Saturday 2 December 2023

Temptation and penance

I do almost all my local birding by bike these days but there is still the odd occasion - a new bird for the county list, for example - when time is of the essence and I succumb to the temptations of a twitch by car. The finding of an American Golden Plover by Daragh Croxson on Saturday 25th November was one such occasion and the chance of a lift with Phil Saunders was not to be missed. It was a glorious sunny day, perfect for a bike ride, but I had been on a long walk around Swineham first thing and didn't really have the energy for the 17 mile journey to Weymouth. Besides, I also had designs on a short range bike twitch too add Short-eared Owl to the year-list that evening, a mission accomplished successfully at 1650 when one appeared just before it got too dark to see.

American Golden Plover, Lodmoor, 25th November 

American Golden Plover, Lodmoor, 25th November 

American Golden Plover (right), Lodmoor, 25th November 

American Golden Plover (right), Lodmoor, 25th November 
After the indulgence of a car trip to Weymouth I figured penance could be paid the next morning with a bike ride there: if I got an early night I could head down to Lodmoor avoiding the worst of the traffic, and, if the bird was still there, be back before the weather turned as bad as the forecast suggested it might. Leaving in the dark, the first 45 minutes were mercifully dry but then the heavens opened, and what would normally have been the last 45 minutes of the journey became 55 when a flat tyre 5 miles out of Weymouth required re-inflation. Fortunately my self-sealing inner tubes did their job and I didn't need to accept the kind offer of help from Garry Hayman who passed me at this point on his way to Lodmoor, in a much more sensible mode of transport given the conditions.  
American Golden Plover (rear, showing grey axillaries), Lodmoor, 25th November 

American Golden Plover (left, showing grey axillaries), Lodmoor, 25th November 

American Golden Plover (left), Lodmoor, 25th November 

American Golden Plover (right front)
Once I had crested the hill above Osmington, the worst was behind me and I could sashay down to Weymouth with the spray flying behind me at a top speed of 29mph. By the time Garry had walked around the reserve I had caught him up and we met with Daragh before heading up the western path where the Golden Plover flock appeared to be hanging out. We scanned several hundred birds for half an hour without success and I consoled myself with the thought that I could at least accept Garry's offer of a lift home if we couldn't find the bird.
Golden Plover, Lodmoor, 25th November

Golden Plover, Lodmoor, 25th November

Hen Harrier, Piddle Valley, 25th November

White-tailed Eagle, Piddle Valley, 25th November
Daragh commented that the flock looked smaller than the day before, at which point we noticed some small groups of Golden Plover still dropping in. This gave us the incentive to keep looking and after ruling out a couple of 'possibles', Garry and I both locked simultaneously onto a bird which looked the part and sure enough we were able to confirm the features of American Golden Plover. Like the day before, its slighter build, darker cap, paler breast and habit of aggressively chasing European Golden Plovers around on the mud helped us pick it out from the crowd.
Mute Swan, Swineham, 25th November

Kingfisher, Swineham, 25th November

Bestwall, 25th November

River Frome, 15th November
In my last post I wondered how many more species I might add to the non-motorised yearlist - since then I've managed to add a bit of the remaining low hanging fruit in the form of the Owl and a local Black-throated Diver, bringing the year-list to a respectable 217 as November approaches its end, just 2 behind last year's total on the same date, but 2 ahead of my record breaking year of 2021. I will still need an incredibly good December to beat that year's tally of 224, but with Jack Snipe, Bittern and Whooper Swan still to see, you never know.
American Golden Plover, Lodmoor, 26th November - a wet day with poorer light than the previous day

Black-throated Diver at Swineham

Black-throated Diver showing white flank patch

The Black-throated Diver was my first of 2023 and also a Swineham patch tick