Saturday 10 September 2016

The BAIRD'S SANDPIPER in Worcestershire

Baird's Sandpiper (juvenile) by Dave Hutton.

As we disembarked the Scillonian III on Friday night I heard my usually reserved birding partner Phil Andrews utter a sudden series of unrepeatable expletives. Initially, I thought he had lost the car keys which would have been fair from ideal bearing in mind the 300 mile trip home. I had witnessed Jase Oliver suffer a similar panicked reaction when he lost our keys up on the Isle of Unst, Shetland a few years back. For Phil though this was far more serious. A possible Baird's Sandpiper, a rare, flattened looking American shorebird had been reported from his local patch, Upton Warren. Not only was this a potential new patch tick for Phil but it was also a whole new species for the County of Worcestershire.

As we dried off and scoffed our meal in a Penzance chippy that evening, we scrambled around for some clarification. Within a few minutes I received a text from Kay Donaghay to advise us the identification had been confirmed by 'The Warren' stalwart John Belsey. During the arduous journey back north, Phil was wracking his fatigued brain in order to figure out a way of delaying a few pre-planned fatherly duties and getting down to the reserve as soon as he could. In the end though he accepted that sometimes family does need to come first. He would have to pray to the birding Gods (both the old and the new) that the bird would linger for a third day.

'The Flashes' of Upton Warren NR.

Despite the foul weather we did make pretty good time in getting back up to the West Midlands. I finally hit the sack at around 2.00am, awoke at 6.30am and by 9.00am I was heading back down the M5 again. Despite my tiredness, the drizzle and the gloom, there was no way I was missing out on such a top notch species for this rarity starved region of ours.

As I entered the top floor of the claustrophobic Avocet Hide I immediately stumbled upon a few welcome and familiar faces. Within a few seconds I was watching the bird as it meandered around the muddy margins at the far side of The Flashes. The bird would occasionally take flight for a short distance following a spot of bullying by a moody Moorhen but on the whole it seemed relatively settled.

Baird's Sandpiper (juvenile) by Dave Hutton.

Even through the early morning murk the bird performed very well indeed showing off its range of identification features. The Baird's Sandpiper is a small, short-legged wader but with a long, slim appearance. The primaries project well beyond the tail. In a juvenile bird such as this, the overall plumage tone above is quite buff with the upperparts neatly scalloped. It has a breast band recalling a diminutive, squat looking Pectoral Sandpiper but is less well defined. The head is rather plain but well streaked with an indistinct paler supercilium and light spot above the lores. In flight, it is unlike the similarly shaped White-rumped Sandpiper by having an all dark rump in addition to having thick white tips to the greater coverts and and a pale window across the base of the primaries.

Baird's Sandpiper (juvenile) by Dave Hutton.

Other highlights on site at this fantastically managed reserve included an Avocet, a Curlew, 3 Common Sandpiper and a Kingfisher. It was then time to head back home, put my feet up and tune into watch the Manchester derby (I wish I had not bothered).

By the way, just to let you know, by methods unknown, Phil did actually manage to get on site at some stage during the afternoon. Who knows what promises he had to make to his wife or what degree of charm was used. I am just glad he managed to see it.

Snapper Richards gives the thumbs up!

The BAIRD'S SANDPIPER in the West Midlands Region

The Baird's Sandpiper was named in honour of Spencer Fullerton Baird (1823 to 1887) who was for many years the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. The first record for Britain was found on St Kilda, Western Isles on 28th September 1911. Dr William Eagle Clarke suspected the bird was something rare and promptly peppered it with lead. Upon closer inspection it was found to be an adult female in winter plumage.

The species breeds in upland, high-arctic tundra ranging from the extreme eastern edge of Siberia across North America to northwestern Greenland. As the young develop and no longer require brooding by their parents, the adults abandon them and begin their migration. A month later the juveniles follow.

The adults migrate to their wintering grounds in South America via a narrow route through the Great Plains of North American while the youngsters follow over a much broader front. This is one of the reasons why juveniles are often found along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts during the autumn as well as being fairly regular vagrants to Britain and Ireland. It is suspected that they may cover up to an incredible 4,000 miles nonstop.

There have been just three previous records for the whole of the West Midlands region, incorporating the counties of Warwickshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire and the metropolitan county of the West Midlands. All records are as follows:

2016 - Worcestershire - Upton Warren NR - juvenile - 9th to 16th September.
2005 - Staffordshire - Chasewater - adult - 12th September only (late identification from photos).
1996 - Staffordshire - Blithfield Reservoir - juvenile - 2nd to 7th November.
1996 - Warwickshire - Draycote Water - juvenile - 28th September only

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