Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Sandpiper on a Tightrope

As I was back in Warwickshire for the weekend the white-rumped sandpiper at Drayton Basset Pits (nice to see the old name being used on Birdguides) proved too much to resisit.  Time was short, I had to drive back to Surrey later, so it was going to be a classic twitch – arrive, see bird, go home!  I can hear them booing now from the stalls but I don’t care.
I timed myself walking from the car park to Fisher’s Mill Bridge, 7 minutes, better than I thought and very pleasing because the bird of course was apparently on the North Pits.  Typical, not on Fisher’s Mill Pool, all nice and detoxified by the RSPB, no it was on the filthy old north pits, poking around in the dirty sludge.  Still, I got a bustle on and arrived at a gaggle of twitchers 8 minutes later.  A quarter of an hour from car park to north pits, surely a record!
My pleasure was short-lived when I learned that it had not been seen for an hour.  I had it on good authority too, John Harris told me “It was feeding just here, but I turned up an hour ago and its not been seen since”.  I reminded myself for the second time in a week that ‘correlation does not imply causality’, and thanked John for the info.  Some other birders were adamant it had gone out of sight behind some long mounds and would emerge ‘eventually’.  Mindful of my impending long drive I did not want to wait, and decided to somehow make my way round to the other side of those mounds.
Such a move is fraught with danger of course, a tightrope walk along the line between genius and idiot.  If you relocate the bird, and a place where people can view it from, you are the hero genius; startle the bird so it disappears into the sky and you are a blithering idiot and may be pushed in or burnt at the stake, depending on the level of rarity you just flushed.
Aware that I was being observed I put on a peerless display of fieldcraft, every tuft of grass was potential cover.  I dropped into the undergrowth and disappeared like a Ghurkha, emerging hundreds of yards further on.  I came up behind a willow, and after a brief scan found myself looking at only the third white-rumped sandpiper I had ever seen.  It was on its own and feeding busily away on goodness knows what in the murky water.  I enjoyed some good views, took a pointless mobile phone ‘record’  photo, then dropped back down among the phragmites to begin my return.  I came up again among the assembled twitchers and gave them the news.  I accepted the plaudits, gave them directions and watched them go off to see it too.
I was in good spirits walking back, which were raised further by the presence of a long-tailed duck on one of the pools, the first of the winter.  Back at the car I realised the whole episode had been executed in an hour and a half, a master-twitch!  :D
Quite possibly the worst photo of a white-rumped sandpiper ever!

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