Friday, 15 October 2010

Lesser Yellowlegs

Whilst I normally work from home occasionally I do actually venture forth into the wider world for work-related reasons. Thursday was such an occasion when I had to be in Epsom, North Surrey, in order to install some software at a client's office. I decided to get there nice and early and if the installation was fairly quick this would leave me some time to go birding nearby. There wasn't actually anything particularly interesting that close but at a stretch I reckoned that Essex (for the Baird's sandpiper) or Kent (Pallas's warbler) might count as nearby. I was rather looking forward to getting in some birding in a different location but in the event the installation took far longer than I'd hoped (through no fault of mine I hasten to add) so I decided the best course of action was simply to return home and have a brief yomp across my local patch on Port Meadow in order to clear my head.

As well as scanning the floods I always enjoy grilling the pipits, wagtails and linnets on the surrounding grassland for something interesting so there's always something to do at this time of year and I always have a sense of optimism as I arrive at the Meadow. I was just scanning across the floods when I noticed the ruff (which had been there for about a week now) and a companion wader. Has a second ruff arrived I pondered as I took a closer look at the second bird? What immediately struck me about this bird is that I didn't immediately recognise it. Since Port Meadow is mainly about waders I like to think that I know these types of birds reasonably well (with the exception of sub-dunlin sized ones where I haven't got my head around the American peeps yet) but this bird I knew wasn't one I was familiar with. It looked a bit like a wood sandpiper but I know that species quite well and the proportions were all wrong. I gave it a good grilling and took some video record footage. Could I see yellow on the legs there? I gave "Badger" (Jason Coppock) a quick call: he's always my first port of call when I think I've got something as I feel I can make a fool of myself in front of him. He wasn't going to be able to make it down and suggested taking more video for later consideration. I went back to grilling the bird and by this time was sure the legs were a bright yellow-orange which could only mean one thing! Time to get serious: in the absence of Ian Lewington the county recorder who was on Scilly, I called Nic Hallam, of Farmoor Birding blog fame and a committee member of the BBRC, explaining what I thought I had and he said that he'd come down to take a look. While I was waiting I called Badger again saying that the bird definitely had yellow legs so he decided to take a look despite the traffic and the fact that darkness was fast approaching. Whilst I was talking to him the bird took off and I spent an agonising five minutes fearing that it had gone and trying to re-find it before spotting it right on the north end of the floods. I kept it in my sights until both Nic and Badger arrived, Jason even breaking into a run across the Meadow to get there. Nic spent a little while and I realised that he was checking that it wasn't a actually a greater yellowlegs, something which I'd not actually considered, before agreeing that it was indeed a lesser yellowlegs as I'd thought. We spent the rest of the time until dark watching and videoing this American rarity whilst Jason put the word out to the county community though unfortunately it was so late that no one else was able to make it down there. The word soon got out and I even had a call from the legendary LGRE asking for details about it. Apparently he still needed it for his year list so he would be there at first light tomorrow.

A selection of videograbs taken in increasing darkness

Some video footage taken as the light was fading

There followed what must have been an agonising wait for some county birders to see if it would still be there the next day which I was thankful I didn't have to be part of . I don't know how many were there at first light but quite a few I'm sure. Fortunately the bird was still there and apart from a brief false alarm just before 8am when it was reported as "no further sign" before being re-found on the floods, it has stayed put so far today and looks quite settled. I went out again mid morning and took some digiscoped still photos though extremely long range and still with no light. There was a steady stream of admirers coming and going whilst I was there. Let's hope that it stays for more to enjoy it.

Some digiscoped still photos taken at long range and still rather poor light. At least with stills there are plenty of pixels to play with and there is more scope for cleaning up the image.



well done!

gnome said...

Thanks Jonathan! I loved your Shetland write-up by the way.

Ashley Stow said...

Fantastic find Adam, congratulations.

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