1999: Whinchat & Knot, Severn Beach


How appropriate that the next post in my series from ten years ago should cover the area I’m about to return to. Cue wavery, watery flashback effect and cut to August 29:

“Finally I had got everything right. Up before seven o’clock; high tide at about nine; reasonable weather. This time Severn Beach had to deliver, surely?

“I do it a disservice. Earlier in the month I had seen linnets and common sandpipers, which are not to be sneezed at. But I knew there had to be more.

“My arrival was not auspicious. The fine day had degenerated into mist in the 15 miles from south of Bristol. That boded badly for scads of seabirds flying down the Channel. Not that I was hopeful of identifying them with my binoculars anyway.

“However, an immediate flock of dunlin and ringed plovers also held curlew sandpipers. I scanned through the flock twice before becoming aware of larger birds loafing at the back. I thought first of grey plovers but one had a faint pink wash on its breast. Of course! The bill was way too long, so these were knot. Only the second time I had identified them on my own.

“I walked further down Chittening Warth. A large flock of calling curlews flew up the estuary. For a moment I was tempted to think of them as whimbrel but I realised that the juveniles were confusing me with their shorter bills. In any case I did not get a clear enough view of the wing patterns to be able to tell.

“A wheatear flitted across the spartina before I reached a patch of scrub. Several small birds were hunting from low bushes and I gradually picked out whitethroats and blackcaps. One individual alighted closer to me and the binoculars revealed another wheatear. Something was not quite right. The colouring. This bird was brown and streaky backed. It flew off. I tried stonechat. No, still not right. Then it came to me: whinchat, of course!

“How frustrating. I wanted to confirm the head markings but everything I then looked at was some kind of warbler. Damn, damn, damn.

“I marked the location and checked it again on my return to the car. This time my luck was in. Still the usual cast was performing but I did eventually manoeuvre my way to cracking views of the whinchat. Another first for the year!”

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