Tuesday, 6 December 2011


I went to Lackford Lakes last Sunday and enjoyed quite nice views of a 500-strong flock of Lapwing.  A mixture of adults and juveniles, very edgy and nervous for no apparent reason it seemed.  I've seen them nervous like this before - why?  The 100+ Teal and the other wildfowl and few large gulls nearby were quite relaxed by comparison.  The light was excellent, just wish I could have painted faster.  The picture below took about 1hr - 1hr15.  It was straight in with the brush, there are no pencil lines in here.  I was quite on edge a lot of the time, trying to really focus on the birds, and desperately trying to ignore other birders in the hide who are just not giving me enough space.  I need to find somewhere comfortable to work where I am not disturbed.

Western Sand

Just one spread of the Western Sandpiper at Cley.  I really could have gone all-out with this one and compiled a highly detailed composition, but I would have needed all day.  At least I had reasonable views, although I'd like to go back and have another look at it and to study it at leisure...
An interesting bird, it sure looks like a Western Sandpiper to me (based on my broad field experience, sample size of one!, the Brownsea Island bird in 2004).  This individual is a 1st winter moulting to adult winter.  I guess most British birders will be unfamiliar with this plumage unless they happen to have been in the States at this time of year.  That said, Western Sand moults earlier than Semi-p, so maybe it's not impossible to see birds like this in say in August, perhaps?  I was really stuck by its long-billed appearance and the head pattern too, both when I first saw the photos and when I saw it in the field.  I'm not familar with any images of the longer-billed form of Semi-palmated Sandpiper - well apart from the famous Felixstowe stint of 1982 that I've read about: I think that was later decided to be a long-billed Semi-p (again, must read the paper by the late Peter Grant in BB dealing with the ID of that individual - it will be educational).  The patterning of the retained juvenile scaps and tertials are different too to juv. Semi-p.  Photos show the bird having rufous in the retained juvenile upper scapulars which I don't think semi-p would have. I wasn't able to discern this colour in the field however.  I really must have a look in Chandler's amazing photographic guide  to Shorebirds of the Northern Hemisphere... 
It's all very well for me to say it's a Western Sandpiper: actually being confronted with it in the field would have been a whole different experience with all kinds of uncertainty and doubt, and lots of patience to get the views and photos to conclusively identify it.  It's hardly surprising it took several days for the identification to be firmly nailed.

Fifteen minutes of fame

The October issue of British Birds magazine featured the annual Report on Rare Birds in Great Britain, for 2010.  It included my record of a Black Stork that I found whilst out doing some Upland Breeding Bird Survey squares on Exmoor.  BB have printed the actual field sketches I made at the time - it's always nice to see one's work in print, and it doesn't happen very often, so have to enjoy it while it's there.  My pic is printed alongside a nice sketch of a different Black Stork at Kyle of Lochalsh by youngster George Love-Jones.  Enjoy!
Here is the actual fieldsketch from the book if you want to see a bit more detail:
I also produced a more detailed composition to capture the occasion which BB didn't use:
It was also satisfying to have some recognition for identifying the Chipping Norton Oriental Turtle Dove from dodgy photos last December.  The rarest bird I've ever (not) found!  At least it got re-discovered and everyone got to see it - the race orientalis was a tick for most birders...