A diary of my birding activity covering highlights and photos from my birding adventures. Mainly Norfolk (UK), occasionally beyond. I might mention the odd thing that isn't avian, but for moth and other insect news check out my mothing diary.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Surprise Sandpiper

I started off at Titchwell this morning where there were 2 Water Rails in the ditches beside the main path near the visitor centre and a Water Pipit further up.

 Water Rails, Titchwell, 23rd January

I was afraid the mist would prevent viewing on the sea and it did restrict visibility a bit, but it was still excellent.  There were ducks everywhere - thousands of Common Scoter (has anyone actually counted these??).  Impossible to count accurately I estimated about 70 Long-tailed Ducks on view early on and counted 45 Velvet Scoters, although the latter was undoubtedly conservative.  A drake Eider was there, a Red-breasted Merganser flew past and there were at least 12 Goldeneye (probably more) on the sea.  A group of 4 Red-crested Pochard would have been a surprise had I not remembered reports of an even larger group over the weekend.  A first-winter drake Scaup flew in from the south and landed on the sea - apparently it had been seen on the freshmarsh until then.

Yesterday Paul had seen 2 Scaup and a presumed Scaup x Tufted Duck hybrid at Saddlebow.  His description of the hybrid sounded interesting - hard to imagine what else it could have been but it sounded a bit different from typical examples of this hybrid.  I decided to head down there and have a look but although the 2 Scaup (drakes) were easily found I couldn't locate the hybrid.  I checked the other bridges south of here down to Stowbridge (where there were 4 Goldeneye) but no luck.

Cormorant, Stowbridge, 23rd January

Stowbridge, 23rd January

Next stop was Nar Valley Fishery, entering from the Wormegay High Bridge end.  Had Sparrowhawk and Kingfisher as I walked along the Nar towards the gravel pits and then when I reached the first pit close to the path I saw a small wader flying towards me.  It looked like a Common Sandpiper but as it continued past and away I was troubled by the fact that it seemed to lack the usual distinctive flight pattern of Common Sandpiper, not arching its wings at all.  But it was rising to get over the trees at the end of the pit so I guess that's why and as it did so it let out a short triple-note call.  Thank goodness for that - I don't think I could have put it down otherwise.  A totally unexpected mid-winter record - my first ever in January. 

I walked on to the actual fishery which was all frozen but provides a good vantage for one of the largest of the gravel pit lakes which wasn't completely frozen over.  I nearly mistook a family part of 3 swans as Bewick's but gave them a second look when I saw 2 adult Whoopers nearby - they were in fact all 5 Whooper Swans

Whooper Swans, Nar Valley Fishery, 23rd January

There were also 75 Mute Swans and among the duck, 5 Goldeneye.

Goldeneye, Nar Valley Fishery, 23rd January

For the second time in three days I glimpsed a large-looking egret flying behind trees and dropping down.  Fortunately this time the light was better and I saw the bill clearly enough - as I suspected this was the Great White Egret.

While all this was happening I was mulling over the Common Sandpiper in my mind, allowing doubts to start creeping in.  I started thinking about Spotted Sandpiper.  My recollection was that their call is more like Green Sandpiper, not like what I just heard, which sounded like a Common Sandpiper, but foolishly I played a recording of Spotted Sandpiper just to reassure myself.  The start of the call in the recording I listened to was a bit more like Common Sand than I'd remembered, although it finished off as I recalled.  I'd only heard 3 notes - was I 100% sure?  I was pretty sure, but not 100% sure.  Spotted Sandpiper also has a slightly shorter wing-bar and although I couldn't be certain I'd have picked up on this in the view I got, I reckoned I probably would have done.  But with niggling doubts I spent the rest of the afternoon checking over the gravel pits towards Wormegay High Bridge which were in the direction it was flying towards and probably the most likely habitat for it to stick around in.  I know from my reservoir-watching days how Common Sandpipers often get quite vocal flying around at dusk so maybe this would allow me to confirm.  It didn't - there was no more sign, so I put it down as a "presumed" Common Sandpiper.  However, later on Dawn drew my attention to a tweet I'd overlooked the day before - Ash Banwell had seen it yesterday and identified it as Common.

Anyhow, while looking for the sandpiper I did see a redhead Smew - another bird that had been reported yesterday although I'd forgotten until I saw it.  Also a Barn Owl.

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