Wednesday 30 October 2013


Porthgwarra, Cornwall
Photo by Adam Archer

After the rigours of the previous weekend I was hoping to take it pretty easy this week, catch up with my blog, make short work of a bottle of single malt whisky and relax a bit. The trouble is with the weather conditions looking ideal to displace a few stray American migrants over the Atlantic and deposit them slap bang into the midst of south west England that was never really going to happen.

It all started to kick off around lunchtime on Monday when news came through of a YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER on the island of Lundy out in the middle of the Bristol Channel. Then during mid afternoon an AMERICAN MOURNING DOVE was found in a garden on the Isle of Rhum off the west coast of the Scottish Highlands. To be honest I was not too fussed about the 'Myrtle Warbler' bearing in mind the pretty inaccessible location at this time of the year and luckily I had connected with an AMERICAN MOURNING DOVE previously during a memorable trip to North Uist in 2007.

Then on Tuesday morning I started to get all twitchy for the umpteenth time in the past fortnight. When would the madness ever end? Firstly a HERMIT THRUSH was found down in my beloved Cornwall followed quickly by news of yet another YELLOW-RUMPED WARBER but this time in Ireland. Then news of a LESSER KESTREL filtered through from Devon. At this stage I was not concentrating properly and nearly suffered a mild stroke as a consequence. For a few seconds I thought my pager said there was an AMERICAN KESTREL in Devon. I obviously had nearctic vagrants on the brain!

Thanks to my extremely understanding gaffer at work and my equally understanding boss at home, I found myself driving over to Coventry during the early hours of the morning. I was to meet up with 'The People's 2013 Year Listing Champion' John Jennings and his live in butler Martin Smyth for a hastily arranged soujourn down to Cornwall. During the long journey down the M5 I noticed that it was a mostly bright, clear night. I usually love to stare up at the stars in childlike wonder but I cannot abide the spangly little f*ckers when I am on my way to see a rare bird. I tried to remain optimistic but my recent run of good luck had to end at some stage. Would this be it?

Photo by Adam Archer

We eventually reached the rugged, beautiful valley of Porthgwarra at around 8.00am to find a whole load of glum looking birders milling around. There had obviously been no sign of the diminutive American thrush since first light. Despite the no-show I was far from despondent though. From experience I know how birds can disappear for long periods within the dense, tangly undergrowth of the Cornish valleys. There was still plenty of time for the bird to make an appearance and I remained pretty relaxed. Then suddenly whilst patiently viewing the sallows from the car park there came the distinctive sound of twitchers on the move, a rustling of waterproof clothing and the chinking of tripods and scopes. We joined the stream of birders that were heading for the narrow access lane on the other side of the trees.

The bird had apparently been seen well but very briefly as it fed on flies within the shelter of the small patch of woodland. We all positioned ourselves and waited. Up popped a European Robin. We waited some more. Then up popped a Wren. When this happens you become unfairly cynical. Had they really spied the rarity or was it just a figment of their over active imagination. An agonising forty minutes passed before I heard a quiet whistle just behind me. I turned around to see Josh Jones rooted to the spot and pointing wildly towards his feet. In the loudest whisper ever uttered I clearly heard him say "It's f*cking down here!" I peeked into the area towards where he was gesticulating and there it was flicking around in the leaf litter just twelve feet away, a magnificent HERMIT THRUSH. Unfortunately within about ten seconds the news rapidly spread and before we knew it our small group of six had swelled to nearly one hundred panicky individuals. Needless to say the bird picked up on the commotion and promptly flew off into the tangle of vegetation.

Typical views of the HERMIT THRUSH (first winter)!
Photo by Chris Bromley

For the second time in a few days I had been blessed to feel the rush of American aviform induced adrenalin pump through my emotionally drained body. It felt soooooooo good. As soon as the birders settled down slightly the bird showed once more, totally oblivious to the chaos it was causing around it. Luckily for the second time that morning I had chosen my viewing spot wisely and I continued to enjoy pretty amazing views as it took turns in feeding on the ground and then hopping up to snatch an elderberry or two for dessert. It would then disappear for a while but eventually return to more or less the same spot on its feeding circuit. As long as you remained cool you could obtain some pretty fine views indeed.

We then moved across to a blustery Mount's Bay. After a short stroll along the beachfront at Long Rock we managed to pick up a juvenile WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER feeding amongst a mixed flock of other wind tossed waders. Other species included 5 Ringed Plover, 13 Bar-tailed Godwits, 5 Dunlin, a single Sanderling and 6 Turnstone. There were also good numbers of Rock Pipit and Pied Wagtail feeding along the beach.  We finished off with a half-hearted attempt to look for a juvenile Rose-coloured Starling but failed in our quest after a ten minute search amongst the Starling flock on the nearby retail park. Before heading back home we celebrated in true Cornish style with a pasty from Philps Bakery in Hayle. It was yet another superb day chasing rarities in my most favourite part of the world.

St Michael's Mount from Long Rock Beach
Photo by Adam Archer

HERMIT THRUSH in Cornwall - Video Footage

Saturday 26 October 2013


CAPE MAY WARBLER (first winter female)
Photo by Chris Bromley

On Wednesday lunchtime whilst mooching around the mean city streets of Birmingham looking for a bite to eat, the mundane existence of my working week was suddenly given a swift kick in the b*llocks. News was received that a presumed CAPE MAY WARBLER had been located on the most northerly outpost of my beloved Great Britain, the Isle of Unst in Shetland. A 'presumed' CAPE MAY WARBLER? My mind raced ahead of itself. Surely not? This was a species of North American warbler that had only reached Europe once before. Perhaps it was 'just' a particularly drab YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER? There had to be some kind of mistake. Then whilst sat at my desk the identification was confirmed. I was stunned.

Fast forward to Friday morning and I somehow found myself heading up the hellish M6 motorway with the Wolftown Cosa Nostra - Steve Allcott, Tony Barter and Jason Oliver. In their company I felt like Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta) in a f*cked up birding version of the movie 'Goodfellas'. I learned a lot about myself during that long, tortuous journey up to Aberdeen as well as picking up a few other valuable nuggets of knowledge. I discovered the benefits of truck stops over service stations with their huge, cheap breakfasts and Polish hookers. I discovered that Bart was once a professional wrestler called the 'VAT Man' and that shock horror, the whole thing was choreographed and rigged. I also discovered that no matter how tough someone is, they can get all misty eyed and nostalgic when it comes to reminiscing over 1970's children's TV programmes.

Anyway back to the bird. About a hour into our journey north we received confirmation that our prize target was still present. We all cheered and willed it to linger for just one more day until we could get up there. A few hours later I then received a most disturbing call from my pal Steve Nuttall who at that time should have been watching the rarity after catching the ferry over to Shetland the previous evening. "How you doing mate?" I asked. "Well not too good actually, haven't you heard?" came his concerning response. At this point my heart sank. The first thought that sprang to mind was the bird had been snaffled by a hungry Merlin or even worse some mangy feral feline. 

It therefore came as a bit of a selfish relief when I discovered the real reason behind Steve's woes. At around 4.00am some poor soul had decided to jump from the vessel and take their own life. As a result of this tragedy the ferry had to turn back to help search for the body which resulted in Steve and his crew finally hitting Lerwick during lunchtime, a delay of nearly five hours. There was no way they would have time to head all the way up to Unst from Mainland Shetland and be back in Lerwick for the return ferry back to Aberdeen that same day. I tried to reassure him that everything would work out fine.

We eventually reached the ferry terminal in Aberdeen ourselves at tea time and met up with the final member of our team, Rob 'Moth Arms' Gilbert who had made his way there by train from Stoke. We settled into the bar onboard MV Hjaltland and tried to relax in the knowledge that Steve had finally connected with the CAPE MAY WARBLER before dusk and that the weather up on Unst had been pretty appalling by the time the bird had gone to roost. Our chances of success tomorrow had definitely increased upon hearing such news. The crossing itself was not too bad at all and by 6.30am we were all tucking into our breakfasts after a decent night of sleep. As dawn broke on Saturday morning we quickly disembarked and Jason jostled for a prime position in the queue for the hire car. The lady in charge of distributing the vehicles amongst the eager twitchers obviously took a dislike to us though. We raced out to the car park to find a diminutive Toyota Aygo awaiting us.

The cramped Toyota 'No Go'!
Photo by Adam Archer

As four and a half burly birders plus baggage crammed into a space just a tad bigger than an oil drum I was half expecting to see Norris McWhirter standing kerbside as we tootled out of Lerwick. It had to be some kind of Guinness World Record. The only thing missing was Roy Castle and his trumpet fanfare. After a constricted forty-five minutes or so we finally rolled into the hamlet of Toft for the ferry crossing over to the Isle of Yell. It was nearly nine o'clock and there was still no positive news regarding the CAPE MAY WARBLER. As we sped from the bottom to the very top of Yell for our second brief ferry ride none of us had any phone signal. I knew Steve Nuttall and the lads would be doing their very best to locate the bird but now I had no way of receiving that potentially joyous call from him.  The atmosphere in the car became extremely tense and nobody uttered a single word until we reached Belmont. 

Unfortunately there was no room for us on the first ferry over to Unst and it would be a long, stressful wait for the next. At this point the wind started to increase in force and the rain began to fall. The whole team began to show signs of despondency and they quickly went their separate ways to search for birds. I on the other hand took shelter in the dark, dank waiting room and spent the time starring down at my phone. Suddenly I had a brainwave. Perhaps I could log onto someones WiFi and search the internet for news. Remarkably there was a router nearby where a password was not required. This is Shetland of course, why would anyone need a password? I jammed in and left a desperate plea for news on Birdforum. I then checked the Rare Bird Alert website but there was no news there either. My last hope was Twitter and as I refreshed my Tweets I noticed a message on Bird National. I read it over around three or four times carefully checking the time and date..... the CAPE MAY WARBLER was still bloody present!

I burst open the door of the waiting room, raised my eyes to the heavens, held out my arms and hollered at the top of my voice "IT'S STILL THERE!" Embarrassingly there was not a single other birder in sight. I raced down to the only other car of birders in the queue and tapped on their window to give them the happy news. At last I had someone to share the elation with. Eventually the other lads all made their way back to the car one by one and it was broad grins and childish excitement all round. As the ferry rolled into Gutcher we flew out of the harbour and up to Baltasound at pace.

We abandoned our tiny vehicle near The Manse and headed across to another of the birds favoured feeding spots, a derelict house with a trio of stunted sycamores enclosed within a small walled garden. There were just eight other birders on site and the news was not good at all. The rarity had not been seen since the initial sighting about two hours earlier. Whilst some staked out the garden in case the bird returned, others including myself started to search the weedy fields and drystone walls nearby. It was agonising. It had taken us a total of 26 hours and we had travelled over 700 miles to reach our destination. We were determined not to leave Shetland empty handed. To 'dip out' was simply not an option. 

The favoured haunt of the CAPE MAY WARBLER!
Baltasound, Isle of Unst, Shetland.
Photo by Adam Archer

As I carefully surveyed an area around some old farm buildings I heard a loud whistle emanating in the distance. I lifted my bins to see Steve Nuttall peering into the garden of a bungalow two fields away waving his arms. Without delay I sprinted over the rough grassland as fast as my legs could carry me. Following in my wake were about twenty other birders trying to keep up. I hurdled a gate and continued down a lane where I finally reached the garden. "It may have flew towards you!" shouted Steve. I lifted my bins to scan the sparse vegetation and suddenly a strange warbler type bird flew right across my line of sight. It had to be the bird. In order to compose myself I took a few deep breaths as one by one other birders arrived at my side. Suddenly it appeared once again perched up on the garden fence. "There it is!" I yelled followed quickly by the inevitable "Where is it?" "Directions please!" "Help meeeeee!" "F*ck!" from everyone else. 

Baltasound, Isle of Unst, Shetland.
Photo by Adam Archer

After a tantalisingly brief view, the bird then took flight again and headed further down the lane. Here it fed for around ten minutes in a lone sycamore tree at the side of a garage. As the bird settled down so did the nerves of every twitcher on site. All the trials and tribulations had been well worth it. I was now one of the few privileged birders in Britain to spend a few precious moments with a CAPE MAY WARBER in his own beloved country. Yes, our journey had been a long, drawn out stressful affair but spare a thought for this tiny bundle of feathers that had made an arduous journey of over 2,500 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. It really is one of the wonders of the natural world how birds like this migrate and how they survive such ordeals. The bird continued to be very mobile and after a few brief views in various locations it finally flew off towards an old churchyard and promptly disappeared.

Jase Oliver watches in awe!
Photo by Adam Archer

With the pressure off and after much hand shaking and back slapping we slowly made our way back to the spooky house in the hope that the bird would return there at some point. As we approached the walled garden it appeared that lady luck was well and truly on our side. There it was again, a splendid first winter female CAPE MAY WARBLER gleaning insects from the underside of the sycamore leaves just a few yards away. For the next hour or so the bird provided us all with tremendous views in the trees and as it hopped around picking through the leaf litter. It was even heard to call on a number of occasions, a sharp, high pitched 'zipp'. It seemed to call only when it became agitated by another bird intruding on its patch though such as a European Robin or a Shetland Wren, both of which were promptly chased off.

CAPE MAY WARBLER (first winter female)
Photo by Steve Nuttall

CAPE MAY WARBLER (first winter female)
Photo by Steve Nuttall

For no particular reason the bird then took flight once more and headed over towards The Manse, an imposing old house with a single sycamore growing in the corner of a bare, desolate garden. Here it started throwing its weight around once more as it turfed out two male Blackcaps before continuing its feeding routine. With the car nearby I decided to grab my scope to see if I could rattle off a few digi-scoped photographs. After asking Jase for the car keys I soon sensed a degree of panic in his demeanour. His usual ruddy complexion quickly transformed into that of a pale-faced geisha girl. He continued to pat himself down as if his body had suddenly caught fire. He had only lost the f*cking keys!

What the hell were we going to do? There would be no way that the car hire company could get a spare set up to us in time for our ferry back to Aberdeen. We considered abandoning the car on Unst and catching a lift back to Lerwick but nobody had space for one extra birder never mind five. We tried to remain calm and split up to search the five square miles of muddy tracks, grassy fields, overgrown ditches and derelict buildings we had all been hiking around. There was more chance of a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET appearing on this side of the Atlantic than those keys being found. 

I attempted to apply a degree of logic to the situation. I played back the scene over and over again in my mind when the bird was initially located. I remember Jase jogging along the fence line of the bungalow when I initially picked up the bird in the garden. There was a good chance that the keys had been jarred from his coat pocket at this point. I made my way over to the area and within a minute I spotted a tiny white triangle poking out from the long grass. Finding those car keys was undoubtedly the second miracle of the day. We returned back to The Manse for one more fix of the rarity before fleeing the scene. Once again it performed like a star, even hopping out onto the wall at one stage in order to indulge in a spot of fly-catching.

CAPE MAY WARBLER (first winter female)
Photo by Steve Nuttall

Before heading south we called in at Halligarth in Baltasound where we saw and heard several Siberian Chiffchaff. A female Merlin also dropped in for a few moments and a winter plumaged Slavonian Grebe was picked up by Steve feeding on a small loch nearby. Other birds of note included a fly over Common Crossbill and a single Common Redpoll.

Upon arriving back on the Mainland we headed out west to the small fishing village of Walls. Here we found a very pleasant lady tending her flower beds in a garden which contained a rarity from a more easterly direction. The kind madam beckoned us onto her property and within a few minutes we were all enjoying point blank views of a stunning RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL, my fifth in Britain. Although quite mobile at first the bird eventually decided to feed out in the middle of the road reminiscent of a Pied Wagtail. Only dream scenarios like these can happen on Shetland.

RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL - Walls, West Mainland
Photo by Steve Nuttall

The atmosphere throughout the ferry back to Aberdeen that evening was full of joy and merriment. All birders onboard were over the moon on how the day had panned out, even those like Steve Nuttall and Kev Clements who were making their way home a full day later than anticipated. It was time to neck a few drinks in the bar and then retire to our secret drinkers corner where many plastic cups of single malt whisky were raised in celebration. It was then time to head to the lounge and find a quiet place on the floor to rest my weary head for the evening. According to the weather forecasts we were in for a choppy overnight sailing.

Tony 'VAT Man' Barter & Jason 'No Keys' Oliver celebrate!
Photo by Adam Archer

Following an evening of disturbed sleep due to the sound of crashing waves and twisting metal I did not feel too great when I eventually woke. As we disembarked the ferry and made our way through the torrential rain to the car I felt as though I was still being tossed from side to side. I was not looking forward to the long car journey ahead at all. As we made our way south though the weather started to improve. It was then decided that we would make a detour over to St Abb's Head where an adult male SARDINIAN WARBLER had been in residence for a number of months. This was the first time I had visited this beautiful location and I was well impressed. Unfortunately though, despite a thorough search of the area north of the loch we failed in our efforts to locate the Mediterranean rarity. The only birds of note were 23 Pink-footed Geese passing over, 2 Siskin and 3 Bullfinch.

A rainbow over St Abb's Head, Borders
Photo by Adam Archer

With a tremendous looking stormy front moving in over the Atlantic from the south-west, the conversation during the journey back was filled with birding predictions for the following week. None of us however managed to predict what would hit Ireland that afternoon. Amazingly a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET had been trapped on Cape Clear Island. Just like the CAPE MAY WARBLER we had seen the day before this was only the second ever sighting of this North American species in Europe. One thing was certain, the south west of England was sure to provide us with something tasty over the coming days. I felt another trip to the Isles of Scilly would be inevitable for the following weekend.

Finally at around 7.00pm on Sunday evening I arrived back home in North Warwickshire. I was absolutely shattered and even twelve hours after staggering of that boat, I still felt as though I was at sea. Despite the mild exhaustion and the proverbial roller coaster ride of the past few days though I can honestly say I had loved every single second of it. The higher the risk, the better the reward. What an adventure! 

Sunday 20 October 2013

A HOOPOE in Nottinghamshire

HOOPOE - Annesley Pit Top, Nottinghamshire
Photo by Dave Hutton

After the rigours of the previous day on the English south coast I did not really fancy venturing too far today, especially as I had developed an agonising pain in the neck. Luckily I had some top notch drugs left over from my recent operation, so after popping a few pills during the early hours of the morning I was back in birding business.

The original plan was to visit the patch and count wildfowl or something similarly yawn inducing however whilst lying in bed I was stimulated by something a touch more exotic. News of a Hoopoe  came through from Annesley Pit Top just up the road in Nottinghamshire. After receiving a bit of local gen from Stevie Dunn and hearing that the bird was showing very well at times, Dave Hutton and I decided to pay the bird a fleeting visit.

Typically as we entered the car park in Newstead Village a quick phone call for directions resulted in disappointment. The Hoopoe had just flown off high over a line of conifers and had disappeared. Undeterred though we squelched away up through the mud hoping that we could relocate it somewhere around the former mining site. As we approached the first lagoons we met the familiar faces of Stevie Dunn and Rich Challands. Unfortunately there was no still no sign of the bird but there were a few folks still searching the area. Then whilst chatting to the lads my attention was drawn to a pair of Carrion Crows calling as they flew along a distant hill top. Noisy corvids are always worth checking out and whilst investigating the commotion I was delighted to see the distinctive silhouette of a Hoopoe in flight as it tried to shake off the attention of the curious crows.

As we all made our way towards the top of the hill the bird then did us all a favour and flapped its way back down towards the lagoon where it was originally found earlier in the day. After a careful search of the rough grassland we then enjoyed superb views as it probed its way along a muddy embankment.

HOOPOE - Annesley Pit Top, Nottinghamshire
Photo by Dave Hutton

After around ten minutes the bird then flew up towards the higher pools and with Dave not particularly satisfied with his initial set of photos we decided to hunt it down again. Soon enough, the scarce migrant from across continent was found once more as it fed along a track before being flushed by a couple of horse riders. At this stage the bird made its way to the relatively undisturbed edge of a lower pool where we enjoyed prolonged scope views as it mooched around searching for grubs.

Stevie Dunn (left) & Rich Challands (right)....
... which birder do you think blends in better with his surroundings?

Other birds around this excellent site included a trio of winter plumaged Black-necked Grebes, 5 Little Grebes, 51 Common Pochard and a couple of Green Woodpecker. At one stage I also heard a Rock Pipit but failed to see it unfortunately. There were also reasonable numbers of Skylark, Meadow Pipit and a scattering of Linnet and Lesser Redpoll.

This Hoopoe sighting became only my fifth ever of this species in Britain. Remarkably I am still yet to see one outside the Midlands.

HOOPOE - Annesley Pit Top, Nottinghamshire
Photo by Dave Hutton

Saturday 19 October 2013


Now the SEMIPALMATED PLOVER is not the most inspiring of American species that has ever  occurred on this site of the Atlantic Ocean. You could say that our very own Common Ringed Plover of Britain and Northern Europe is slightly more a aesthetically pleasing. The issue is though this subtly different species is an extremely rare visitor to Europe and particularly Great Britain. Since the initial sighting on St Agnes, Isles of Scilly during October 1978 just a further two birds have been found and accepted in Britain. When the second individual turned up in Devon during the Spring of 1997 and returned again in 1998 I could not even be bothered to make the short diversion down to Dawlish Warren as I drove from the Midlands to Cornwall and back on several occasions. I had wrongly assumed that now we knew exactly what to look for in this species, at least one would be safely identified every year.

Last Thursday night news filtered through that a first winter SEMIPALMATED PLOVER had been present in the high tide wader roost off the eastern tip of Hayling Island in Hampshire. At last I finally had a chance of putting a birding schoolboy error to rest after over fifteen years. With much to do at work on the Friday there would be no chance of heading south until the weekend though. On the Saturday morning, I headed down with Mike Feely and Dave Hutton to try our luck at high tide. 

Anxious birders at Black Point.... with Brent Geese overhead.

By just after 10.00am we, along with around eighty other like minded souls were in position at Black Point eagerly anticipating the feathered gift the incoming tide would bestow upon us all. Initially there were around 25 Common Ringed Plover and around 10 Dunlin to search through but as time progressed these numbers increased little by little making the process of elimination trickier. Some birders could not take the suspense though and were clearly seeing pro-semipalmated features in some of the Common Ringed Plover that simply did not exist. If only some folks would do their homework before deciding to travel so far, after all preparation is a major part of the enjoyment in rarity chasing. At one stage I even turned around to see no less than three copies of the Collin Bird Guide being passed around amongst the crowd.  Field guides in the actual field are something of a rare sighting in themselves these days.

Then at around 10.45am a flock of around 30 Sanderling descended along with a few more Dunlin and the odd Common Ringed Plover. After a scan of the new arrivals my attention was drawn to a slightly smaller, more compact first winter ringed plover type bird. Upon further scrutiny the bill was stubby and despite the poor light I could also make out a smidgen of white feathering above the gape line and a hint of pale-fringes on the wing coverts. At the range we were viewing though it was impossible to pick up a hint of orange at the base of the bill and looking for the actual partial toe-webbing was an obvious waste of time. The small dome-headed appearance of the bird was quite apparent however. This had to be the SEMIPALMATED PLOVER! As the seconds ticked by more and more birders independently noticed the same bird and mentioned the same features. Luckily the bird walked slightly closer and with an obvious first winter Common Ringed Plover at its side for comparison the identification was ultimately confirmed.

Unfortunately just as we all started to relax and enjoy the bird, an incompetent wind-surfer sailed way too close to the Point and flushed the whole wader flock. They flew off in a south-westerly direction and with the tide rushing in there was little chance of them returning to the same sandy spit. I was both pleased and relieved to see the bird however I really did want better views if at all possible. Some 'tick and run' merchants slunk off back to their cars however most hung around for a further half hour or so just in case the bird did decide to return. At the same time new groups of birders started to arrive on site just a few minutes too late.

We then received the welcome news that the bird had been relocated about a mile of so away roosting  along the beach at Eastoke. As the heavens opened a mass exodus from the sailing club then ensued. It was quite amusing at one stage as we made a wrong turning only for a convey of other birders to follow us. After finding a space to park we then braved the driving rain to jostle for a precious viewing position on the beach. Despite rain hitting my scope head on I eventually managed to pick up the rarity once again. 

first winter SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (nearest bird)
Eastoke Beach, Hayling Island, Hampshire
Photo by Dave Hutton

Eventually as I ran out of dry lens cloths the downpour finally subsided and the sun attempted to peer through the dark clouds. With much closer and far better viewing conditions I could now absorb most of the clinching identification features. This time I could even detect a small, feint spot of orange at the base of the subtly upturned bill however a good view of the 'semipalmations' were just not possible as it stood mostly motionless on the shingle. At one stage the flock flew off for a while but while they were in flight none of us heard the distinctive call of a SEMIPALMATED PLOVER

first winter SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (nearest bird)
Eastoke Beach, Hayling Island, Hampshire
Photo by Dave Hutton

Finally at around 1.30pm the whole flock of birds took flight again and this time they meant business. I eventually lost view of them as they headed back east towards Sandy Point. We did attempt to relocate them but unfortunately a large section of the beach was cordoned off due to some ongoing flood defence work. At this point a handsome adult winter Mediterranean Gull flew past us heading west along the beach.

Eastoke Beach looking west towards Portsmouth.
Photo by Adam Archer

Before we attempted to find somewhere to eat we decided to head back over to Black Point to see if the birds had returned there on the receding tide. Unfortunately there was still quite a bit of disturbance from the nearby sailing club and only a small number of Common Ringed Plover were present. It would have been quite possible for the birds to have made their way into the vast estuarine areas of either Emsworth Channel or the Chichester Channel to feed. Other species included around 120 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 2 Little Egrets and a single Sandwich Tern.

Looking north towards Black Point after the wader flock disappeared.
Photo by Adam Archer

It was then onto South Hayling for a quality box of celebratory haddock and chips at Coastguards Fish & Chips. This fine establishment has been voted the best chippy in Hampshire 2013-2104 and I can see why. The food was tremendous and very reasonably priced too. I can thoroughly recommend a visit if any readers are ever birding nearby.


This species breeds in Alaska and widely across northern Canada to Baffin Island and Newfoundland. It spends the winter along both the Atlantic and Pacific shores of the southern United States and all the way down to the southern point of South America. If accepted, the Hampshire bird will be only the fifth ever record (and fourth individual) of this species in Britain. The previous records are as follows:

2012 - Western Isles - South Glendale, South Uist - juvenile - 7th to 11th September.
1998 - Devon - Dawlish Warren - adult (presumed returning bird from 1997) - 31st March to 10th May.
1997 - Devon - Dawlish Warren - first summer - mid April to 21st September.
1978 - Isles of Scilly - St Agnes - juvenile - 9th October to 9th November.