Thursday, 4 August 2022

RSPB Pagham Harbour & Medmerry :: 30 July 2022

The phone rang at 4.35am and it was Kevin Heath to ask if I was up - he could see no sign of it from the roadside. How embarrassing ... we'd agreed to meet at 4.30am and head for the south coast – the meet time had been chosen as I had an appointment in Banbury at 2.00pm. I had to admit that I had no explanation of why, but I was still in bed - the alarm appeared to have the correct time set but either hadn't gone off, or I'd turned it off in my sleep when it rang. Kev said that he was going to get some fuel and would be back shortly and so I dressed, made a flask of coffee and was on the drive pulling kit from my car as he returned 10 minutes later. I apologised and we set off, stopping for breakfast on the lower part of the A34, arriving in the RSPB Pagham Harbour car park by around 7.00am. We started getting ready to set out when Kev said he felt a bit under the weather - we hadn't been sure where we could park and had opted for the official car park. Along the track we realised that we could have parked in an area about half the distance from our target bird - an error, especially when Kev wasn't feeling right. We bumped into a chap coming the other way and he confirmed we were heading in the right direction and that the bird was showing.

Having crossed a couple of fields we passed through a gate and could see some watchers peering down into a burn ('rife'). A birder approached from the other direction and as he got level with us he pointed slightly behind us and there was our bird, a Squacco Heron, perched on a distant hawthorn bush - we'd been so intent on the rife and birders we hadn't seen it. We stopped where we were and viewed through our bins and scope - I also rattled off a few photos as this might be the best views we got, unless it flew closer. A life tick for me!

As we watched, a chap could be seen working along the hedge line and I wondered if he would flush the bird - not knowing what the bird would be able to see I waited and hoped. Although there was a moment of increased alertness the bird didn't seem disturbed. After a few minutes we talked with a couple of birders who then went off an did the same thing - we talked with a chap who suggested he was also going to view from closer and so I went with him, leaving Kev to view from the path.

Once on the hedge line I could see how the birders were staying partially under cover, in a hollow within the hedge itself. I joined and started taking photos from a more reasonable range - the bird was still relaxed in our presence and was preening. On a couple of occasions, it turned facing first left and then right, but showed no sign of being in a hurry - apparently it had already been perched for almost an hour.

The last thing that I hoped for was to get a photo of the bird in flight and so I stayed put. Eventually the Squacco took off, made a low circle and dropped into the rife. I took a couple of record shots of it there and made my way back to Kev.

Squacco heron
Squacco heron
Squacco heron
Squacco heron
Squacco heron
Squacco heron
Squacco heron
Squacco heron
Squacco heron
Squacco heron
Squacco heron

Kev was still feeling a bit rough but there had been reports of curlew sandpiper further along the North wall - a chap Kev had talked to suggested he'd seen them earlier. We saw him ahead and decided to follow, chatting to another birder as we went. When we reached the pools of interest, we all scanned the waders finding only black-tailed godwits, dunlin and three little ringed plovers. A sedge warbler dropped onto a reed ahead.

Black-tailed godwit
Black-tailed godwit
Little ringed plover
Sedge warbler

We scanned BirdGuides to see what else was about and reports had come in for a white-rumped sandpiper, curlew sandpiper and wood sandpiper at RSPB Medmerry - just along the road from where we were. We set off and chatted to another birder doing the same – it appeared that he had been down at the lesser yellowlegs with us a few weeks ago and was planning to make for Medmerry too; he had parked closer and set off well before us. Whimbrel flew across the marsh - I think I've seen more this year than any other perhaps due to the range of places we've visited.

Whimbrel

We parked up at Medmerry and started down the track … people had said it was a long walk and they weren't exaggerating. About two-thirds of the way down the track we talked with a birder coming the other way who crushed our hopes telling us the white-rumped sandpiper had already departed - a second week of missing this species. When we got to the designated spot it was confirmed the main target had gone, and there were no curlew sands. We could see the wood sand though - there were also black-tailed godwits, avocet, common sandpiper and yellow wagtail.

Time was marching on and we had to turn and make our return to the car, bidding our farewell to the chap we'd followed to site - we arranged to see each other in another couple of weeks when something else arrived. The return back to the car was even longer (at least felt like it) than on the way in - the temperature was also increasing. We heard someone call on us and a familiar face waved - it was the South African chap from RSPB Cliffe Pools that had located the stone curlew last weekend – an amazing coincidence we’d come down here within hours of one another. Gosh we are getting about and meeting people.

Wood sandpiper

We made it to my appointment in Banbury with just five minutes to spare. I thanked Kev for driving and hoped he'd soon feel a bit better.