Three Lifers in one day!
The benefits of not making assumptions
My Birding this week
I mentioned in my last newsletter that I had attended the first session of an online training course by BTO Scotland to learn about identifying waders. This week I completed the training - but more on that later.
Keen to put my newly-gained knowledge into practice, we spent last Sunday at Farlington Marshes near Portsmouth, on the southern coast of England.
Walking along the path we tried looking for waders on the seaward side, but it was low tide and only a few Black-headed Gulls and a couple of Curlew could be seen.
However, there were quite a few birds resting on the banks or swimming in the lake on the landward side of the path, and we settled ourselves with the scope and my camera to see whether we could identify all the species there.
Teal, Little Egret, Moorhen, Little Grebe, Northern Lapwing and Northern Pintail were quickly recorded. Two young Shelduck gave me a little more trouble as I was unused to their juvenile plumage. Thank goodness for the Collins Bird guide app!
But then - our first lifer of the day - a Spotted Redshank!
Using knowledge gained on the BTO course, I recognised the bird as being similar to Redshank but with longer legs and, most telling, plain coloured wings when opened, which I noticed when it was chased by a Black-headed Gull for a morsel of food.
We continued our walk towards the incoming tide and picked up Common Redshank, Common Ringed Plover, Greenshank, Turnstone and a Grey Heron.
Stopping for coffee we looked back inland over the scrub and I spotted three birds sitting on a barbed wire fence. Initially thinking they were Stonechat I nearly listed them without fully checking. But I remembered my pledge to myself not to assume, and looked more carefully with the scope and my camera.
I took lots of shaky video and blurred photos as they were at the limit of my focal range, and it was windy even for my tripod. I almost didn’t let myself believe these could be Whinchat, as It is a bird I have long-wanted to see. But as I checked my Collins app and looked for specific features, it became clear this was what they were! Yay - another lifer!
Retracing our path back we stopped again at the lake. The rising tide had brought in many more birds, including large numbers of Redshank and Black-tailed Godwit.
We had heard that Curlew Sandpiper had been spotted there and so we scoured the edges of the lake hoping to find some.
There were about 5 or 6 small waders off to one side feeding together which we thought might be them: long-legged small birds, pale underneath with a hint of a down-curved bill.
I again took videos and photos for checking later against identification guides, but we also asked some more expert birders next to us and they confirmed the ID (as did the videos and photos later). Our third lifer of the day!
Assumptions could have led to me mis-identifying the Spotted Redshank as a Common Redshank, the Whinchat as a Stonechat and the Curlew Sandpiper as some generic small wader. Taking the time to study the structure first, then behaviour and, finally, plumage (as I learned on my BTO course) gave me 3 new species for my life list!
Rounding off the day, and following tips from other birders we met along the way, we saw an Osprey, 4 Cattle Egrets and 3 Western Yellow Wagtails. All of this took my species list for the year to 172 and made for a very enjoyable birding day!
The 2-part training session by BTO Scotland on identifying waders I attended was wonderful!
The second session focussed on Common, Green and Wood Sandpipers, comparing reference species Redshank and Dunlin with Ruff, Sanderling and Knot. And there was a very interesting section on the changes that feathers go through and how that affects our overall view of a wader’s plumage.
I highly recommend the course. You can sign up for their e-newsletter to be notified of similar courses here.
Latest podcast episode
There is no new episode this week, but I recommend past episode 54, in which Claire Boothby, from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), tells me about feeding garden birds, feeder hygiene and the BTO Garden Birdwatch.
Community notes / Recommendations
My recommendation this week is the Hannah and Erik Go Birding podcast.
The most recent 4 episodes cover their trip to Europe to attend Global Birdfair in July. - visiting Bempton Cliffs, Global Birdfair, the wader spectacular at Snettisham and the birds seen in Amsterdam on the way home to the USA.
Keep in touch
I love hearing about your bird experiences or your recommendations for places to go birding.
Tell me about them here:
Video of the Week
In June last year, a Robin started approaching me for mealworms whenever I put them in the garden. Eventually, over the course of a week, I was able to feed it from a handheld dish.
Here is a short slow motion film of it feeding.
You can hear more about my encounter in episode 102 of The Casual Birder Podcast
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Until next week, happy birding!
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