Saturday 10 September 2011

SABINE'S GULL in Staffordshire

The morning started with a visit from the East Midlands chapter of the ASBO fraternity to my new abode in the sleepy hamlet of Seckington. The purpose of their visit was to console me regarding the near miss I experienced the evening before down at Alvecote (more to follow shortly) and to hopefully connect with a local wind-assisted seagull. Whilst we explored the nearby Norman motte and bailey castle for any new migrants, we received a call from Gailey Reservoir stalwart Snapper Richards. It was the news we had been waiting for. The juvenile Sabine's Gull that had been present at Belvide earlier on in the week had dropped in at Snapper's patch once again. We were off!

Upon arrival we made our way along the causeway to where a few birders had assembled. I soon noticed though that as we got closer all the birders were looking in our direction. It was soon apparent that the bird had flown and that they were tracking it as it departed high in the distance. Soon enough Snapper came jogging towards to tell us the bad news. The bird had done a bunk just as we arrived. After dipping 2,500 Great Shearwaters down in Cornwall as well as a Kittiwake in Warwickshire within the last week, my bad luck with seabirds continued. After a quick jaunt to check out a flock of plough-following Black-headed Gulls nearby we returned back to the rez where we consoled ourselves with a nice summer-plumaged Red-necked Grebe and a couple of Arctic Terns (adult & juvenile).

We just started to enjoy ourselves in the afternoon sunshine when I spotted a couple of bored looking bird photographers creeping along the shoreline. Their target was a couple of obliging Ringed Plover that had dropped in. Much to our amazement they repeatedly took turns to flush the birds in order to grab a ridiculously close-up shot or two. Bearing in mind there was only a tiny area of suitable shoreline for these birds to feed in, the behaviour of these SLR wielding numpties was totally out of order. To make matters worse Snapper informed us that these birds were the first Ringed Plover at Gailey for an incredible 17 years. It was all too much for one of the crew and soon enough Nadia stormed over to give them a piece of her mind. Well done flower! As a Hobby passed overhead Snapper received a call from Steve Nuttall up the road at Belvide Reservoir. The Sabine's Gull had returned to its favoured feeding area there along the dam.

As we pulled into the car park we were greeted by a grinning Steve Nuttall who welcomed us and our cash with open arms. Sabine's Gull was a welcome and well deserved patch tick for him. The last bird of this species at Belvide was back in October 1982 when Musical Youth were number one in the singles chart with 'Pass The Dutchie' and Mr Nuttall still had a fine head of auburn hair.

As we arrived midway along the dam this smart juvenile bird could be found feeding unconcerned just a few feet below us. Getting a decent photo through the scope though was pretty frustrating due to the high winds and the unusual in-land surf. The Sabine's Gull seemed pretty much at home though as it picked up dead insects from the surface of the water.

Sabine's Gull (juvenile) - Belvide Reservoir, Staffordshire - September 2011
Just the ninth ever record for the County.

After enjoying the bird for a hour or so we headed back up to the car park via The Plantation where a nice selection of woodland species were encountered. Amongst the usual species we picked up a few Nuthatch and Treecreeper as well as Marsh Tit, Willow Tit and the odd Goldcrest. In the car park itself we found Steve again rattling the cash bucket. With the weather set to continue with strong south-westerly winds I predicted that he would get a long awaited Manx Shearwater on his patch pretty soon. The following day he duly nailed one, the first site record since August 1985. Congratulations Mr Nuttall!

'Archie's Theory on the Origin of Birding Man'
From left to right - 'plankton birder', 'shark birder', 'baboon birder' & 'gorilla birder'!

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