29 September 2012
The week before I went to Spain a dowitcher was found on the RSPB's Lodmoor reserve near Weymouth in Dorset. A local birder published some distant and heavily cropped images on his blog that led to it being identified as Britain's second ever Short-billed Dowitcher. I was very keen to see it and tried to find a way to get down one evening before we flew, but work was particularly challenging and the bird just not reliable enough to risk it. After a fantastic two weeks in Galicia I arrived at Stansted and checked to see if anything was around - the dowitcher was not only still there but another had been found on the Isles of Scilly! I started to plan to go the next day, a Sunday, but the weather forecast was appalling - strong winds and very heavy rain all day. I was tired after a long day travelling and the thought of a day stood in pouring rain, let alone the three hour drive each way was enough to encourage a lay in. Back at work on Monday and the news of the dowitcher was positive - though not seen on the Wednesday, it was back Thursday and again reported Friday. I could put it off no more and although the NW winds suggested a potentially good day in Kent I decided to go. Gary was on dad duty and although tempted decided sensibly that six hours of driving was not ideal for two very energetic nine year olds.
So Saturday morning I woke well ahead of the alarm at 04:30. I decided not to bother trying to sleep and set off for Dorset. Last time I drove down to Portland it took more than three hours - however since then some new roads have been built and I arrived in Weymouth in just over two hours! It was still dark and I was feeling hungry so I went to MacDonalds at Radipole and ate my breakfast overlooking the reedy pools by the visitor centre. Half a dozen Common Snipe were carefully scrutinised, as were the gulls in the pool and car park. A Sedge Warbler fed in the reeds, but otherwise it was surprisingly quiet.
I then drove to Lodmoor parked the car in the beach car park and walked west along the path checking each pool as I didn't know exactly where the bird had been. At the third pool I found two other birders, clearly watching the dowitcher. As I put my tripod down one of them said - 'That's it flying!'. It didn't go far and I figured it would reappear on the small pool in front of us in due course. It had dropped into a pool behind the nearest sedge and with careful positioning could be seen asleep in the grass - not quite the views I had hoped for - but surely it would come back out soon? Over the next three hours 45 minutes it remained asleep just out of view. I occasionally saw its head, or its back, but could not see the whole bird, when it stood up or preened - but largely it just slept.
|The best view of the Short-billed Dowitcher for three and three quarter hours! (Lapwing also asleep behind)|
In the pool a few Lapwing, Common Snipe, a Black-tailed Godwit and common ducks such as Shoveler and Gadwall kept me amused for the first half hour. Overhead Meadow Pipit, Swallows, a couple of Siskin and a Grey Wagtail. Five Mediterranean Gulls dropped in with the Black headed's, and 2 Sandwich Tern flew around calling loudly. A Chiffchaff and a Garden Warbler were the only interest in the bushes. Time dragged....some of the conversation of other birders kept me mildly amused. The irony of some bemoaning twitching and listing, while talking about birds they had been to see and the fact that the Dowitcher was new caused a wry smile. Scanning the distant hills behind Weymouth two flocks of Jays (12 and 9) flew West and hirundines were gathering in flocks that slowly drifted south overhead. A huge flock of Canada Geese flew in from all directions, but hardly disturbed the Dowitcher from its slumber.
|Gadwall really are very smart ducks!|
|The Short-billed Dowitcher showed briefly in the semi-open|
|And then went back to sleep|
Back at Lodmoor and I was quickly informed that the Dowitcher had finally come out of hiding. On the next pool there it was - feeding and showing well. I enjoyed views for the next hour. However some twenty birdwatchers had apparently been happily watching a Black-tailed Godwit through the sedge further down the path believing it to be the dowitcher - oops! It was a very smart bird and to my eye showed a subtly different jizz to Long-billed. It was already moulting its scapulars, but retained all of those wonderful tooth barred tertials. Its belly showed some buff plumage tones that in the sun looked really warm. A right cracker!
|The Short-billed Dowitcher finally shows itself|
After filling my boots with great looks I walked back to the car and headed off to Hengistbury. When I worked in Bournemouth for several years I used to watch this area quite regularly and it was nice to be back. A local birder kindly pointed me in the right direction and I was soon in 'The Bobolink Field'. Four other birders were surrounding a bush so I walked carefully to one of them. A Wryneck had just been flushed and had landed in the biggest tangle of bushes. No sign but everyone carefully waited. The group of three clearly saw something and we moved round to join them. The Wryneck was sat motionless in the top of the tangle of branches. It eventually hopped out into better view and showed well before flying down into the long grass.
|A Wryneck sits hidden in the bush|
|And then flies out to feed|
I stomped through various fields flushing just seven Meadow Pipit but there had been no further sign of the Blyth's/Richard's since lunchtime, so I decided to call it a day and head for home.