Saturday, 30 May 2015

The Titchfield thunderbolt

I tried and failed two weeks ago to go to Titchfield for the greater yellowlegs, with work getting in the way. So, with the weather set fair on Saturday and the bird showing all the previous week it just had to be done.
The bird itself is an American wader and a very rare one at that. You get it's cousin , the lesser yellowlegs as well over here but they are reasonably regular. A truly twitchable greater is a once a decade bird if that. This particular one has been around for many weeks but this was the first chance I've had to go for it.
So, I left the house about 7.15 and with light traffic was down at Titchfield Haven by about 8.45. This is on the south coast opposite the Isle of Wight. It's a reserve I've not been to before which is always nice. I parked up on the seafront and it was clear there were about 5 or 6 birders already hanging around. Two things were not great. First, the reserve didn't open till 9.30 and second the tide was really high. Often the y'legs can be seen from the road feeding on the mud, but there was no mud. A quick check on google told me high tide was at 10.10. General opinion was "not good" and that we might be in for a long wait. Still, to pass the time there was a kestrel hunting and a few common terns fishing which kept us busy.



By 9.30 there were I suppose 20 birders queuing up to pay their £4 to get into the reserve. The cheery lady on the cash till (boy have they had a good Spring for their cash flow!!) told us "it wont be around till 2. It comes in on the falling tide". Thanks for that. She did suggest we "might" have chance of it being on the scrape on the far side of the reserve where there was some mud but the warden had already been over and there was no sign.
A not very hopeful string of birders marched off in that direction. There are 4 hides strung out in a line overlooking a low area of shallow pools and mud. First one had a few avocets and lots of gulls. Second one was useless as it only looked out onto reeds. Was good for Cetti's and sedge warblers singing away though.
Third hide looked much better. A good view of the scrape and quite a bit of activity. Also, there was a few eyes looking out. However, about 30 minutes of scanning got a nice Med gull, a few dunlin, a lot of oystercatchers and many, many black-headed gulls. A pair of redshank got us briefly excited but of long yellow-legged wading birds not a sign. I'd sort of started to drift off into the reverie you get when you know you're in for the long hall. Take a few photos of birds a long way off to kill time, scan the marsh again, check the pager....
I'd been talking to a pair of birders from up North before we got into the reserve who had driven about 6 hours to get there. So, I thought, I wasn't that badly off. Some people had been 6 times and dipped. I noticed there was only 2 of us left in the hide. The door suddenly burst open and one of the blokes I was talking to earlier dived in. "Its showing from the next hide down!". I have never collected my gear so fast in my life. I grabbed everything and almost ran to the Spurgin Hide. Apparently the two guys went into the hide, looked out and the y'legs just strode across the marsh in front of them. The word was obviously out, about 20 birders were onto it and it was showing brilliantly, feeding in the shallows amongst some irises.



These views give you the main diagnostics. It's a bit like a greenshank, long legs and a dagger-like bill. The mottled plumage on it's back and the white-belly are characteristic but it's those legs - yellow almost tending to orange in the light. For about 15 minutes it just paraded up and down whilst the photographers filled their cards.
It then moved off to the far end of the marsh, but in doing so gave us some incredibly close views.





Having pleased it's growing audience it then decided to retire behind an island and go to sleep. Cue much disappointment from new arrivals who sat miserable looking at island hoping for a glimpse. Somehow if managed to escape most peoples view though and flew onto the next lagoon. Cue another mass panic as birders ran out the hide after it. I'd seen enough though and so wended my way back to car for a celebratory coffee and cheese sandwich.
What a day, what a bird!!