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!
The RSPB write and compile a number of magazines about wildlife and nature aimed at a range of different age groups. For instance, teenage RSPB members receive the Wingbeat magazine. The Wingbeat magazine is ‘written by teenagers… for teenagers’ and this summer I was lucky enough to be given permission to write my very own article for the magazine. This article was recently published in the January 2017 issue.
I chose to write about one of my main passions: pan-species listing. As detailed in my last post, I recently recorded my 2000th species. In my article in Wingbeat I explained more about what a pan-species list is; what one needs to keep a pan-species list; why to keep a pan-species list as well as some of my pan-species listing highlights.
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.
On Saturday, I went on a birding trip to Pagham Harbour and Arundel WWT where I saw many new birds for my life list. Pagham Harbour was quite exciting; there was a really unusual hide in the RSPB reserve which had a main road in between us and the birds!
The view from the hide (Avocets in the distance!)
There were signs of spring at Arundel WWT, I was surprised to see so many ducklings and young Coots!
When we finally got to the Sand Martin Hide, where we hoped to see the Mediterranean Gull, I had already seen 64 species that day! I really wanted to see that Mediterranean Gull because not only would it be one more new species for my life list, but would bring my day total up to 65! Mediterranean Gulls are quite special birds in the UK, because even though one or two pairs breed in the UK each year, their main distribution is around Turkey and the Mediterranean Sea, where their name suggests. The problem is, they look almost identical to Black-Headed Gulls, the only real difference is that a Mediterranean Gull has a brighter beak with a faint black stripe running vertically through the middle. To make matters worse, there were at least 200 Black Headed Gulls that were visible from the hide and only 1 Mediterranean Gull.
A Needle in a Haystack!
I tried to find the Mediterranean Gull by myself, but I gave up and had to ask the warden on hand to show me it. It seemed like he found it with much ease and I was quite impressed when he showed me. I was amazed at how bright and conspicuous the beak was, it was probably as bright as a perfectly ripe tomato! I was very pleased with the number of species I saw that day, it might just have been one of the best days I’ve ever had!
Loads of people even at this moment are recording birds for the Big Garden Birdwatch, run by the RSPB. Citizens were asked to record the highest number of a species of bird in their garden for one hour, then send in their results on the RSPB’s website or on a paper form. The most interesting sighting of my hour was when a small flock of five Redpolls came and fed from my Goldfinch feeder. The most frequent time that Redpolls come to a garden feeding station like mine is when the damp and rainy conditions force the pine trees to close their cones, therefore prompting finches such as Siskins and Redpolls to come and feed on smaller seeds on our bird tables and in our feeders, such as the nyjer seeds in my Goldfinch feeder. I called my dad over for the Big Garden Birdwatch and I got a good video and he got a good photo. This is his photo:
Redpolls on the Goldfinch Feeder
I hope many of you will take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch and I will be delighted if you shared your results via comment.