Anyone that knows me as a birder will know i have a fondness towards waders. And the autumn months certainly bring us some excellent wader action here in the UK.
With our geographical location being right on the edge of the continent, and being the first landfall for many Yank and Arctic waders we are often spoiled for choice. An it was exactly that situation when i heard news of the wader flock developing in the Severn Estuary around Slimbridge. This build up invariably brings a higher chance of rarities and it was when James Lee's, Warden of Slimbridge WWT, found a stunning 1st winter Buff-breasted Sandpiper out on the estuary with the Dunlin flock, when my recent partner in crime (That crime being dirty twitching), Neil D was contacted to arrange an impromptu visit on the Sunday, as access has been arranged out onto the foreshore of the Dumbles to search the flock.
First off, a huge hats off to the Wardens of Slimbridge WWT for allowing this type of access, not only on this one occasion, but for the many times that they have done over the last few years. It certainly was a privilege to be out adjacent to the Saltmarsh scanning the waders.
As you could imagine, being a weekend bird it was very popular, and just prior to the arranged time the Holden Tower became very full, with the queue eventually stretching off down the Holden walkway. Luckily, we had arrived early and were at the front of the queue.
Soon after we were trudging out onto the shore, and soon after the tide was fast approaching.
And so were the waders.
We were soon surrounded by the sound of Ringed Plovers and Dunlin, and once they were pushed closer i soon started picking out waders.
A pale juvenile CURLEW SANDPIPER was soon showing well in the nearest group, but the search for the Yank continued. Not long after, while scanning the mudflats away form the main bulk of birds i scanned onto an obvious orangey coloured wader. A short quick run through some grass led it out into the open, revealing it to the the BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER. A quick shout out was followed by the usual pleads for directions, and it was at that moment i realized why i was a crap twitcher, How the fuck do i get 80 people onto a Starling sized bird in the middle of the mud with no other reference point or adjacent bird other than a small area of saltmarsh grass the bird was feeding in? There really was nothing at all, as i backed away from the scope Neil grabbed a quick look as i tried to navigate people onto the area, but as i was doing so was told the bird had just took flight when my directions became redundant.
Tip one- If on a twitch with me looking for waders, make sure your standing next to me so if i do pick something out you can just grab a look through my scope rather than having to suffer my pathetic directions.
Luckily, the bird was seen again a few times, but again, it was only seen briefly by a select few or in flight, not exactly the most accommodating Buff-breast then when you consider some of them plod around by your feet.
With the 'biggie' now successfully 'gotten' (Twitching slang for the uninformed out there) i relaxed and started going through the rest of the ranks of waders.
The pale CURLEW SANDPIPER was picked out in almost the same spot. And 2 LITTLE STINTS (Both juvs) were feeding nearby.
The warden then moved the gathering slightly to where the main flock were gathered and soon many more waders were being picked out, a nice 'peachy' CURLEW SAND was soon picked out, which was showing nicely.
After around 2 hours i didn't manage another views of the Buff-Breast, but the other mix of Arctic Siberian, Arctic and single yank waders made a very good variety. Among the 100c Ringed Plover, 300c Dunlin we found 4 CURLEW SANDS (3 juvs, 1 ad), 4 LITTLE STINTS (Strangely of the same age combination as Curlew Sand, 3 Juvs, 1 ad).
The high tide had also given us 12 LITTLE EGRET and a small flock of Wigeon amongst the expected large numbers of Curlew, Gulls and Geese.
Away from birds, we were surprised by the continued presence of the HARBOR SEAL fishing off the Dumbles throughout high tide.
We then decided to 'work' the rest of the site. A single LITTLE RINGED PLOVER was still showing in the Rushy Pen (we saw it earlier in the morning) with 2 GREEN SANDPIPER and small numbers of Blackwit. 2 Pintail were close to the hide
The remainder of the action was centered around the Zeiss hide, where a wild 2nd summer COMMON CRANE was showing close to the hide, giving stunning views.
A decent sized flock of Teal, Lapwing and 38 Golden Plover held small numbers of Redshank, but also the hoped for juvenile SPOTTED REDSHANK, showing at the far end of the flash. A large flock of 15 RUFF were also feeding here after flying in as were 2 GREENSHANKS. To finish off the list of waders, 4 Snipe fly in and also started feeding in the shallow water, making that our 16th wader species for the day.
I dropped into Upton Warren upon our arrival back in the home county, where a nice gathering of 3 juvenile male RUFF were showing close to the hide.