Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Short-billed Dowitcher and Pallid Harrier - 7th-8th October 2012

Better late than never! I have had some real issues with my laptop over the last couple of weeks, so have not been able to blog about my awesome weekend with Chris Jones as we ventured to Dorset and South Yorkshire result in 2 lifers each. We started off by twitching (can it be called twitching if the bird has been present for so long!?) the Short-billed Dowitcher at Lodmoor RSPB. We were rewarded with really nice views down to 60 feet as it fed with Snipe, Lapwing and Black-headed Gulls.
Juvenile/1st winter Short-billed Dowitcher - Lodmoor RSPB, Dorset
The infamous tertials of Short-billed Dowitcher was instantly evident when the bird was turned to it's side
When the bird arrived it was in fresh juvenile plumage but has subsequently started it's moult into 1st winter plumage with some moulting of the scapulars and upper mantle feathering. The body feathers appeared to be very much 1st winter also.
Open-wing shot.

An extract from my notebook describing the plumage of the bird and distinguishing features I picked up on: 'Juv/1stwinter bird. Partially completed wing moult with most of scaps and some of upper mantle moulted. Classis SBD teritals with black centres and golden brown barring similar to rest of juvenile wing coverts. Obvious supercillium on grey head with obviously darker car. Bill seemed broad based with yellowish fade towards base. Barring subtle but obvious on breast and flanks. Yellowy-green legs that must be short on tarsus as bird seemed very squat, even when alert. Feeding with Snipe, Lapwing and BHGulls and appeared larger and stockier than Snipe and was only slightly smaller than Lapwing.'
2 Med Gulls flew low overhead whilst we were watching the Dowitcher.
After watching the Dowitcher, we made our way to Portland Bill with the hope of some migrants and some seawatching. We dipped a Red-backed Shrike and failed to see any Balearic Shearwaters on our seawatch, but were amazed by a feeding flock of 40+ Mediterranean Gulls and 10-15 1st winter Yellow-legged Gulls offshore.
Heading back towards the north, we stopped off at Greylake and were rewarded with brief, but pleasing views of a Spotted Crake.
We were intending on getting to the Pallid Harrier in South Yorks. for dusk in time to see it roost, but were held up in traffic and it was going to be marginal, so we took our time and stayed the night in Doncaster ready for dawn.
Arriving on-site before dawn, we joined an assembled group of 20 birders, inc. Alex Jones. It seemed to take an age for the sun to rise, but as 07.15, someone called the bird and I lifted my bins and picked up a white flash (rump) above the trees. I quickly picked the bird up in the scope and revealed a long winged, thin bodied and thin winged harrier with a thin 'hand'. The bird was an adult female and Pallid was proven by the really obvious dark secondaries and what looked like a pale 'flash' along the median coverts. The underwing wasn't seen for very long, so I can't give an in depth description, but they certainly appeared dark on the secondaries as the base of he wings, near the auxillaries seemed dark, lacking any barring.
The bird was seen for 15-20 seconds as it flew off to feed out on the fields, and what turned to be a departure from the site for ever! We were very lucky

Similarly, the Dowitcher disappeared the following day too, so we were able to see both birds on their last days! Two really great birds and lifers and a really enjoyable weekend. Thanks to Chris for the invite, doing the driving and stumping up for the hotel!

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