Saturday, 15 May 2010

Frampton Pratincole

I'm not generally much of a twitcher and when some rarity turns up I don't head out the door asap to try and see it. For one thing family duties tend to prohibit that sort of behaviour and for another, having been birding for a comparatively short two and half years, there are so many relatively common species that I've yet to see that getting that rare tick doesn't seem quite so vital. However, having reflected on it for a while, I have to admit that I enjoyed my recent hoopoe twitch and the chance to see something more exotic. Nevertheless, as I don't get out of the county birding that often I don't like to waste trips where there's a high chance of dipping so I tend to look for things that have been around for a while and which seem well settled. The thought of travelling for hours only to find that the target has gone is a rather depressing one (though of course it's all part of the birding experience) so I tend to concentrate on the high percentage ticks and all my longer distance trips have been of this type. So when the oriental pratincole turned up at Frampton, (Lincs.) there was no immediate interest on my part in going to see it. However as each day it was reported as being around all day it started to become clear that this was an eminently twitchable bird. To add enticement, several curlew sandpipers were being reported as well. Now, curlew sand happens to be a bit of a bogey bird for me. They're not that common inland and to my knowledge there haven't been any in the county since I've started birding again so catching up with them would generally involve being on the coast at the right time of year and managing to connect with one. As I don't get to the coast that often so far I'd not managed to achieve this. So the combination of what looked like an easy mega and a chance to catch up with a bogey bird looked rather appealing. I was thinking of going on Thursday but then I had to look after L mid morning whilst my VLW had her piano lesson and would have had to be back by 6 as she then went out to play tennis. This would have been cutting it rather fine so instead I opted to go on Friday morning, hoping that the birds would stay another day.

Friday morning I got up at 5:30am, and was out the door by 6. I briefly stopped off to look at the Meadow, though there was nothing of interest, before setting off for Lincolnshire. I'd not actually been birding in this county before so was keen to take a look. I consulted the AA route planner and it reckoned that the A43 all the way to the A16 was the way to go which I duly opted for. The roads were often not dual carriage way and I frequently found myself stuck behind various slow lorries and did start wondering whether there might be faster routes to take (I'll have to ask some of the more seasoned birders about this). I'd changed my Bird Guides text settings to include all oriental pratincole updates from Lincs and on the journey had been waiting with trepidation for 8am start of updates. When the news came through that the bird was still around I breathed a sigh of relief and it was with some optimism that at about 9:15am I pulled up at the car park of Frampton Marsh RSPB and got my gear together.

Frampton Marsh, for those who've not been, consists of two wader scrape areas and then a field next to the sea wall with the Ouse Washes estuary beyond that. There is a well made path which connects the three spacious hides and a visitors centre with tea, coffee and toilets next to the free car park.

A map of the reserve

I started walking towards the second scrape area where there seemed to be most people and asked for news of the pratincole from some people I met coming the other way. I was told that it was still about and to head towards the East hide which I duly did. As I headed off down the path between the scrapes I briefly saw a LBJ on a hawthorn bush before it flew off. It initially had me scratching my head until I heard the distinctive "jangling keys" song of a corn bunting and realised what I'd seen. It's funny how in a new birding context it can sometimes take a while to get ones head around something whereas if I'd seen it on the Downs in Oxon I wouldn't have thought twice about it. As I headed down the path I could hear sedge warblers warbling in the reeds and on the western scrape I picked out a couple of avocets.

I'd more or less got to the bend and was heading towards the sea wall when I noticed people starting to head back towards me. One of them (who I am pretty sure was James Lees from Slimbridge) asked me if I was looking for the pratincole and said that it had not been seen down there for the last hour or so. Hmm, so this wasn't going to be the easy tick I'd been anticipating, I thought. They were heading to the 360° hide and I elected to go with them.

The view from the hide with the sea wall in the background

The 360° hide has good panoramic views over the eastern scrape complex and there was plenty to see so I settled myself down and started to have a good look through the various birds. Almost the first birds that I picked out were some cracking curlew sandpipers in various stages of moult from basically full summer plumage through to full winter plumage still. There was also a mixed flock of dunlin and ringed plover and it was very useful to compare the sandpipers with their smaller dunlin cousins. Of course I was extremely pleased finally to have got my bogey bird and even if the pratincole turned out to have gone (which would have been most unlucky) I would have been content. Conditions weren't that great for photography as I was facing into the sun and there was quite a bit of heat haze but I took loads of photos anyway which were of at least record shot quality.

Three curlew sandpiper
with a dunlin as well for size comparison

...showing the winter plumage bird

partial and full summer plumage

Apart from this mixed flock of waders there were a few little ringed plovers about, quite close to the hide. There were a couple of flocks of dark-bellied brent geese around and plenty of mallards and shelduck. In addition there were also quite a few avocet on the various islands and I took a few shots for the record.

A pair of avocets

I was just taking all this in when a cry went up that the pratincole was up and flying again. It had clearly been hunkered down somewhere out of the rather stiff wind but once it was out and hawking over the field beyond the scrape it was easy to pick out from its rapid flight and rather strange jizz with long wings, pale rump and a rather shortish tail. It wasn't so easy to see the chestnut underwing but one could make out the lack of white trailing edge to the wing and the rather short tail though I admit I don't have any experience of any other pratincoles against which to compare. After a while of whizzing around it landed on a distant island on the scrapes. Unfortunately its favoured spot (to which it returned from time to time) was behind a clump of grasses and a thistle so very often the only view was of part of its head.

Crouching pratincole, hidden mega

It would periodically take off, hawk around and then land again. On one occasion it landed on a much emptier island and although it was more distant I was able to get some record shots off.

A couple of shots of the bird on the island. I had to use my best post-processing skills to compensate for the heat haze in these shots: you can see how comparatively blurry the redshank is next to it in the second shot.

After a while of watching the pratincole and the curlew sandpipers I decided I'd had my fill. I headed back to the visitor's centre for a cup of tea and a snack before starting the long journey back home. I stopped off en route for my sandwiches in a convenient layby and arrived back home mid afternoon, tired but most content.

Tick Tally
I'd seen a couple of grey partridges run across the road as I was nearing the reserve itself and I realised that actually these were my first of the year. In fact I'd managed six national year ticks on this little trip which rather surprised me. However the fact that I'd not been up to the downs yet this year meant that I was still needing both the bunting and the grey partridge. Two lifers to add to the list and the embarrassment of still needing curlew sandpiper was finally gone! All in all a most satisfactory introduction to birding in Lincolnshire.

National Year List 2010
164 grey partridge 14/05/2010 Frampton Marsh, Lincs
165 corn bunting 14/05/2010 Frampton Marsh, Lincs

166 avocet 14/05/2010 Frampton Marsh, Lincs

167 curlew sandpiper 14/05/2010 Frampton Marsh, Lincs (LIFER)

168 brent goose 14/05/2010 Frampton Marsh, Lincs

169 ORIENTAL PRATINCOLE 15/05/2010 Frampton Marsh, Lincs (LIFER)

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