Sunday, 11 December 2011

Waxwing Fix! - Norwich

 The flock of up to 26 birds were very flighty. They would hang around in the local tall trees, occasionally trilling away (but more so in flight) and then frequently swoop down onto the berries, usually for only seconds at a time before returning to their perch to digest!
 As always: beautiful and acrobatic birds.

 Just a shame they didn't hang around and stay still as much as the local blackbirds...
...or even Magpie!

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Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Mighty Mophin' Western Sandpiper (Probably), Cley

On Monday, 28th November, news of a 'Semi-palmated' Sandpiper emerged from Cley. It was seen to fly off west, towards Blakeney Harbour, where it was amazingly picked up again and photographed.
Being only the sixth record (I believe) in Norfolk, with the last twitchable bird in 1992 or even back to 1989, it would obviously prove to be a very popular bird if it was refound. It was with this in mind that I decided to bird the Cley area on the 29th in the hope it might reappear. In fact (due to a delayed start) news that it was present again on Pat's Pool reached the pager, even before we arrived at Cley! Not knowing the best place to view we made our way to Dauke's Hide and were amazed to find it empty! We moved to Teal Hide, where a small number of birders were grilling the NW corner of Pat's Pool, about equidistant between Teal and Bishop's Hide (where, the latter, most people present were viewing from).

I was quickly on the bird and was immediately hit by its structure - small-headed ('no-necked'), heavy-chested, with legs seemingly situated further towards the tail, creating a top-heavy feel and rather short legs. This immediately made me feel the bird wasn't a Little Stint (as it was this separation that was at the forefront of my mind), although it did seem reminiscent of one. Rightly, it was suggested that this viewpoint might be down to the weather conditions (overcast, cold and breezy from the SW), but throughout my time their my opinion of the structure didn't change. These distant views seemed to suggest a reasonably long-billed bird (getting on towards, but not beyond the length that Semi-palmated bills can be) and seemingly straight. Later closer views showed the bill to have a possible down curve at certain angles, but I came away believing the bill was straight(!)

The bird gradually came closer and some of the plumage details could be noted. The bird was still in moult, still retaining some juvenile feather (therefore fitting the moult strategy of Semi-palmated) and with the closest views the shape of the scapulars could be noted(?!?) and in the dull light I believed that it was the 'expected' anchor-shaped centres. Other features noted were the white lores and supercilium, white underparts, with fine streaking on the upper flanks and breast, and short, but debatable primary projection (one or two beyond the tertials, but only just beyond the tail). The palmations were observed on occasions - sometimes seeming quite obvious!

I left happy that I had seen the bird said to be a Semi-palmated Sandpiper and that I had noted a number of features that backed up this identification. Talking later to an experienced and well-trusted birder, the suggestion that the bird might well be a female Semi-palmated of the NE form, which helps to explain the length of the bill.

On Wednesday, 30th November, the bird began to be reported as a Semi-palmated or Western Sandpiper. My thoughts were that this was based, primarily, on the length of the bill, as there seemed to be little else that I could think of to think any change was necessary. Later, a picture emerged that seemed to show that the scapular shape was in fact 'arrow-head' rather than 'anchor' (concave verses convex!) which, seemingly, added weight to the Western identification - although discussions seem to show this is a variable feature anyway.

On Thursday, 1st December, the bird was 'mega'd' as a Western and, with much better light, I decided a quick revisit during lunchtime was in order to try and satisfy myself with the true identity of the bird. It was showing and, again, came reasonably close, when these pictures were taken:

Even in better light, I still came away with the impression of a Little Stint-shape/jizz bird (rather than Dunlin-shape/jizz), although the bill definitely had a down-turned feel to it. However, plumage details such as 'dark' ear coverts and contradictory, rufous tinge to the juvenile feathers were easier to see in better light.

Julian Bhalerao took these pictures, also on this date:

On Saturday, 3rd December, I returned again, as much to observe the 'twitch' (which was impeccable, both in behaviour and parking, although not identification - on at least one occasion I had to interject when someone was raving about what was obviously the wrong bird!) and to keep Dave company (also being interested in his opinion!) as to observe the bird more fully, although, I was intrigued to observe the feeding action of the birds, as I had not watched this as carefully as. possibly should have.

The feeding action, as with the overall jizz of the bird, seemed to vary a lot. This was probably due to the surface that the bird was feeding on. Often it would run quickly from one feeding area to another, reminiscent of a Sanderling, whilst on others, it would  move methodically and slowly forward, probing the mud in front of it. Sometimes it would feed stationary, 'hammering' its head into the (harder?) ground - presumably what is sometimes referred to as the 'sewing-machine' action!) The bird would always feed in areas with little or no water to wade in, although would wade across deeper water to get to another feeding area. I could not come to a conclusion which of these feeding actions was the most regular and, therefore, came away more confused!

Light was good and these pictures were taken:

There seems little more that I can add to the content of this post and definitely to the debate over the bird. I, personally (for what it is worth) am still unconvinced over the identification of this bird, although there are a larger number of people who I have spoken to who are adamant that it is a Western, I can not be so sure. If only it was a 'classic' bird that could be more easily pigeon-holed into place. There seems to be a suggestion that hearing the bird call might confirm its identity! Let's hope this happens, but I can see now the debate over the transcription if it does (lets wait for the sonogram...)!
With all of this, I don't feel I fit into the 'very good field observers' or even possibly (and more amusing) 'reliable observers' that certain people refer too, but have purposefully put in the detail of how I have encountered the bird and the process that I have been through (so far...)!
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