Sunday, 9 May 2010

Waders on the move

Top: breeding-plumaged Dunlin and Redshank on the Purfleet foreshore. Bottom: five of the 13 Whimbrel roosting on Purfleet scrape over high tide.

I was going to give Alexandra Park a thrash this morning, but having done a circuit of the best sites yesterday afternoon and seen nothing, Rainham seemed a better bet - particularly in view of the continuing north-easterly wind and cloudy skies. This weather combination yesterday produced an influx of Wood Sandpipers and other waders in London, and had been the cause of speculation in the Birdwatch office that a vagrant shorebird from the continent was likely to put in an appearance. In the event, Saturday's headline news of a potential first Western Palearctic House Finch in Cornwall wasn't quite what was expected.

I arrived at Aveley Bay full of hope, but that quickly dissipated when I found the car park full of vehicles. Fishermen were dotted along the saltmarsh, so the near part of the bay was entirely birdless. Damn. A scan of more distant mud revealed a party of four Common Sandpipers, so I persisted and checked the far foreshore. Ten mainly chestnut Bar-tailed Godwits were a further bonus, and spring's first Yellow Wagtail flew over calling. Things were looking up.

I didn't have long so spent most of my time until mid-morning wader-watching along the foreshore, eventually homing in on a brick-red calidrid among the Dunlin far away on the Kent side. It seemed barely bigger than its congeners at first so I hoped that it would prove to be a Curlew Sandpiper, but as sun broke through the cloud and I watched it feed, it became clear it was a Knot, albeit a small one.

The morning's final shorebird haul was 13 Whimbrel, Curlew, 10 Bar-tailed Godwit, four Redshank, 16 Ringed Plover, several Northern Lapwing, six Dunlin, Knot, four Common Sandpiper and Oystercatcher, while Ruth Barnes and others added Common Snipe, three Little Ringed Plovers and Turnstone. Also noted were three Little Egrets, 10 Common Terns, two Cuckoos, two Yellow Wagtails and a female Northern Wheatear.

Just to say I told you, this afternoon's big news is an Oriental Pratincole in Lincolnshire. It missed Rainham by more than 100 miles, but who knows what tomorrow will bring?

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