Sunday 14 June 2015


After the slight disappointment of the previous day it was time to brush myself down and pick myself back up. The ideal way for me to do this is to get back out in the field as soon as possible and immerse myself in whatever delights nature has to offer. Luckily Nadia was also keen to make the most of her day off and so we decided to get up early and head south. There had been a stunning male BLACK-EARED WHEATEAR of the eastern race melanoleuca showing well in the New Forest, Hampshire yesterday. The plan was to make that bird our priority and then explore the area for butterflies and dragonflies.

Unfortunately for the second day in succession though, the pesky rare bird had other ideas. As we made our way down the A34, a message was received to say there was no sign of the wheatear. Our tactics were changed and instead of branching off west we decided to head east along the south coast. As we made our way past Portsmouth another golden nugget of rarity news I had been dreading came through. The CRETZSCHMAR'S BUNTING had reappeared on Bardsey. I was far from surprised and although it was difficult to swallow I was determined to block it out of my mind and enjoy our day.   

Bee Orchid at Pagham Harbour RSPB.
Photo by Adam Archer

The first port of call was Pagham Harbour in West Sussex, an area that carries an anti-Archer curse as far as I am concerned. Over the years, I have always failed to see whatever special vagrant had been there the day before. Out of all the rarities and scarcities that have turned up at this famous site, the best I have done is a singing SAVI'S WARBLER and that remained hidden out of sight all day. As we arrived along the west side of the estuary near Thrift Shelf, it appeared as though the jinx was still in place. An HUDSONIAN WHIMBREL that had been showing since first light had decided to fly off and roost on an island and out of sight just ten minutes before we arrived.

After a scan of the area for a while we managed to find a couple of Whimbrel and Curlew as well as a trio of Bar-tailed Godwit but unfortunately there was no sign of the American Numenius. With the weather looking to take a turn for the worse we decided to cut our losses and return to the site at low tide instead. A quick scan of Ferry Pool on the way back to the RSPB visitor centre produced my first Green Sandpiper of the year, at long last. Also feeding in this area were 6 Avocet, 88 Black-tailed Godwit and few Common Redshank.

We then stopped of to gather supplies for a picnic and headed back west and into Hampshire where we hoped for better luck with another American shore bird. The sun was now beginning to shine and the temperature increased considerably as we parked up in the pleasant village of Titchfield. After weaving our way through the dozens of irresponsible dog owners and their unruly mutts we eventually reached Posbrook Floods. We were told on our way down that the adult GREATER YELLOWLEGS was showing well however upon our arrival there was no sign. It had apparently strutted off out of sight to roost with the godwit flock. Could our luck get any worse? After trying numerous different positions along the path though, I eventually spotted the obscured bird fast asleep with its head tucked under its wing.

All we could do was relax in the sunshine, scoff our M&S meal deals, enjoy the surroundings and wait. Eventually, the stunning wader reappeared and started to feed back out in the open where we enjoyed fantastic views. It was interesting to note it feeding with a bit of a sweeping Avocet type motion in comparison with the stop and probe action of the accompanying 70 or so Black-tailed Godwits.

Titchfield, Hampshire.
Photo by Dave Aitken

I had only seen one other GREATER YELLOWLEGS in Britain before, a first-winter bird up in Northumberland during November 2011 so it was great to connect with an adult bird in all its summer finery. After feeding for a while it eventually headed back out of sight, much to the annoyance of those birders just arriving. Once again I managed to find it roosting through a narrow gap in the willows but the views were far from ideal. With the afternoon whizzing by we decided to give the dreaded Pagham Harbour another shot before heading home.

Titchfield, Hampshire.
Photo by Dave Aitken

Earlier on in the afternoon the HUDSONIAN WHIMBREL had been spotted distantly from the east side of the estuary before flying back towards Church Norton. With the tide now well on its way back out, we were hopeful that the bird would pop out from where it was hiding and show itself for a while. We arrived back on site to find plenty of birders scanning the area but still there was no sign. Whilst Nadia snuggled down for a nap I continued to search the area but once again all I could find was the odd Curlew, Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwit. A couple of Little Tern and Common Tern passed through and a Hobby made a brief appearance.

As we had to be back in Warwickshire that evening to see friends we decided that 4.30pm would be the deadline to call it a day. As the clock ticked away and I began to grow weary from the two consecutive early mornings I noticed Kev Hale strolling by. It appeared that he was also a victim of the evil Pagham curse. Whilst we stood there moaning and feeling sorry for ourselves for while I heard a whimbrel type call. As I lifted my bins there it was, a dark-rumped whimbrel with darkish underwings flying south. Luckily the bird landed nearby amongst a pair of our usual pale-rumped European birds and started to feed.

Pagham Harbour, Church Norton, West Sussex.
Photo by Dave Aitken

Unlike the solitary HUDSONIAN WHIMBREL I had seen in Cumbria in 2007, it was useful to view this bird in the company of its European cousins. The American vagrant was a sandier brown colour in comparison and had a noticeably longer bill with a distinctive pinkish base to the lower mandible. The head markings were way more defined and there were buffy tones to the vent. It was one distinctive bird indeed. 

We watched the bird for about twenty five minutes as it picked out small crabs from the surface of the mud, waved them around for a while and swallowed them whole. It is always tough to turn your back on a rarity that is showing so well, but eventually we had no choice but to head back northwest. It had been pretty exhausting but nevertheless a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Pagham Harbour, Church Norton, West Sussex.
Photo by Dave Aitken


Up until 2011 the Whimbrel of the Old World and the New World were lumped together as belonging to the very same species. A split was then announced by the British Ornithologist's Union following research into the morphological distinctiveness and corresponding differences in DNA of hudsonicus. If accepted, the Pagham bird will become only the ninth individual for the British Isles and just the third for England. All previous records are as follows:

2013 - Shetland - Mid Yell & Whalefirth, Yell - Juvenile - 30th September to 2nd October.
2009 - Western Isles - Bornish, South Uist - Juvenile - 12th September only.
2008 - Isles of Scilly - Porthloo, St Mary's - Juvenile - 5th to 28th September.
2007 - Shetland - Buness, Fair Isle - Adult - 29th to 31st August.
2007 - Cumbria - Walney Island - First-summer - 14th June to 19th August.
2002 - Gwent - Goldcliff Pools - 3rd to 4th May (presumed to be the same bird as 2000).
2000 - Gwent - Goldcliff Pools - 6th to 7th May.
1974 - Shetland - Out Skerries - 24th July to 8th August.
1955 - Shetland - Malcolm's Head, Fair Isle - 27th to 31st May. 

Pagham Harbour, Church Norton, West Sussex.
Photo by Dave Aitken

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