Monday, 26 October 2015

Spot the Sandpiper...

Late last Saturday Dave Helliar picked up a 'Common Sand' on his local patch but alarm bells immediately rang as a) it was very late for a common sandpiper, b) it looked very short-tailed and c) its legs looked yellowish. Bear in mind this was at considerable distance and even with his scope on full 60x magnification, it was too far away to see any detail on the bird or be sure of its ID. He sent me a text which mentioned the words 'spotted sandpiper' but as the light had gone and it was so distant I shelved the idea of taking a look and thought no more of it.

Skip forward to Sunday. Dave was back on his patch first thing when news of the Pallas's Warbler broke. While phoning him he mentioned that the bird was still present and the legs still looked yellow but it was still fairly distant and moving around against a background which made it difficult to judge the colour accurately. Do I go and have a look now or do we head off to see the Pallas's Warbler? Well, the Pallas's won out as you can see from the previous post. No regrets there, it was a cracking little bird.

On the way home we decided to try and connect with the sandpiper, hoping it would be closer for better views. A quick scan of the area it had been frequenting revealed no sign of it at all. A few expletives later and we'd written it off as a 'maybe but we'll never know' and moved on to view another part of his patch. Within minutes Dave had picked it up walking amongst grass along the waters edge and yes, it certainly had bright yellow legs when viewed in sunlight against a green background! It was incredibly active and quite skittish but after a patient wait it came to within 50-60ft and we managed photos, video and excellent views that confirmed it was indeed a Spotted Sandpiper!

Hindsight is a great thing and had we spent the day getting better views of this one rather than going for the Pallas's, we could have got news out about it sooner (should be noted though that up until this last visit on Sunday afternoon, the bird had been on private land with no general access anyway). Unfortunately a thorough search of the area today was unsuccessful in relocating it and it has presumably moved on. A superb find by Dave and a fantastic bird to see locally. Look out Seaton it could be with you soon!

1st winter Spotted Sandpiper: Dave Helliar
1st winter Spotted Sandpiper: Dave Helliar
1st winter Spotted Sandpiper: Dave Helliar
1st winter Spotted Sandpiper: Dave Helliar
1st winter Spotted Sandpiper: Dave Helliar
Spotted Sandpiper: R. Harris

Spotted Sandpiper - showing classic features
of short tail and yellow legs: R. Harris
You can see that the tertial feathers appear very plain and the overall tone is much greyer when compared to the two Common Sandpipers further down the page.
Spotted Sandpiper - as close as it got on full zoom. 
Shows the dark breast-sides not forming a complete 
band. Usually more extensive on Common Sand: R. Harris
For comparison purposes, here are a couple of Common Sandpipers taken at Chard Res which conveniently show the longer tail, greenish legs, more complete breast band and well marked tertials. Spotted sands have a subtly different head shape too, which helps contribute to their characteristic jizz.

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