer to the hide and offer better photo opportunities. Eventually it did and these images (below) were the best I could obtain. The bird moved around the muddy area throughout my stay, feeding constantly as a steady trickle of people entered and left the hide to observe it.
Though a north American breeder, Spotted Sandpiper is a fairly regular vagrant to Great Britain with annual records mostly in late summer and autumn. The species is closely related to the slightly larger Common Sandpiper but distinctive by virtue of its breeding plumage and jerky flight style. I was pleased to get a fresh record of a vaguely remembered wader that had become just a name on my life list, and now hope it might hop across the county boundary into Oxfordshire. The May 2014 Farmoor bird was a county tick for quite a few high (ie 250+) listers but I was otherwise engaged in Portugal at that time.