Saturday, 8 September 2012

Semipalmated Plover in South Uist!!

Lucky for me Johanne agreed to take Friday 7th September off work and look after the youngest, Freya. This freed me up so that I could try my luck at finding some stray birds in North Uist as the weather was set to be calm and sunny following the remnants of the hurricane and westerly winds from the past few days. Lapland Bunting over the house at Carinish brought the garden list to 94 species (since January 2012) and bode well for a good day out. I ventured north to Berneray and although there was plenty of stuff about it was all common. I spent some time scrutinising Ringed Plover and at one point even thought I heard a Spotted Redshank-like call although my dreams of finding a Semipalmated Plover were just that and I moved on checking various wader sites and stand of tress until I got a call from John Kemp saying that he'd located Andrew Stevenson's sandpiper from the night before, at Ardvule and it was a Spotted. This was enough to persuade me to give up the ghost and head for Ardvule in South Uist.
An hour later I arrived at the headland to be met with plenty of waders but no Spotted Sandpiper. A couple of other people turned up including Andrew and after some searching the mood became relaxed and there was far more chat than searching going on - that is until my phone went. John Kemp was on the line " You need to be down here"
"Where's that then John" (me)
"South Glendale"
"What have you got?" (me)
"A Semipalmated Plover"
I was expecting Sandpiper to follow Semipalmated so much, that it took a short while for this to register although "showing well" got the gears in motion and once sharing the news with the somewhat stunned audience present I hurtled off south.
John was on the scene to direct me and before long we were at the site scanning through the plovers. A few maybes were flagged up when I noticed a small, dark plover heading straight for us - and it was the bird! I don't know how John felt but I was pretty much on cloud nine and couldn't help but admire John's composure and analytical approach at nailing this bird. What a belter. OK not particularly stunning to look at but a 3rd for Britain and a difficult species to identify to boot; plus this one was showing well! It wadered towards us and probably came within 15 yards of where we were stood allowing all the relevent features to be seen and indeed photographed. MEGA.
Over the next couple of hours we got great views of the bird and heard it call a couple of times once it took to the air with a very distinctive "Chu-eett".

The fours shots above show the relevent features distinguishing this bird from Ringed Plover:
Pale area at base of bill where the white from below the mask extends above the gape line of the bill; plus distinct webs between the toes, especially the outer and middle toe.
It was generally darker and slightly smaller than the other Ringed Plover although some Ringed Plover (presumably Arctic ones) also were equally dark above. The breast band was dark and narrow and one of the easiest features used to pick this bird out at a distance amongst Ringed Plover. The white reaching above the gape line was visible through the scope on 30 - 40 magnification at around 60 feet and possibly more although initially it was a difficult bird to pick out from the Ringed Plover. The beak was also rather stubby and although the latter two photos show a paler base to the lower mandible this was very difficult to see. Even more difficult to see and not actually noted in the field, although visible in the digi-scoped photos was a narrow, dull yellow eye-ring.
The most distinctive feature was the loud "Chu-eett" call. This was heard on just three or four occasions but drew attention and was why it was found in the first place. Jk recalls that he had been walking near the bay with Sue, his wife the night before when he heard the call and asked what was that. Sue obviously replied that's a Semipalmated Plover! He returned the next afternoon and the rest is history. Well done John a real birder's bird.

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