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Shorebirds

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IN PRAISE OF CURLEWS

Eurasian Curlew, Kemple End.

THE LOCAL CURLEWS APPEAR TO HAVE YOUNG NOW judging by the amount of noisy activity over the Birdquest office at the moment. These photos were taken from the car park! This near-threatened bird has declined across its range it is still fairly common in East Lancs for the time being. One wonders for how long though with such early silage cutting in most of the lowland areas? Let's hope that some of the work done by the RSPB can help this special shorebird. They have always been one of my favourite birds, going back to childhood days in Weardale and the countryside would feel empty without them.

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LONG-TOED STINT

Long-toed Stint, Khawr ad Dahariz, Oman, November 2014

ON THE EVENING OF SATURDAY 28 AUGUST 1982 I got a call from birding friend Dave Rosair that he had just seen a ‘nice White-rumped Sandpiper’ at Back Saltholme Pool on Teeside. This was very unwelcome news, for several reasons. First, Back Saltholme had become something of a local patch for me, I used to walk there from Billingham station, climbing over pipes across the dykes between the fields but more importantly I had not seen a White-rumped Sandpiper at all yet and I was due to make my first visit to Spurn Point the next day, a long-awaited stay at the bird observatory there. I spoke to one of the finders, John Dunnett, that evening and he mentioned that he was concerned about the bird’s leg colour and that it was either the first White-rumped Sandpiper with yellow legs or it was a Long-toed Stint! However, one of the old timers, Edgar Gatenby, had said that it had a white rump so what else could it be? At least it is obviously ‘only a white-rump’ I thought and even at this early stage as a schoolchild I knew there would be plenty more chances for that one so I stuck to my planned trip to Spurn, by public transport. This included hitching a lift from Patrington, where the bus route ended and over the next couple of days I enjoyed plenty of common migrants, my first Barred Warblers and a hoopoe. However, things took a turn for the worse with the arrival of John Hewitt, fresh from ‘the Long-toed Stint on Teeside’. Worse still, there was now also a Little Whimbrel in South Wales, another once-in-a-lifetime bird, or so I thought at the time. I decided to cut short my stay at Spurn and take the train back to Teeside, along with Paul Holt, who was camping at Spurn at the time. ‘You’re a bloody fool’ said Barry Banson, who used to call the log at the obs and could always be counted on for an insult or two but of course we went anyway. Unfortunately we arrived on Teeside on 2nd September, one day late - the stint was last seen on 1st. To add insult to injury, some years later a small Pectoral Sandpiper at Saltholme Pool was claimed as a Long-toed Stint, drawing me back there again, twice before it was finally correctly identified. The Salthouse Little Whimbrel in 1985 relieved some of the disappointment of August ‘82 but it has taken me over 32 years to catch up with Long-toed Stint. Khawr ad Dahariz or ‘East Khawr’ is one of my favourite sites in Oman and although the encroachment of Salalah is making it look a little more like Teeside with every visit, to finally see one at last was a very special moment, in perfect, early morning light, at close range and with no-one else around. Magic!

Long-toed Stint, Khawr ad Dahariz, Oman, November 2014


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LOCAL PATCHWORK

Eurasian Curlew on its breeding territory in Ribchester - I can hear this one calling early each morning from my bed!

A MORNING WALK OF HAIL AND SUNNY INTERVALS along the riverbank added three new birds to the Ribchester year list - Common Redshank (one on the river at the water treatment plant bend), Common Linnet (a pair on the riverbank opposite Osbaldeston Hall) and Peregrine (a long expected addition, flying north over Preston Road). The count was a surprisingly good 45 species and included four Common Goldeneye still on the river, although no Goosanders today for the first time this year. Buzzards were in evidence with at least five included four, two pairs, soaring together to the north of Singleton House suggested some migration but there was also a single bird sky dancing over Old Park Wood, while a couple of Grey Wagtails had paired up on the riverbank there. There appear to be three pairs of Common Oystercatchers along this stretch of the river, at least four lapwing territories and a pair of curlews just to the south of Singleton House. A Goldcrest was singing from a lone conifer opposite the school and there were still at least 11 Sand Martins along the river despite the snow on the car this morning. A couple of flocks of Fieldfares were still in the Boat House area and other birds on the move included at least five Meadow Pipits. The year list for this walk now stands at 65!

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STONE HARBOR SHOREBIRDS

A Semi-palmated Plover feeding on the shore.

SMALL NUMBERS OF SEMI-PALMATED PLOVERS AND WESTERN SANDPIPERS DELIGHTED on the sandy shore at Stone Harbor. Although the Piping Plovers that breed here in the summer were now gone there were still plenty of other shorebirds to watch, in between the dumb beach walkers who persisted in walking along the water’s edge. Given time it was possible to get very close to them, lying on the ultra fine sand. Sanderlings from the High Arctic were the commonest shorebirds but were also joined by a few Red Knot and Dunlin. Two Red Knot, Black-bellied Plovers and a couple of juvenile Semi-palmated Plovers also enlivened my visits. The second, with Wildside guide and ex-pat Brit Adrian Binns, was ‘with the lights on’ in lovely evening sun that improved on my rather flat photos from the first session. The shorebirds were also more approachable here than back home. I’ll be back! 

Western Sandpiper 

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