Monday, 14 November 2016

Broad-billed Sandpiper- Newport Wetlands

Sometimes, twitching is one of those pasttimes where either things go completely right, or completely wrong, and today was one of those days.
With news of a Broad-billed Sandpiper having been found on the Friday at Goldcliff pools, South Wales, it didn’t take too strenuous a decision as to where to head on a planned day out the next day.
With spring blooming, what better way could a calm morning be spent than standing in a Gloucestershire woodland, with the sound of Nightingales reverberating through the sun dappled vegetation. With one bird singing deep within the vegetation behind us, away from prying eyes, further music to our ears. The Sandpiper had just returned onto Goldcliff for the tide!

Being around 40 minutes away, we were in a good spot.
We drove southwards, pulled up near the entrance track for the pools to be greeted with hoards of smiling faces “Still there, showing well” repeated with reassuring certainty. “Asleep on the islands, it won’t be going anywhere”. It took a mere minute to walk to the platform the bird was showing best from….
All the waders were gone.
“Peregrine literally just flushed them, they flew off towards the estuary…”
And that was that, gone. No sign. Slight compensation was offered with one of the Little Stints crawling around on one of the shingle islands, but at this time, it all seemed a little dire. The tide was still high, but after an hour, it was clear they weren’t coming back. We walked out to the seawall with a vain hope.  After only a few meters, a Short-Eared Owl flew across the path in front of us, very low before suddenly somersaulting towards the floor. Firstly I thought the bird had dropped onto prey, so we changed position to get another view. We moved a couple of meters before the bird came into view, and it was clear something more disastrous had happened. The bird had collided with an electric wire and was lying stunned among the vegetation. A couple of local birders arrived, who contacted the site rangers and vet, who quickly came to check the bird out.
 (After being collected and looked after for a short while, the bird recovered and flew off strongly)
With no sign of a wader flock, and a view of a perched Peregrine looking rather smug with itself, we decided to head for the RSPB reserve. However, we left with a grand plan, till the next tide!
A particular corner of the reserve has previously resulted in good views of Grasshopper Warbler and it didn’t take a long time before our first was heard reeling away. Luckily, the bird was singing from an area of nettles right beside the path, and soon we got our first view. Over the next 5 minutes, a few more brief views were had, until the bird climbed to the top of a nettle bed and started reeling in full view. Crippling!

Good views of ‘gropper’ have been something that has proved difficult for me. So to finally have one showing so well was fairly exciting!
After exploring the site further, finding other reeling Groppers, we moved back down towards Goldcliff pools. We stopped around half way along through to view from a hide overlooking an extensive area of marshland. A Glossy Ibis had been seen on/off here for quite some time, but it often proved elusive, and hadn’t been seen in nearly a week! We tried however and it proved we were in luck. While walking along the field edges towards the hide, a number of migrant Redstarts flicked out, their rusty tails glowing in the sun. In total, we found 4 flicking around this small area, feeding and chasing each other throughout the time in the hide.
After a short time, a dark bird emerged from among the dense vegetation before quickly dropping down, a couple of seconds in the bins was enough to confirm the Glossy Ibis! A couple of further views were had, and soon a number of wannabe Sandpiper twitchers appeared to make the most of the dip. For the next 30 minutes, the bird wandered in and out of the tussocks. Once we had moved back to the car however, we struck lucky, the bird had wandered into view, and was significantly closer!  

With the day now progressing, and the tide soon to be on the rise, we moved back to the Goldcliff Pools. A summer plumaged Spotted Redshank was giving good views among the Redshanks, and a party of Whimbrel flew over. Small flocks of waders were arriving off the estuary, dropping onto the shallow pools in front of us.
The stunned Short-Eared Owl from earlier in the day was now hunting the long grass around the edges of the pools, flying closer and closer until it flew past the screen a mere few meters away.

The bird dropped onto a nearby fencepost, where it scanned for potential prey.

The bird took off soon after, but as it did so, a birder scanning the incoming waders asked for others to get onto this bird…
All scopes changed direction and there it was.
A superb summer plumaged Broad-billed Sandpiper!

That bird that had caused so much pain earlier in the day had just made a group of birders elated! Its striking black and white plumage, its humbug head pattern, its massive bill. Celebrations were shared as we all enjoyed this eastern wader.
The bird waded around with a mixed flock of Dunlin and Redshank, often in far deeper water than the rest of its short legged cousins. This however, meant it was ‘slightly’ closer than the rest of the flock, but it was still fairly distant at the back of the pool. With our target acquired, and having watched it for some time, we decided to head back north towards home.

The early dip perhaps improved the day significantly, without having missing the bird, we perhaps wouldn’t have spent so much time in the area, seeing so many species and having such great views. Sometimes, things do just work out. This time, for the better!

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