Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Ringstead Bay, Dorset – 18th Sep

This is one of the more regular north American waders to make landfall in Great Britain during autumn passage. For me the species also carried “important lifer” status due to the usual sort of reason that I dipped my only previous attempt at it two years ago. On that occasion other Oxonbirders saw the bird briefly and distantly on Slimbridge’s estuary mud before my arrival. I consider that today’s Buff-breasted Sandpiper, in a ploughed field above the Purbeck Heritage Coast, offered better value.

This morning while enjoying a coffee ahead of a planned supermarket visit, I scanned RBA and there it was: news of a previously unseen Nearctic vagrant within my twitching range. Briefly I considered this day’s alternatives of gardening or what has become the onerous task of paying attention to my Oxon year list. It took about five minutes to shake off the lethargy those twin prospects had induced, then I upped and went.

One way of knowing you're in Dorset

One way of knowing you’re in Dorset

Very soon my little white economy car was eating up the familiar miles southward on the A34. Reaching the M27 the weather became sunny to enhance the sense of re-motivation within me, and those fair conditions prevailed until I arrived on site at midday. From a National Trust car park at SY752814 a track led east and slightly inland to where I could see a group of birders at the spot described on RBA. The Isle of Portland (pictured above) shimmered as it does offshore in a hazy, deep blue light.

Returning birders all offered positive news and on approaching those who remained I saw the Buff-breasted Sandpiper crossing higher ground to my left. So this lifer was not only ticked easily but self-found. I was struck immediately by the Dunlin-sized juvenile bird’s distinctive appearance. In shape and jizz it resembles a small female Ruff but with a shorter, finer bill and very attractive sandy buff underparts. As it moved about I was also reminded of a Cream-coloured Courser observed in Fuerteventura last February.

Distant Buff-breasted Sandpiper (left)

Distant Buff-breasted Sandpiper (left)

Once I joined the group my efforts at keeping on this bird were less successful. Black rain cloud was approaching from the west and attempts at obtaining digiscoped images suffered from being rushed. Fearing a drenching, everyone beat a retreat to the car park but in the event the rain wasn’t too heavy. After a break of about an hour I returned to the same spot.

I was now the only person there. Quite a lot of Ringed Plover were in the field but at first there was no sign of the star visitor. Then I picked up the BBS again more distantly than before, moving around on the horizon of rising ground and removing all doubt as to its self-found status. I hope I am not mis-using that term, my meaning being birds not pointed out by other people. For about an hour I watched the BBS feeding in this field and was joined by more birders while doing so. The image (below) is the best I could obtain before leaving at 5pm.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Buff-breasted Sandpiper (juv)

This was a very satisfying day with a much-sought life list addition of my fourth Nearctic wader of 2015.

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