The Whitlingham Bird Report for 2016 is now available to download here.

The previous reports are also availble: 2015 here,
2014 report here and the 2013 report here. Thanks to everyone who has contributed sightings, information and photos to these reports.

You may also be interested in Chris Durdin's Thorpe Marsh Wildlife Report for 2016, which is available http://www.honeyguide.co.uk/documents/ThorpeMarshesWildlifeReport2016.pdf

The fun of wader ID

31st July 2010

I was settling down for lunch on Saturday when I got a call from Gary offering a lift to look for the Hooded Crow that as been seen in the Cley area for a while. Deciding to go (HC was a Norfolk lifer) I got to the train in time and was picked up from North Walsham station. Handily the bird was relocated around the time we got to Sheringham, but some incredibly slow driving along the coast road limited our progress. We got there nonetheless, to find a crowd of 12-15 birders watching the Hooded Crow showing on-and-off in a stubble field. It flew off along with a flock of Woodpigeons, however it doubled back and perched in a coniferous tree nearby. Finding a decent vantage point we were able to watch it for some time, getting decent views and checking that it wasn't a hybrid.
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As we were in the area, we decided to take a look at Cley. The large flock of Spoonbills was still on North Scrape (I counted 16 on most sweeps, but am assured that there were still 17, and the other one was directly behind one of the front birds). As we went back to the car I picked up 11 of them flying west. They flew past a birder who came up to ask if the Spoonbills were still there, but luckily once we'd told him he managed to spot them flying off! One more flew past before we left to try the middle hide complex. A Snipe has feeding in the open, and a number of Green Sands, Spotted Redshank (1 black bird) and Greenshank were obvious. We then began the unenviable job of checking through the Dunlin.
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Most of the Dunlin were in summer plumage and very straightforward. A few weren't, but were still straightforward. We then came upon a bird with its head tucked in. It was noticeable initially because of its size, it was slightly larger than the Dunlin running around in front of it. Nowhere near as large as nearby Ruff, but enough to be larger than every other nearby Dunlin. The second point we noticed was the paleness of the underparts. There were no blotches, merely a few pale streaks on the upper breast and side. The bird occasionally lifted its head up to preen, revealing a long, black beak, slightly downcurved at the end. The bird had pale lores but no supercilium. The back was made up of black on chestnut, with cream fringes. There appeared to be small amounts of white either on the back or at the edges of feathers on the wing. As a Sparrowhawk flew over, the Dunlin flock shot off as a group. Our bird showed no intention of joining them, instead crouching low to the water.
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By this point we had decided that the combined appearance and behaviour of this bird was odd. What we hadn't decided was what it could be if it wasn't a Dunlin. The lack of a supercilium and size ruled out most waders, and the bird lacked the jizz of Curlew Sand or White-rumped Sand. We hoped that it would give us a nice flypast, to check the rump and be on the safe side. As luck would have it after 45 minutes of not moving (despite a Marsh Harrier clearing te rest of the waders for a second time) it chose to fly when Gary was re-adjusting the 'scope. I kept on it with binoculars and picked up white on the tail area, but I was unable to be certain how far up the back it extended. The bird settled down in its new position, staying put low in the mud. It would sometimes swivel round on one leg, and also had "fit" type episodes of shaking and moving its beak.
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Not wanting to leave in case we were missing something, we watched the bird for 2 hours+. A few birders came into the hide, but we realised that none of them had a great deal of experience with waders. Eventually Gary found two more experienced birders in Daukes who came and had a look. The conclusion was that the bird was a Dunlin, a slightly atypical one, but within the variation of the species. The non-flock behaviour, along with the inclination to not flush and shaking was suggested to be the result of a recent close encounter with a bird of prey. So there it was. We had spent the evening watching a Dunlin. Whilst there will undoubtedly be people that may scorn that, it was a useful excercise. It highlighted that by identifying common birds by jizz alone you miss out on seeing subtle differences in plumage, gave an insight into the variability of the species, and also showed the difference that light conditions can make (we went from 100% cloud cover to bright evening sun, with a noticeable difference in perceived colour of the crown and throat). It was also a good opportunity to make some field notes (attached below).

Wader notes. Ignore the bottom left flight drawing, the bird didn't show a white rump, I saw some white and was unable to be sure where. I also have to work on my "side-flight" views, as for most of its brief flight it was side on to me.

To end the day we went for a quick half at the Dun Cow. As we watched a pair of Linnet, the local Barn Owl flew in and landed on a post. We thought it couldn't get any better, until a Hobby flew in from the direction of Cley, swooping past before returning west. Pub tick!

3 comments:

  1. time to look at a few juvenile Dunlins?

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  2. I had the 16 going on 17 spoonbills from Blakeney Friary Hills after seeing the Hoodie.
    A sweep had 2, 5, 1, 6, 1 and 1 equals 16. Going back the other way some were hidden in a channel but a single bird appeared to fly from a different spot. The 17th! Never saw all 17 at once. 16 or 17 a county record count. Life record 19 Minsmere on lucky 13 July 1996.

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  3. Whatever your experience I would always recommend looking at the juvenile Dunlins.

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