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Wirral Wader Watch

August 2021 is only a week or so old but, so far, it hasn’t seemed like the height of summer with rain, wind and lower temperatures making it feel more like autumn. As a birder that isn’t all bad since autumn is the time for passage birds to move through and in early autumn these are often waders. So it wasn’t too much of a surprise when a rare wader was reported locally on The Wirral on Saturday. Maybe more surprising was that a second one was found a short time later, quite close by, on the same day. That frustrating edict came into play on that Saturday, known politely as Murphy’s Law but I prefer the less polite name, especially when it scuppers my birding! Knowing that ‘autumn’ passage birds often linger, rather than move rapidly through like spring birds, I had confidence that I could wait until Sunday to make my plans to see these birds.

As Sunday dawned it wasn’t long before positive news of one of the birds came through. So off I headed up to the top of The Wirral, just 40 miles from home; just round the corner compared to most twitches! The weather forecast had rain on and off all day, but what I hadn’t seen was the wind strength up on the north Wirral coast. As I stepped out of the car on Hoylake Prom I nearly got blown over; it was blowing a right hoolie as they say! The usual greeting by birders of “it flew off five minutes ago” had me cursing my luck, but I had got there as soon as I could, so I accepted that it wasn’t currently on view and started to search. A birding pal pointed out a blob which he reckoned was the bird, so I headed down the prom to a place where I could hunker down and get a modicum of shelter from the fierce gusts of wind that were shaking my tripod so that the scope was almost unusable. Once fixed onto the bird, the long legs, grey plumage and strong supercilium all pointed towards this being the first-summer American Golden Plover that I came to see. However, as soon as I’d got onto it the bird flew off, disturbed by approaching dog-walkers, of which there were many out on the beach. I could see getting pictures wasn’t going to be easy. After flying off, the bird could not be found and, as more and more birders appeared, folk were getting ‘twitchy’ with not seeing it. I decided to change tack and moved SW to an area that it hadn’t been seen in before, but which seemed to have fewer dog-walkers on it; it was worth a try. As I scoped distantly further and further away, I was amazed and really pleased to find the plover feeding between the end of Hoylake Prom and Red Rocks (for those who know this area).

Grabbing my scope and tripod, I informed a couple of birders who joined me and headed off along the inland edge of the beach to get closer to the bird. We arrived at a suitable point and found the plover to be the closest bird, feeding and totally at ease with us being at the distance at which we had settled. Subsequently, I did manage a few photos, albeit record shots due to the squally wind and rain. Light levels weren’t the best, but the bird showed very well through the scope nonetheless. A bit further out, flocks of mixed Dunlin and Ringed Plovers fed, and just a bit more wary than the plover; probably the ones flushed more easily by the public further up the beach, which had caused the plover to fly off too. I made sure that the news was broadcast and soon up to 50 birders were heading down the beach towards us to finally get the bird that they had missed by arriving after me. Knowing that a crowd would probably push the bird a bit further out, not advantageous for pictures, but confident that they all would connect with the bird, I headed off to travel to my next destination where the second target on my list had now been confirmed as still present.

I headed down the Wirral to one of the jewels in Cheshire’s crown as far as bird reserves go, Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB. As in Hoylake, the news on my arrival was negative. The bird had flown off about an hour before and was still missing. Still feeling positive, I headed round the full circuit of the reserve to the ‘new’ Border Hide where the bird had been seen most during its stay. Here just two bird photographers were inside, but they had seen the bird 10 minutes earlier and it had flown off but still within the reserve. Just 20 minutes later the news that I hoped came through, it was currently on show on the Reception Lagoon, as far away as you can get on the reserve but at least it was there! I yomped round to the Visitor Centre and immediately got the bird in my bins first and then my scope. Zooming up, the sharply defined band on its breast (pectoral band) was obvious and I was chuffed to be looking at the adult Pectoral Sandpiper, present for its second day on the reserve. I grabbed a few record digiscoped shots of the distant wader. These were into the sun and at such a great distance, that they were no more than a flavour of how the bird looked out in the lagoon rather than ID pictures! With people arriving all the time, including RSPB staff who hadn’t had decent views of the bird, I gave up my scope for anyone who wanted to use it and get good enough views to positively ID the bird. Other birds seen on the reserve of note were 2 Swifts up above the pools, possibly my last individuals of this species this summer as their return to their winter quarters is imminent.

Along with the use of my scope, several birders took advantage of me being there as a representative of Focalpoint Optics too. I answered several queries, advised on scopes and binoculars and invited all to come to our ‘Optics Venue in the Village’ event on Sunday 5th September, where several of our suppliers will be bringing optics for testing. A few also took business cards and planned to make appointments later this week or next. A good 45 minutes later with all questions answered I headed off hoping to see many of these birders again at the shop or the optics event.

The two birds successfully ‘twitched’ in the day were both American Waders and were just 11 miles apart, as the bird flies; in my part of the UK too, what a happy coincidence. The recent poor weather and Atlantic weather systems had had a beneficial effect for birding in the north-west with these two making landfall as expected on the west side of the country. As a postscript to the story, the two waders had moved on the very next day, possibly ahead of the next low pressure system sweeping in off the Atlantic and through the UK. So, delaying by one day had not made me miss the birds, but had I waited until Monday the outcome would have been different and in twitching parlance I would have ‘Double Dipped’ on the two American waders!

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