White-rumped Sandpiper, Steart

A lifer! Which means it’s also my 290th British tick and 185th for Somerset. If you’ve been paying attention (which you haven’t) you’ll exclaim, “But the scoter at Barrow was your 183rd county bird! What gives?” What gives is that an hour earlier at RSPB Greylake a spotted crake had strutted obliging stuff.

This was only my second sighting worldwide since one I can’t recall in 2004 at Martin Mere. I guess the views then weren’t as good as the binocular-filling display the Greylake crake (nice rhyme!) was giving. I soaked it up but not for too long as the plan, late in the afternoon, was to meld Stert Flats into the trip for the reported American wader.

I think I’ve mentioned before how weird it is that the village (more like collection of farm buildings) is spelled Steart but the rocks and mud off-shore get Stert. The latter is what I use to label that entire section of Bridgwater Bay from the Parrett Estuary round to Stolford. Or rather I’ve now extended it to include the estuary because the sandpiper was over that side of the Steart promontory.

The plan also had been to catch it on a rising tide and good light in the westering sun. What I hadn’t known was that the bird liked a muddy field on the very west side of the riverbank path. Despite the backlight it was easy enough to tell from a dunlin that kept it company once I’d picked both birds up. The first few minutes I only had the dunlin and was thinking it didn’t look much like I was expecting.

Then the vagrant came into view and was noticeably darker with a much paler head, but little in the way of supercilium. It was also a touch smaller with a more delicate bill so its structure was as good an ID as anything. But only up against the dunlin. Had I seen the bird on its own and without knowing it was a white-rumped sandpiper, would I have recognised it for one?

I very much doubt it although I may also have been seeing a flash of brown at the base of its bill. Again, this could have been more down to the powers of suggestion. I never did get to see the bird’s rump, although it did flutter over one short stretch of puddle. Still, I could swear it was a species I’d not seen before – lifer!

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