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Another American in Somerset

Yesterday’s Tringa sandpiper at Shapwick Heath was my second British sighting of the species, the first having been at Aberlady in 2009. Thus it was new in England for me, that list hitting the landmark of 250. I’m calling the bird another American because it follows the 2009 long-billed dowitcher at Chew Valley Lake.

I wasn’t even aiming to twitch it, having pottered down a busying M5 to Sand Point in search of groppers. And failing again but I did find my earliest lesser whitethroat in the process, beating last year’s record by two days. A cute male stonechat also obliged in the extensive scrub. The largely dog-free habitat there always seems so fecund – splendid word, that.

Then what? The iPod came into action, courtesy of free wi-fi at McDonald’s. That and their coffee save the place from eternal damnation, I think. Anyhow BirdGuides told me that the Yank was still on what it called Meare Heath. I’d planned to take it in on today’s visit to Secret World but the sun was shining, the roof was down (metaphorically: I don’t have a convertible)…

So it was that I walked into the National Nature Reserve to the sound of the year’s first cuckoo and the sight of its first marsh harrier – a brilliant start. Whitethroats abounded, as they do everywhere at the mo, and hidden reed warblers motored away. The gathered faithful told me where my target was, somewhere in the usual flock of black-tailed godwits. And it was easy to find – so much daintier than the redshanks that were also around, and lacking the supercilium of wood sandpiper (for which it had been mistaken days before). Tringa flavipes, lesser yellowlegs.

A half hour’s watching turned into wader heaven as ringed plover joined the year list, and common sandpiper and ruff also appeared. Then my first 2011 hobby, more than a week earlier than my previous record at Branston a couple of years ago. The milestones flashed by. In all I added seven birds to the year list as bitterns also boomed around the site and RSPB Ham Wall, which I visited to bookend the day.

Perfick, as Pop would say.

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