Wednesday 5 September 2012

The return of autumn twitching stress: hurrah!

A Stilt Sandpiper turned up at Lodmoor in Weymouth on the first day of my summer holiday last year, stayed for a few weeks and left the day before I got back. Talk about rude. This year a Long-billed Dowitcher was considerate enough to wait until I got back from my holiday before being found at the same site. It then showed extraordinary decency by allowing itself to be re-identified as a juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher, only the second record for Britain, a first for Dorset and a potential lifer for me. All I had to do was get to see it.

Short-billed Dowitcher: this photo shows the barring on the tertials which first raised suspicions about the initial identification as Long-billed
Today was the only day this week when I had access to the car, and a morning meeting in Devon meant that I could detour via Weymouth before work. With the coming weekend due to be spent in Cornwall, it was also now or never. Despite some early morning sightings, however, after an hour of searching, with a surprisingly small number of birders looking, I had seen nothing. It was a long and stressful day before I could have another look for it after work. It's amazing how the day crawls by when there is a good bird waiting at the end of it. The journey back to Weymouth was, objectively, uneventful, but twitch-stress paranoia made it feel like every tractor, bus and Nissan Micra owner in Dorset was part of a massive conspiracy to prevent me getting to see a Short-billed Dowitcher.

Spotting on the breast sides (as opposed to barring in Long-billed) could just about be seen.
Fortunately, after proving elusive all morning, the bird showed well in good light throughout this evening. I left as dusk approached with Bearded Tits pinging in the reedbed and a large flock of Yellow Wagtails moving over the reserve. A cracking start to the autumn, with big thanks due to local birders Daragh Croxson, who I understand first found the bird, and Brett Spencer, who posted the photos which provided the spark for a debate about its identity.

The bill looked as long as any Long-billed I had seen, but there is apparently significant overlap so this is not a reliable differentiator. I did not hear the bird call though it was heard to call this afternoon, adding confidence to the identification as Short-billed.

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