Saturday 8 September 2012


Last Monday evening Josh Jones tipped off The Black Lark Around Night Club (a little Facebook group of cutting edge birding degenerates) that a juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher down in Dorset might be something a little more interesting and a whole lot rarer.  Upon seeing the original images on the Brett's Goosey Ganderings blog it appeared that the bird in question possessed tertials which seemed to show a certain degree of barring. The bird definitely warranted closer scrutiny and the following evening it was confirmed as a SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER.

I can hardly believe it has been nearly thirteen years since I travelled up to Cleveland to see Britain's first ever specimen of Limnodromus griseus.  Even more remarkable though is the fact that it has taken the same number of years for the second one to turn up.  With such a large space of time between appearances, most of my birding pals still needed this American wader for their lists and so I decided to join a few of them on their jaunt down to the south coast.

After the long drive through fog, murk and mist we finally hit a sun-drenched Lodmoor RSPB reserve near Weymouth at around 10.00am.  Luckily for us, the target bird had decided to wave goodbye to it's elusive nature and was a whole lot more obliging than it had been over previous days. After a quick stroll along the western route of the reserve we picked up the rarity immediately as it stood roosting between a pair of probing Common Snipe.

juvenile SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER - Lodmoor RSPB, Dorset
Photo thanks to Aidan Brown

Even with the bird in 'standby mode' it was relatively easy to rule out Long-billed Dowitcher with the fine light conditions showing up the buff barring in the dark centres of the tertials nicely. It's 'longer billed' cousin shows tertials with completely dark centres framed with pale edging in juvenile plumage. A similar degree of barring can also be found in the inner greater coverts and the inner median coverts in juvenile SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER. There is an over-lap in bill lengths between the two species however we also noted a warm wash to the breast and a very dark cap with rufous streaking on this particular bird. Juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher should show a greyish breast and the crown should not be as dark and prominent. It should also fade into grey on the rear area of the crown.

After a while the bird began to become more mobile as it was disturbed by several other bird species however it always stayed pretty close to the accompanying Common Snipe. The bird also flew a short distance on several occasions however none of us heard it call when it did so.  Also on this part of the reserve there were 5 Ringed Plover, 2 Oystercatcher, 4 Black-tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper,  and Green Sandpiper. Several Sandwich Terns also flew in to rest amongst the small flock of Black-headed Gull as did an adult winter and a first summer Mediterranean Gull.

After watching the bird for over ninety minutes the rest of the group started to get twitchy. There was talk of us having to drive up to east London for a juvenile BAILLON'S CRAKE! All of our party still needed this for Britain except me. To be honest I was actually quite relieved when news filtered through that it had not been glimpsed since first light. Instead we headed over to the Isle of Portland for our second American treat of the morning. In a small ornamental garden in the middle of Easton a beautiful, yet slightly worn MONARCH butterfly had been spotted feeding on a Buddleia.

male MONARCH butterfly - Easton, Isle of Portland, Dorset
Photo thanks to Dave Hutton

Upon arrival, this king of migration showed well feeding amongst the numerous Red Admirals, often chasing them off from his favourite food source. There was also a single Painted Lady butterfly, my first of the year and a few Silver-Y moths taking advantage of this temporary source of nectar. It is amazing to think that this insect could have crossed the huge expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. Over a number of generations this remarkable creature migrates the entire length of North America from as far north as Canada down to parts of Mexico. This particular individual can be sexed as a male by the spot called the androconium in the centre part of it's hind wing. On the photograph above they can just be seen about half way down, on either side of the abdomen.

male MONARCH butterfly - Easton, Isle of Portland, Dorset
Photo thanks to Dave Hutton

We then headed down to Portland Bill for a quick look around the area. With not a great deal of excitement out at sea we turned our attention to a spot of land based birding. There were few highlights other than a curious Little Owl peering out at us from amongst the boulders of the Bird Observatory quarry. There were also at least a dozen Northern Wheatear, a family party of Stonechat and a mass of Silver-Y moths in the area. Before heading back to the Midlands we made a quick detour back into Weymouth for a top notch fish and chip dinner. The Sea Chef on King Street comes highly recommended.

Portland Bill - Isle of Portland, Dorset

So another enjoyable day out with the crew consisting of Rich Challands, Stevie Dunn and Mike Feely, our driver for the day. Cheers Mike!  Also great to see Steve Richards and his lovely wife Paula down at Lodmoor RSPB too.

The crew at Portland Bill!
From Left to Right - S Dunn, A Archer, R Challands & M Feely

As usual there was plenty of good humoured banter flying around throughout the day however quote of the trip goes to Mike 'Mikipedia' Feely with the following: "Arch, please can you shut your window, the pressure difference in the cabin is interfering with my hearing!" You would have thought he was piloting Concorde over the Atlantic rather than driving a VW Golf down the M5!

STOP PRESS:  Today, Britain's third SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, another juvenile was found on Tresco, Isles of Scilly.


Previous records of this species in Britain are as follows:

1999 - Aberdeenshire - juvenile at Rosehearty from 11th to 24th September (relocated to Cleveland).
1999 - Cleveland - juvenile at Greenabella Marsh & Greatham Creek from 29th September to 30th October (same as Aberdeenshire).
2012 - Dorset - juvenile at Lodmoor RSPB from 3rd September to present.
2012 - Isles of Scilly - juvenile on Tresco from 9th September to present.

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