25 April 2015
Dungeness and Meare Heath
I scanned the sea nearer to the hide and saw another two much closer. A third joined them as they moved towards the point. As we watched it became apparent there were at least 8 and we quickly identified them as White-beaked Dolphins, a species I've only seen from a boat in the Bay of Biscay previously. The pod hunted quite close inshore and gave superb views in a relatively calm sea. Phone calls were made to summon other interested residents and the pod spent much of the morning feeding offshore - apparently.
I say apparently because at 08:02 I received a short text message from Gary Howard. It simply read 'Hudsonian Godwit in Somerset - now! You interested?'. Now I'm not a big time twitcher, I don't really keep a track on my British List, but waders have always been very close to my heart, since I cut my birding teeth on the marshes of North Kent and this species in particular has been a life-long ambition. There has only been one previous British record of a bird originally found wintering in Devon in 1981 and seen again on Spring passage in Yorkshire in 1983. They breed in the far north of Canada and Alaska, winter in the far south of Argentina and are a bit of an enigma on passage as they generally make the 2,800 mile migration in one go. They are one of the least well known of the North American shorebirds. Each year as the Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits gather at Oare Marshes I spend many hours and days dreaming of finding one that has got lost and then tagged on with these similar European congeners (I can dream).
I texted back 'Yes, but I'm at Dunge', not sure if Gary would want to head off sooner than i could get to him, about an hour and a quarter away in Orpington. Unfortunately, as is often the case at Dungeness the mobile signal then started to play up and despite effort I couldn't get enough signal to talk to him or receive any further updates. The only thing to do was get back to the car and drive inland. Thankfully when I finally got hold of him he was still phoning around to put a crew together and was happy to await my arrival. A quick call to Mac who thankfully over the years has got used to my occasional sudden plan changes gave the green light and I arrived at Gary's to find Barry Wright and Andy Lawson patiently waiting. We soon loaded up my car and set off about 09:30 on the journey to Meare Heath on the Somerset Levels. We enjoyed an event free drive and arrived just after midday. A short walk out to the viewing area overlooking an area of reclaimed peat workings - a shallow pool surrounded by about 10% of the UK's reedbeds.
|The godwit flock roosting on the wader scrape|
|Initial views - asleep right in the centre|
|What a cracker!|
|It takes flight showing off its black underwings - stunning|
|Much narrower wing bar and black underwings|
|A broad black tail, white rump, narrow wing bar and black underwings - very distinctive|
The flock was becoming increasingly agitated, perhaps preparing for an early departure for the next leg of their northward migration. They took flight and did a couple of circuits before settling back down at the back of the pool. The Hudsonian always seemed to be on the outskirts of the flock, and was easily picked out from the Black-tails with their white underwings and bold white wing bars.
|The Hudsonian leads the flock|
|Good comparison of the upper wing patterns|
|Panoramic view of the wader scrape|
While the godwit was sleeping there were plenty of other birds to watch at this brilliant site. At least 4 Hobby were hunting over the woods, 2 Common Cranes circled very high overhead, 5 Great White (including a pair carrying sticks) and 7 Little Egret, a Wood Sandpiper, a Greenshank, 5 Dunlin, a Bittern boomed and 2 more gave flight views. In addition there were lots of Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk, a couple of Common Swifts among a high flying flock of House Martin, Sand Martin and Swallow and a cast of singing Warblers (Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler, Blackcap and Cetti's Warbler).
|Phone-scoped Hudsonian Godwit|
We decided to head away just after 16:00, just fifteen minutes before the godwits took off and flew away to the West, just too soon for a few unfortunate latecomers. It had been a most unexpected turn of events resulting in me seeing one of my top 3 most wanted birds. Hopefully it will stick around with its Icelandic mates and head back to Britain this autumn - certainly further encouragement to check those Black-tails as they come back to Oare in July.....
|Great White Egret carrying nesting material|
|Bittern flies over the reedbed|