Six Spotted Redshank at Pennington Marsh, Hants – 27th Sep

When yesterday turned out to be work free I rather fancied going somewhere. The choice of location was the Keyhaven / Pennington nature reserve on the Solent where a White-rumped Sandpiper had been reported on four of the previous seven days. This is a Nearctic wader that I have observed once previously, but as the Hampshire site regularly holds things of interest a nice day out was in the offing.

I arrived at the end of Lower Pennington Lane (SZ318927) from Lymington some time after 11am in overcast, drizzly conditions and made my way out to the reserve’s Fishtail Lagoon that is often the spot for scarcer visiting waders. There a few local birders were already in place hoping the WRS would come in as it had previously from late morning onwards. But in three hours on-site here of this bird there was no sign. So what else was on offer?

Well Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover and Knot, the three regular British waders I have missed on passage through Oxfordshire this year, were all present on either side of the sea wall. But the stand-out encounter was with a delightful group of six Spotted Redshank (pictured below) that were present throughout my stay.

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Spotted Redshank on Fishtail Lagoon

The on-site information boards explain that just inside the sea wall here are a number of shallow, brackish lagoons that are connected to the sea through a system of sluices and tidal flaps. The salinity in these lagoons varies but is generally lower than sea water and so a specialised habitat has arisen. I do not know the precise detail but that seems like a reasonable explanation why so many scarcer passage waders occur here.

Most of my previous Spotted Redshank sightings have been of single post-breeding birds amongst large mixed flocks, as these Tundra breeders pass through Great Britain from late-June into the autumn. Today’s six birds were the most I have seen in one location, and being the main feature of interest on the lagoon it was a good long opportunity to gain a complete understanding of the species. In appearance, this can be summarised as being slimmer and more elegant than Common Redshank, longer legged and greyer toned with a longer, finer bill and striking combination of black eye stripe and white supercilium.

But what struck me most was the feeding action. Compared to the probing habits of Common Redshank these most attractive cousins reminded me of Avocet as they moved in a group (pictured above) sweeping their bills from side to side underwater. All this was enjoyed greatly through those three hours here until just before 3pm, when mindful of rush hour traffic around Southampton and Winchester I headed home.

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Hurst Castle from Pennington Marsh

2016 Oxon autumn wader passage: 2 – Ringed Plover and Turnstone

Having declared an intention four week’s ago to present a mini-series here on local passage waders, there hasn’t been much opportunity to add the scarcer Oxon species to my year list this autumn. Indeed of those that I missed when in France last May, Knot has become 2016’s jinx local bird and the others just haven’t turned up again.

But autumn is a time of year, with the nights drawing in when I like to go out near the end of daylight to spend an hour or so just relaxing with the camera and no particular birds in mind. Farmoor Reservoir is the location of choice. I turned my back on RSPB Otmoor earlier this year having grown heartily tired of being pestered by casual visitors every 50 metres or whatever along the visitor trail. Not even a year tick could tempt me back to the place earlier this week.

This evening there was a typical autumn medley of Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Turnstone along Farmoor’s central causeway. The images (above) are none too sharp or special but they reflect the transience of another summer season and the endless rhythm of avian migration year upon year. Unlike August’s Little Stints these subjects were trickier to get close to and very quick on the move. There was less opportunity to avoid the gull feather detritus that I managed to keep out of my Stint pictures (see here) so this time around I attempted to blend it into the composition. Hmmm … whatever!

Baird’s Sandpiper at Upton Warren Flashes, Worcs – 11th Sep

Of that much waffled upon group of vagrant waders “accidental small Sandpipers” (see here) one north American breeder Baird’s Sandpiper has had a good British passage this autumn. Several and sometimes possibly the same individuals have been recorded over the last eight weeks but these have always been beyond my preferred range or involved tedious journeys, to Minsmere, Reculver and north Lincolnshire for instance. So when on Friday a Baird’s turned up a mere 78 miles from home, close by the M5 motorway near Bromsgrove in Worcestershire, it was game on.

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny and I really needed to go somewhere to flush a certain amount of work related tedium out of the system. So the Baird’s being still present on RBA, off I set to the lengthily named Christopher Cadbury Wetland Reserve at Upton Warren. This Worcs Wildlife Trust site comprises a fresh water lake and the saline Flashes that arose out of historic salt extraction. Between the two lies a sailing lake created by material excavation for the nearby motorway. A west Midlands twitch the short run up the M40 is always agreeable, certainly more so than Suffolk or Kent.

I parked dutifully in the sailing club overflow car park, as instructed on RBA, then purchased a day permit from the club cafeteria. It soon became apparent that co-operation between the two interest groups extends no further, with clear lines of demarcation between (“are you a”) members and annoying, visiting green-clad optics carriers. Try asking to use a toilet here to find out what I mean. Things are so much more convivial at Oxford’s Farmoor Reservoir. As so often at these multi-use sites no-one was checking if birders were paying for permits anyway.

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Inland salt marsh at Upton Warren Flashes

I somehow expect to see other Oxon birders on these occasions, and today Justin Taylor was leaving the last of three hides that overlook the Flashes. It was quite crowded inside and he pointed me in the general direction of my quest. Then I played dumb with a Ruff and another birder put me onto the Baird’s Sandpiper. Quite soon this rarity relocated to the inner shore in the above picture and proceeded to give grandstand views. But it was still too far away to capture any more than distant blur images, and there was little chance of repeating my recent picture success with Least Sandpiper. Nothing decent from this site had appeared on RBA yet, but that didn’t stop the incessant hopeful chatter of camera shutters inside the hide. For some good quality images from today see here.

The very clean and tidy looking juvenile Baird’s was generally buff toned in appearance with neat and delicately patterned upperparts. Slightly smaller than a Dunlin, it had a shorter, straighter bill than the latter and noticeably long wings that reached beyond the tail (primary projection) when at rest. After displaying all this to good effect the bird returned to the middle distance from whence it had emerged. I remained in the hide for 90 minutes throughout which it kept coming in and out of view to endless muttered directions for the benefit of new arrivals.

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Baird’s Sandpiper (left) and Spotted Redshank

Job done it was very pleasing to have added this year’s third small Sandpiper to my life list, following Broad-billed (see here) and Least. The variety of other waders present at such a small site was impressive, with Common and Green Sandpiper, Common and Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Curlew, Lapwing and Avocet all in view at once today. The Flashes here are saline, receiving brine from underground seepage. The on-site information boards explain that in places the high salt levels prevent the growth of vegetation. In other areas salt tolerant or dependent plants create an inland salt marsh that is unique in the country. Hence Upton Warren has a reputation as one of Worcs’ best birding sites. Lack of a good photograph aside today was a very satisfying experience.