Saturday, 27 June 2015

Hudsonian Whimbrel, West Sussex

I was up at 2am this morning and out of the house by 3am, on the road to the south coast and Church Norton at Pagham Harbour in West Sussex. A Hudsonian whimbrel was found here a couple of weeks ago, but due to the excitement of the Cretzschmar's bunting on Bardsey which more or less consumed all of my free time over the past two weekends, this was our first opportunity to have a go at seeing this North American wader. There was also the added lure of another North American wader, a greater yellowlegs at nearby Titchfield Haven, though this would not be a new bird for either of us.

I was a little nervous about our chances of seeing the Hud, it was only reported once yesterday and once the day before, and it seemed to be almost fading away as these long stayers sometimes do when the majority of birders have seen them. Also I had read various accounts and heard at first hand from friends how difficult it could be. One person waited 11 hours for a 20 second flight view, whilst others have commented on how distant or obscured the bird was for long periods. So I wasn't overly confident.

We arrived at the car park at Church Norton at 7:15am and made the short walk to the shore. There were a handful of other birders already present, but they hadn't seen the bird. However, within 15 minutes of our arrival somebody picked up a likely looking candidate with a pale looking face and long bill, at the relatively close distance of about 150m. It looked good but we needed to see its rump and underwing, both of which are brown on Hudsonian rather than white as is the case with Eurasian whimbrel.The bird walked around for a bit and then stopped to have a preen, and there was no sign of any white on the rump, unlike a nearby Eurasian whimbrel which clearly showed white when it preened. We were 95% convinced but still wanted the conclusive flight view. Unfortunately the bird now decided it was time for a sleep.

Fortunately after about 15 minutes it woke up, had another brief preen and then flew a short distance across a channel giving us excellent views of its brown rump. It then when back to sleep. We waited for another hour and a half, but the bird remained mostly asleep, with just the occasional preen or short walk.  Finally, just as we were packing up to leave it woke up and started feeding. After a short while it flew towards us onto some closer mud about 75m away and continued feeding with a Eurasian whimbrel for comparison. Eventually it flew away from us for some distance, giving us another great look at it's brown rump, and landed on mud further out in the estuary at which point we decided to call it a day. It was hard to see how we could get much better views than that.

On the way home we called in at Titchfield Haven, but the long staying greater yellowlegs had gone AWOL yesterday and had so far not returned. Still, I have seen the species before in the UK, at Rockcliffe in Cumbria, so it was not too disappointing. At least we saw the main bird.

The singing melodious warbler in the West Midlands made for a decent halfway home stop.

UK: 410 (Hudsonian Whimbrel); Year: 231 (Hudsonian Whimbrel and Little Tern)

Hudsonian and Eurasian whimbrels. Notice the paler face, more distinct face pattern (almost sedge warbler like I thought) and longer more curved bill of the Hudsonian.

Hudsonian whimbrel. Notice the completely brown underwing. Eurasian whimbrel would have white underwing coverts and axillaries.

Notice the brown rump of the Hudsonian whimbrel. Eurasian, of course, has an unmarked white rump.

Twitching Hudsonian whimbrel at Pagham Harbour.

There were a couple of cracking summer plumage spotted redshanks near the visitor centre.

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