Wednesday, 15 October 2008

An American Golden Plover on the Meadow

Things have been fairly quiet on my local patch at Port Meadow for several weeks now with the same birds present. We've been lucky to have a flock of at least 30 black-tailed godwits for a while now as well as 5 or 6 ruff and plenty of snipe but there's not been much variety at all. Still it's been a good opportunity to practise my digiscoping and as the birds have been rather confiding I've been rather pleased with my recent efforts.

One of the long-staying black-tailed godwits.

The ruff have been around for a while now.

One of many pied wagtails that are always present on the Meadow.

This morning started out like any other day with my usual session down on the Meadow checking out the birds. The number of golden plover had grown to over 1000 and amongst them I noticed one which stood out because it was unusually pale with a very strong supercilium. I did wonder whether it was a grey plover but it wasn't. Recently in conversation with the county recorded he'd mentioned the possibilities of American Golden Plover and with this in mind and not personally being familiar with the differences I phoned him up and mentioned my sighting. He was intrigued enough to decided come down to the Meadow a bit later so I waited with keen anticipation for him to report back. When I got the call from him, much to my delight, he said that there was indeed an American Golden Plover present but that it was rather a dark bird. I immediately nipped back down there to find the plover flock extremely flighty, going up quite frequently before settling again. Still with some guidance I managed to locate the bird and it did indeed stand out from the flock being smaller and darker than the european goldies. Apparently he'd also seen my bird which was just a pale version of a standard plover so it turned out to be rather fortuitous that he'd happened to find the American Goldie in amongst the flock.

A few other birders started to arrive and I was just getting my digiscoping gear set up when a sparrow hawk flew over and put the entire flock up again. When they settled again some five minutes later we all started to scan for the bird but despite our efforts it could not be seen and to my knowledge it wasn't see again after that. This was rather unlukcy because the vast majority of the birds stayed put on the Meadow and our rarity must have been one of the few that decided to leave. Still fingers crossed that it might turn up again tomorrow.

I have since learnt that one of the key diagnostics for ID'ing an American Golden Plover is the long primary projection: 4 or even 5 primary tips visible beyond the tertials and wing-tips projecting beyond the tail. The county recorder managed to check this out on the bird in question today. A smaller primary projection could instead mean a Pacific Golden Plover. A key feature for both vagrant plovers is that the underwing is a dark grey rather than white, something which was noticable on the Meadow bird today.

A record shot of the American Golden Plover © Nic Hallam

Another tick for the year list.

2008 Year List

204: American Golden Plover

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