Sandpiper shenanigans

We were in Downham Market yesterday when the text came through saying that a  White-rumped Sandpiper was still present, on the reed-bed at Frampton Marsh RSPB, for it’s second day. We finished off our business, bought some lunch at Tesco and headed towards Boston. We reached the reserve by about 12.00 and bumped into a local Peterborough birder in the car park, who said that the sandpiper was still showing on the reed-bed lagoon, from the path by the Visitor’s Centre. We followed his directions but could see nothing out of the ordinary on the lagoon. There were a couple of other birdwatchers wandering around but no one was on the bird. We decided to walk to the hide overlooking the lagoon but, as we got to the track to 360 hide, I noticed a small ‘peep’ feeding in amongst the Godwits, on the other lagoon. Relocating to the hide, we initially lost sight of the bird and no one in the hide was apparently looking at anything interesting.  Jane returned to the original spot to try to get a fix on the bird’s location, whilst I continued searching. Eventually I found it ‘tucked up’ on a nearby sand spit, alerted others to it’s whereabouts and, assuming it was the White-rumped Sandpiper, began to ‘grill’ it. Other birdwatchers confirmed that this was indeed the same bird that they had been watching earlier but as I studied the bird I became increasingly uncomfortable with it’s identification. It was particularly well marked on it’s back, with a few very noticeable white edged black scapular feathers (subsequently helping to confirm that pictures taken of the ‘White-rumped’ the day before were indeed this same bird), the whole structure of the bird was attenuated towards the rear end, there was a distinct buff pectoral band, the weak supercilium joined with a pale area above the bill – which was all black and thin and the bird’s appearance from head-on was of a low, squat, ‘bread-roll’ shape – all features suggesting Baird’s Sandpiper.  However, as it preened, it did show clean white feathering along the flanks, giving the impression of a possible white rump. We continued to study the bird and I took some grab-shots through the scope. It eventually walked out of view – with everyone except me being convinced that this was indeed a White-rumped. We quickly relocated the bird from the track and watched until it eventually flew – and guess what, no white rump, instead the bird showed a thick dark central tail stripe running up over it’s rump! As we headed towards the centre to inform the staff  another text came through saying that the bird had been re-identified as Baird’s, by Josh Jones at Birdguides, from photos sent in the night before. Well done and very brave Josh! We alerted the guy in the centre who quickly telephoned the warden, John Badley. On his arrival we explained what had happened, I showed him my photos and we began searching for the bird again on reed-bed lagoon, where the bird had flown to. The bird was relocated and although distant, John was sure this was the same bird that had been present since Tuesday evening. During the afternoon a growing crowd watched the bird until finally any doubts as to it’s id were dismissed when it eventually flew, revealing it’s dark rump – pheew!!  Digipics of the Baird’s Sandpiper:

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This was a ‘First’ for Frampton and only the fifth for Lincolnshire.

Postscript: For an interesting comparison, here are a couple of photos of White-rumped Sandpiper I took in the Falklands last year – see ‘Falklands foray…Feb 2012.

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IMG_9503…and as a ‘fail-safe’ id feature, the white rump!IMG_9485

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Not one Two-barred but two!

Having seen the male Two-barred Crossbill at Cley over the weekend we thought we’d better go and find Common Crossbill for the year list! We’d just got to the level crossing on Kelling Heath when we heard and saw a couple of Crossbill fly from the pine belt, by the cottage, away over the heath. A couple of birders then informed us that there’d been a juvenile Two-barred in the area since this morning and that could have been it flying away! We hung around for a bit and then a group of about eight Common Crossbill arrived. Careful scanning revealed that the TBCB was not amongst them. We then had a stroll over the heath to see if we could relocate the flock, but again no luck. Standing back at the original site, talking to a local photographer, I noticed a bird fly into the nearby pines – a quick look and ‘yes’ it was the juvenile Two-barred Crossbill! As it sat, high in the pine tree, it gave a very distinctive ‘toy trumpet-like’ call. It flew to nearby power lines and was watched, somewhat in silhouette, for a further five minutes before flying back towards the pine belt. On reaching the pines, there were four Common Crossbill sat out but no sign of the Two-barred – finally the flock departed and there were five birds present, so I guess our bird was somewhere amongst them! Very nice to catch up with another of the current influx and manage a quick ‘grab shot’ or two.

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Two-barred or not to barred…

At 14.22 a text came through to say that there was a male Two-barred Crossbill on the beach, east of the car park at Cley. Knowing that this wasn’t a bird that was going to hang around in this location I said ‘lets go’ – Jane on the other hand was insistent that we wait until she’d finished preparing a huge batch of courgette chutney! Ten minutes later and we’re on the way along the coast road to Cley NWT following someone who, very correctly, sticks to every speed limit! We swing into the beach car park, say ‘Hi’ to Mark G, standing by the pill box, and he says ‘you need to be down there by the fence’. A knot of birders is straining to see over/through the fence to a patch of thistles in which the bird is supposedly residing. Seconds later it pops up on a thistle-head, close to the fence and I get a chance to take in this ‘tango orange’ male, with it’s distinctive white wing bars and tertial tips. A few seconds later and it’s off, flying across the Eye field towards the hides and beyond, to Cley village. No pictures of my own I’m afraid but here is a great shot, courtesy of Mark Golley:

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This was the first Two-barred Crossbill in the ‘Cley square’ for over forty years – a Norfolk tick for me and a ‘lifer’ for Jane – pheew that was close!

UnBridled Joy… and relief! (now with postscript)

This summer has been exceptional for the number of rare birds in Britain, one of which is Bridled Tern – a species from as far afield as the Red Sea and Caribbean. With less than thirty previous records and the last long stayers being in the mid 90’s, this was a ‘must get’ species. Unfortunately for us, when it first turned up on 1st July on the remote Farne Islands, we were busy all week and the following week we were off to France to watch Le Tour. During that first week it settled to something of a routine, regularly coming to roost during the afternoon and evening, when there were plenty of eager boatman willing to ferry the throngs of twitchers out to the islands to see it. By the 5th it had become much less predictable and began visiting a number of mainland sites between  Northumberland and Teeside. On the morning of 10th it was reported flying south past Flamborough Head, Yorkshire –  it looked like it had disappeared for good. Then to most peoples surprise and our considerable relief it reappeared on Inner Farne to roost on the evening of 13th. We were again busy over the weekend and I had commitments on Monday and Tuesday. With an emergency dental appointment on Wednesday morning, we decided to go for the bird straight after. It’s a five hour continuous drive to Seahouses, where the boats leave, and with any luck we’d be there for mid afternoon, in time to get out to the islands to see it. We phoned the boat people on route to be given the devastating news that the last scheduled sailing was at 12.15 and there was no prospect therefore of seeing the bird that day, it’s fifth consecutive day of settled behaviour! We had no choice but to schedule our visit for the following day and hope against hope that it would hang around for another day! We’d intended to use our trip north to visit Jane’s family in Lancashire in any case, so we reversed our itinerary and decided to return to Rutland Water, to see if the Pacific Golden Plover was around and also to try for the Bonaparte’s Gull at Heysham. We scored on both – seeing our birding pals, Bob & Sue, in the process and spending a very pleasant evening, courtesy of Jo and George (thanks a lot folks!) Yesterday morning we set off early on a lovely drive through the high Pennines, collecting Red Grouse on the way, to reach Seahouses in good time for the crossing to Inner Farne. Fortunately for us, the Tern was back at the roost by late morning – unfortunately we had to join one of the regular tourist excursions which goes around all the other islands before finally landing for an hour on Inner Farne! Anxiety levels rose throughout the afternoon, despite the truly excellent views of the local marine life and the seafaring tales of the captain. Finally we landed and after several tense minutes of scanning the Tern flock  there it was, the fantastic Bridled Tern – ‘planet earth’ tick and a real beauty! After ten minutes or so it went airborne, pursuing a Sandwich Tern high into the Northumbrian skies and we were left to clear up on a couple of other Tern species which had so far eluded us. We’d boarded the boat ready for the return sailing to Seahouses, when a fellow birder saw the bird on the nearby rocks. We were able, curtesy of the obliging captain, to cruise slowly by it on our way home and obtain much better/sustained views.

A nice flight shot of Bridled Tern, with Sandwich Tern for comparison IMG_0379

A couple of shots taken from the boat as it departed back to Seahouses IMG_0561 IMG_0541 IMG_0528 IMG_0523 The ‘supporting cast’ for this trip was outstanding. First off was the rather distant but full summer plumage Pacific Golden Plover, at Rutland Water, seen here looking right on the closer bund, with a couple of Lapwing DSC03394

At Heysham, we managed to relocate the adult Bonaparte’s Gull – a scarce North American visitor, amongst hundreds of Black-headed Gulls, on the rocks at Red Nab. It’s the one in the centre of the shot, looking left! DSC03433 This picture shows most of the essential identification features; smaller, slimmer structure than Black-headed, a black hood, delicate black beak and pinky orange legs DSC03453 ‘Famous’ they maybe but increasingly difficult to find on the heather moorlands of northern England – Red Grouse. Britain’s only ‘endemic’. DSC03464 The top bird is an adult Roseate Tern, a very scarce summer breeding species. Note the long blackish bill, long tail- streamers and pale grey back. It’s also ringed! IMG_0436 Third new Tern species for the day – Arctic IMG_0456

A big thank you to the ‘Angel of the North’ for bringing us luck and allowing us to see the lovely Bridled Tern on our first attempt…we know of  birders who have tried and failed on three or more visits! DSC03469 Postscript: For fun I thought I’d add a couple of photos of the other ‘black and white’ Tern, on the British list, for comparison. These ‘digipics’ of a Sooty Tern were taken in the early days of digiscoping, on Anglesey in 2005 Sooty Tern 5 Sooty Tern 1

This bird first arrived on Anglesey on 7th July and spent the next 5 weeks commuting across the Irish Sea, visiting various locations along the Dublin coastline, proving at times to be as difficult to see as the Bridled Tern. Now thankfully both are safely UTB and ‘on the list’!

What an afternoon…!

Chris Froome has just won the 15th stage of the centenary Tour de France, on the summit of the monstrous Mont Ventoux, after the longest stage in the Tour and on Bastille Day – consolidating his lead in the Maillot Jaune and taking the polka dot King of the Mountains jersey for good measure. It doesn’t get much better!

Well it does actually – I’ve just registered my 10,000th view of my blog. Not quite the same magnitude of achievement I grant you but I’m pleased!  A big thank you to you all, old friends and new. T

Tour de Force

Yesterday, in the small hours of the morning, we got back from a mini break to France, having watched three stages of this year’s centenary Tour de France. We stayed at the excellent camp site of Le Bois Coudrais, near Combourg and saw Stage ten, with it’s sprint finish at St. Malo, the individual time-trial from Avranches to Mont St. Michel and the ‘signing in’, prior to the stage from Fougeres to Tours. As always the atmosphere was electrifying but with the added edge of British interest in Chris Froome, riding in yellow, and seeking to become only the second Brit to win the Tour and Mark Cavendish adding to his already impressive list of existing stage wins to assure him of his place in British cycling history as the most prolific stage winner of all time. There were also plenty of ‘up close and personal’ encounters with many of cycling’s international elite.

The ‘caravan’, announcing the arrival of the riders

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A break away of five riders on Stage 10, sixty kilometres before the finish

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The chasing peleton, just two minutes behind the leading group

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The Top Men at the front of the peleton, including Chris Froome in the ‘Maillot Jaune’, Peter Sagan in the Green Jersey, Mark Cavendish, Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck and Andre Greipel

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Smile for the camera

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Chris Froome and Richie Porte on a pre-race reconnoitre of the 33km time trial course

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Third place on the podium, Thomas De Gendt

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Overall winner, by eleven seconds, Germany’s Tony Martin

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and in second place and overall race leader, Chris Froome

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The ‘signing in’ at Fougeres – King of the Mountains, Pierre Rolland

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Master Kittel, with three stage wins already to his name , and that incredible hair!

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Former Tour winner and current possible threat to Froome, Alberto Contador

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The ‘Manx Missile’, Mark Cavendish

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Maillot Jaune, and hopefully 2013 Tour de France winner, Chris Froome

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More photos to follow in my Tour de France 2013 Gallery.