A common shore bird, but on the other hand a scarce borough bird, turned up in the most unlikely circumstances on Wednesday 15th April; here’s the story.
I had just finished my lunch and was back at work when my ‘phone rang with an excited voice on the other end of the line. “There’s a small, very tame wader on the boating lake at Eastrop Park, could be a phalarope, any chance you could take a look?” The time was 13:30. With Eastrop being so close to the office, of course I couldn’t resist, so I extended my lunch by a further half hour, and within ten minutes was entering the park. It was a warm day, very warm in fact, and being that schools were still in their Easter holidays, the park was packed with parents and children. As I walked down the steps towards the main boating lake, I said to myself “There can’t be any waders here!” Kids were in boats, playing with balls, chasing each other about and generally having a good time. There were picnics and barbeques going on, and people milling about with ice-creams; in short, it was like a holiday resort and the last place on earth you’d expect to find any wading birds, or any birds for that matter, indeed, even most of the resident mallards had disappeared!
I walked the perimeter of the main lake and saw absolutely nothing and was about to give up. Dave had said the boating lake, but there is of course the ‘model’ boating lake as well, so I decided to try there in the little time I had remaining. At first nothing, but half way round, a small greyish bird flew along the bank with a child pursuing it – not a phalarope unfortunately, but a cracking Dunlin – still a local scarcity!
I literally walked right up to it, just like a phalarope in fact, and stood about two feet away – it was gorgeous.
I have to admit that I’m guessing a bit, but think it was an adult moulting into breeding plumage rather than a first-summer bird, but I’m not sure. I’m not confident about the race either, but the most likely is Calidris alpina schinzii, which breeds in the northern part of the UK, especially Caithness and Sutherland, the Orkneys, Shetlands, Grampians and Outer Hebrides, as well as Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia and the Baltics; the more I read about the various races and plumage variations the more confused I become, so please let me know if I’m wrong!!
Now for the bad news – coming from work, I didn’t have my camera! I tried some shots with my ‘phone, but the images were useless, even from a few feet away, but nothing could be done…..
As I walked back to the office, I was deep in thought about how to get some images…Then it came to me – Mrs S was at home today so she could drop my camera off! The necessary call was made, and it was Mrs S to the rescue! I left work early, hoping the Dunlin would still be present; It was! I still didn’t have long, even then, as I was due to meet and go birding with County Recorder, Keith Betton at 5pm.
Over the next half hour, I rattled off literally hundreds of shots……..here are just a few….
Dunlin (Calandris alpina) – Eastrop Park, Basingstoke, 15th April 2015 (all images)
An absolutely stunning bird – many thanks for the call Dave.
Although this ‘bonus blog’ is dedicated to just one bird, probably the most significant bird that day came later in the evening. As mentioned, I was out birding on the downs with Keith Betton, when Keith noticed a distant bird on the ground in the middle of a field of crops. Through binoculars, it was impossible to identify and there was some debate, so Keith set up his ‘scope and with 70x magnification instead of ten, we could clearly see that it was in fact a female Merlin – my first ever borough Merlin! We watched the Merlin devouring something for the next ten minutes before it flew off. This rounded off a superb day……there was nothing for it but to retire to the pub!
The borough year list is starting to look quite interesting; with the recent addition of Merlin, Dunlin, Black Redstart and Ring Ouzel, non of which were seen last year during the sponsored birdwatch, I’m up to 107, which is higher than at the same time last year!