Last Sunday afternoon I sat in the West Mead hide at Pulborough Brooks, with my binoculars focused on the far right corner of the pool directly in front of me. Among the Lapwings and the Teal was the silhouette of a Pectoral Sandpiper in terrible back-lighting.
There was no mistaking that this was a bird I was very pleased to see. One challenge of mine for this year is to get to 200 bird species for BBC Wildlife Magazine’s #my200birdyear, and this was my 193rd. Furthermore, Pulborough Brooks is exactly where I saw my first and only previous Pectoral Sandpiper, over 3 years ago. On that day in 2014 the Pectoral Sandpiper was so distant I didn’t even attempt a photograph, however this time this one was unusually close.
The lighting was really poor, but at least I attempted a photo unlike my previous sighting three years ago!
Pectoral Sandpipers breed in North America and Eastern Siberia, yet despite the great distance from their breeding grounds they are still the most common Nearctic wader to reach our shores each year, mainly during autumn. Sussex definitely seems to attract its fair share, and in my experience Pulborough Brooks seems to be the best site in Sussex for them at the moment. There may have been at least three at this wetland site this autumn, which is an amazing total for a bird that would have had to cross the Atlantic or the whole of Siberia and Europe to reach here.
I have about a month and a half to find seven more species to make 200 for the year. It is possible, although it will be difficult. There are quite a number of species I’m yet to see, but it will all rely on how lucky I am!
Today (August 9th) we planned to visit RSPB Pulborough Brooks to see the Black-Winged Stilt family. The Black-Winged Stilts are a national rarity and the Black-Winged Stilts that are in Pulborough Brooks bred in RSPB Medmerry and then moved to RSPB Pagham Harbour before finally ending up in RSPB Pulborough Brooks. One of the RSPB volunteers joked that they had been given a guide to RSPB reserves! I was thinking of visiting them at Medmerry though it is a very long drive, it’s lucky that they moved north!
The first place in the reserve we visited was Jupp’s View and it turned out to be a good choice! One of the birdwatchers pointed out an adult Black-Winged Stilt to me and soon enough I had picked up all five. Later on, while I was still at Jupp’s View watching the Stilts, a different birdwatcher notified me of a Pec Sand, something I would never have dreamed to see here! A Pec Sand is a term what many birdwatchers use for a Pectoral Sandpiper!
A Pectoral Sandpiper is a North American vagrant*, the most common American wader to be found in the UK. I also remember reading an American book about a birdwatcher and one of the chapters told the story of when she tried to find a European vagrant in a group of hundreds of Pectoral Sandpipers! A Pectoral Sandpiper can be identified from other similar birds like Wood Sandpipers and Ruff by its brown breast band (which gives the species its name), very slightly down curved bill, Yellow-green-brown legs, white belly and streaky breast. It is also slightly larger than a Dunlin, which is useful because it was feeding in front of the only Dunlin on the whole lake! Other birds of note we saw at Pulborough Brooks were:
A Peregrine flying North West,
3 Corn Buntings,
1 Little Egret,
5+ Green Sandpipers,
and 3 Little Ringed Plovers.
There’s a Pec Sand there somewhere…
*A vagrant is a bird that is rarely seen in this country. Most vagrants are birds that have been blown off course on migration by storms or inexperienced juveniles. We were lucky today for our Pec Sand to be an adult.