Monday 10 October 2016

Drive-through birding

I stopped in at the disused airfield at Davidstow on the way back from the Isles of Scilly last month, hoping to find an American wader on the closely cropped sward. There were none that day, but over the following few weeks it played host to a Buff-breasted Sandpiper, a Pectoral Sandpiper and an American Golden Plover, a species I saw here a few years ago. None of these was quite enough to tempt be back down to Cornwall, but a long staying Baird's Sandpiper, somewhat rarer than all the aforementioned species, was another matter, and as I had not previously photographed this species very well, I resolved to head down there on Sunday morning if the forecast was anything better than dire.
I decided on an early start in case the airfield was busy with model aircraft enthusiasts, but I had forgotten just how vast the site is, and even though model planes were buzzing around in one corner, there was still acres of ground for waders to feed in undisturbed. There are two useful rules for birding Davidstow: first, on arrival scan for stationary cars in the distance, and if you see one with a dirty great lens hanging out the window, head for it as it will probably be pointing at a rare bird. Second, stay in the car - the waders will tolerate a close approach from a vehicle, presumably viewing a slow moving car as some kind of lumbering livestock. Open the door, however, and you risk flushing whatever it is you are looking at.
An early morning view on the pool with Dunlin in the background
Baird's Sandpiper - the scaly back pattern makes this a juvenile bird
Note the buffy breast band and long primary projection
The bird was reported as being 'near the runway' - sometimes it was on the runway running between the cars!
Head on Baird's shows a flattened oval body shape
So with these rules in mind I arrived just after sunrise, drove up to a car parked in the middle of the capacious runway, and immediately saw the Baird's Sandpiper feeding on a small pool at close range. Eventually it, and the Dunlin it was with, had enough of the pool and headed off to feed on the grass with some Ringed Plover. A small and slightly comical convoy of vehicles tracked them as they fed along, and sometimes on, the pock-marked runway. I spent a couple of absorbing hours photographing the Baird's, by the end of which the sun had conveniently come out.
The Baird's was feeding initially with a few Dunlin
Later they joined up with a small flock of Ringed Plover
I couldn't find a Semi-P among them!
Ringed Plover with Baird's Sandpiper behind
Baird's Sandpiper

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