Friday, 29 August 2014

Frampton Marsh Sandpiper

Regular readers will no that I don't often spontaneously go and twitch something on the day that it's found. Usually I have to wait for a day that I'm free of family and work commitments and I generally like to wait to see that the bird is well settled in and predictable i.e. as much of a sure thing as possible. However yesterday I broke with this general rule and twitched something on the day of its finding.

I first noticed on Twitter that a juvenile Marsh Sandpiper had been found at Frampton-on-Severn by Slimbridge warden Martin McGill and shortly thereafter the news was confirmed on RBA. Now regular birders in and around Oxon will have no doubt seen the two day bird that turned up in August 2007, first found at Abingdon before relocating to Farmoor on the second day. However as I only took up birding again in the autumn of that year I still "needed" this species. What's more Frampton was only about an hour and a quarter away, well within my two hour twitching guideline. However, the next few days were looking rather busy: Friday was our younger daughter's 17th birthday and the weekends are generally taken up with family stuff and our older daughter's birthday was on Tuesday next week so it was rather looking like Thursday would be the best opportunity for some time. What really pushed me over the edge though was work: there'd been a problem with some of the software that I was monitoring so I'd had to spend quite some time first thing in the morning hectically correcting everything and then the financial markets weren't being kind to me that morning and I was feeling rather despondent and fed up. With the Marsh Sandpiper being reported regularly at around lunch-time I finished my "must do" list for today and decided to chance my arm with a spontaneous twitch. 

I'd been to Frampton-on-Severn a couple of times before, once to see a Red-necked Phalarope (in which I was successful) and once to try and see a roosting Long-eared Owl though on that occasion it had been so foggy that I'd seen nothing at all. So I knew the route and I passed the hour and a quarter pleasantly enough listening to a play on Radio 4. On arrival the small car park by the church was of course full but I soon found a safe spot on the verge nearby and started to tool up. As I was doing so a returning birder reported that the bird was still present so it was with an optimistic spring in my step that I hurried across the Splatt swing bridge and walked the two hundred yards to the small group of birders on the tow path.

The Twitch Vista - all the waders were at the back between the water and the hedges
The habitat turned out to be a large field bordering the Severn estuary with some nice flood waters at the back. There was a reasonable collection of waders on the floods, with a handful of Ruff and Greenshank all looking very much at home as well as a few ducks and a Little Egret. I was soon put onto the Marsh Sandpiper which turned out to be far more distinctive that I was anticipating. It's funny how before you've seen a bird you don't really have much idea of the actual size but it was certainly smaller than I was expecting being about two thirds of the size of a Greenshank. Whilst superficially it might have similar colouring to a Greenshank, it's needle thin bill and slim structure reminded me much more of a large Wilson's Phalarope. It was constantly on show as it worked its way back and forth along the floods and was always easy to pick out, partly because of some rather pale feathering around the bill area. When it flapped its wings you could seen the nice deep white wedge up its back and despite the bright sunny conditions you could make out its green legs. All in all a very nice bird, it was a shame that it wasn't nearer. As always, I busied myself trying to take some digiscoped photos though the distance and the bright light meant that they were of just record-shot quality.

A couple of nice comparison shots with a Greenshank...
...and taking a brief nap
I also took some video which came out better than expected and which was better than my photos.

After about an hour of watching the bird and with the number of twitchers starting to grow from the eight or so birders present when I arrived through to about two dozen or so, I decided that I'd had my fill - after all the views weren't going to get any better. So I retraced my steps back to the car and headed back towards home. The traffic of course was heavier by this time and it took a frustratingly long time to do the last half a mile of the A40 back towards the Wolvercote roundabout but with the radio to keep me company and a successful twitch behind me I didn't really mind. Then it was back to Chateau Gnome to the bosom of my family and a nice celebratory cup of tea. What had started out as a frustrating day had turned out well after all.

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