One of the classic migratory bird families in the UK are the phalaropes. These small waders occur mainly around the coast in Spring and Autumn. There are 3 we get in the UK - red-necked, which I got a Broom in the Spring, grey, which I got last Friday at Sidlesham, and Wilson's. This is the rarest of the 3 and I've only seen one before. So, when one popped up in Essex and seemed to be settled I worked out how I could get there. The only chance was a very early start so I could get back home by 9.30 for a work webcast.
Fortunately the M25 is pretty empty at 6.15 and I whizzed around. The bird was reported as being at Vange Marsh, which is a small RSPB reserve near-ish to Rainham. The instructions took me to a housing estate which didn't seem right. I parked up though and followed the instructions to "go under the A13". That was a track over some rough-ground - worried about my camera gear, not a bit!! "go over the railway" - well that felt a bit better, at least there was some open-ground. "turn left to view". Finally I could see some water, a low marshy area with lots of birds on it.
I set up my 'scope and almost immediately got onto a small bird feeding vigorously on the water, which is classic phalarope behaviour! It was a long way off though, and you were kept back from the water by a large stream.
This above is a 500mm with a 2x converter on it!!
For the next 30 minutes or so I watched it as it move around feeding.
So what makes this a Wilson's as opposed to any other phalarope, especially in non-breeding plumage. Well, the main thing in that beak. The other two have much shorter, stouter, dagger-like beaks. The Wilson's has a much more rapier-like bill. The overall body shape is different as well, with a much longer neck giving a very different profile. It is also a bit larger, but without comparisons that's hard to tell.
It wasn't the only wader present. It was often in close company with a pair of green sandpipers which did give a good size comparison.
So, I managed to get the bird, and with the M25 clear I was back home in time for my webcast. It's got to be a good year when you can get all 3 phalaropes!!