Monday 4 September 2017

300 up

I come from a long-line of under-achievers so when it comes to listing, I try to keep my goals to a bare minimum to avoid disappointment. At this stage of mid-life, in fact, I have just two self-imposed targets - first, to see 300 species of bird in Dorset before reaching the age of 50 and, second, to see 500 species in Britain before I die. Daft these targets may be, but yesterday I ticked off the first of them by adding Baird's Sandpiper to my county list, and with a couple of years to spare.
Common Sandpiper was one of a number of migrant waders on Brownsea
300 species for Dorset is no big deal, of course - the top county listers are closer to 400 than 300, and the county list as a whole currently stands at 423, with at least 3 more species (Spectacled Warbler, Elegant Tern and Yellow Warbler) certain to be added when the 2017 record books come to be written. But having only moved here in 2007 I still think it represents a pretty good effort for a fully-employed father of two who can't always drop everything to chase rarities.
There weren't just migrant birds on Brownsea - this Painted Lady was also on the heath at the top of the island
Yesterday was a case in point: I wrote as recently as June how visits from family/friends were guaranteed to result in the appearance of a rare bird. This weekend the visit of my sister and sister-in-law threatened the same - the rare bird being the Baird's Sandpiper on Brownsea, found on Friday lunchtime by Paul Morton. Work commitments meant there was no chance of twitching it that day, and even though the bird went missing on the Friday afternoon and evening, a day trip to the island on Saturday seemed a good idea. Fortunately our visitors and the rest of the family agreed.
Redshank on the Brownsea lagoon
Soon after our arrival I was scanning the back of the lagoon for waders, and had a brief view of a bird with an obvious pectoral band, apparently smaller than the Dunlin with which it was associating. It was then lost to view in vegetation but I had seen enough to keep an eye on the same area. I was soon joined by Graham Armstrong and we simultaneously locked on to a bird which looked a good candidate, and similar to the one I had seen earlier.
The Spoonbill flock had risen to 26 birds by Saturday - they spent a lot of time in the air flushed by...
...the Red Arrows, in the area for the Bournemouth Air Show
Despite the heat haze and the considerable distance between us and the bird, we gradually pieced together the key features - the pectoral band in combination with otherwise pure white underparts, attenuated rear end, scalloping on the wings, shorter bill and legs, slightly paler and more concolorous upperparts compared to the more variable Dunlin it was with. It was often out of view behind vegetation, and re-locating it required some care due to the haze and the fact that a number of the Dunlin also showed relatively neat pectoral bands - but the latter invariably displayed scruffier underparts and larger heads and bills than the more diminutive Baird's.
In this record shot to end record shots, the bird on the left is the Baird's - even in this terrible image the impression of a slighter bird with a smaller bill, cleaner white underparts and more attenuated rear end is confirmed compared to the Dunlin on the right
Increasingly confident with the identification, we put the news out enabling several Dorset birders to catch up with the rare visitor in the afternoon. The rest of the day was then free to be devoted to touring Brownsea with the family and enjoying its exotic selection of non-native spongecakes and flans.
A slightly better comparison shot of Baird's Sandpiper (right) and Dunlin illustrates the key features mentioned above rather more clearly - this was taken last October at Davidstow Airfield in Cornwall

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