5 October 2014

Curlew Sandpiper and not-an-Osprey at Brandon

Today was a family outing to Brandon Marsh - a trip which often rewards and frustrates in equal measure.

Brandon is always a great place to be, and of course I'm delighted that my good lady and lad both enjoy spending time there. It certainly offers better birding opportunities than a morning shopping. 

What I have had to learn on family trips, however, is that I'm unlikely to ever be able to explore every inch, visit every hide or find every bird. Many is the time I have got home after a family trip to Brandon, logged on and browsed the blogs only to find I missed the weekend's star bird.

Not this time though. With everyone in the family team bright eyed, bushy tailed and enthusiastic, we walked into East Marsh Hide to be greeted by the words: "There's a curlew sandpiper over there." 

Marvellous - 30 seconds in and I'm on to a county tick, my first curlew sandpiper since some in 2005 (and those more predictably in Norfolk). A textbook juvenile this: smooth buff upperparts and chest, white supercillum, elegant black legs and slightly decurved bill - altogether longer and more elegant than the similarly-attired dunlin. It was giving great views on the nearside of the main island, at least whenever it wasn't being harrassed by some of the 60+ lapwing.

Also on East Marsh were good numbers of wigeon, teal, shovellers and black-headed gulls; some gadwalls, mallards, tufted ducks, a cormorant, a grey heron and a couple of greylag geese. A sparrowhawk twice put everything up.

On the Teal Pool behind us we had already enjoyed what I assumed would be the day's highlight, with everyone getting a full scope view of the elusive water rail. And back at the tearooms we added a host of feeder species including coal tit, reed bunting and the ever-welcome nuthatch. 

With 33 species in the bag, there was still time for a final dash right the way back to Newlands to investigate uncertain reports of an osprey. Well, I don't know what was there earlier in the day, but when I arrived I quickly clapped eyes on a largeish, greyish, pale and tatty raptor sitting atop a mid-distant bush. 

My head was full of thoughts of osprey, so I called 'osprey'... followed immediately by 'that doesn't look right'. It wasn't - too broad, too dark and with bright yellow legs and feet. Since I was now pretty sure it wasn't an osprey I spent a minute trying to convince myself it was a marsh harrier instead. It wasn't - unless I read reports otherwise I'm reasonably sure it was a young, pale and patchy buzzard (I should add that the horrible photo, taken via iPhone through scope, makes it look much more like a buzzard than it did in the flesh).

I added a male kestrel (with vole in claws), and left, happy with 35 species and just the one county tick for the day.

Bird of the day: Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea), a passage migrant more often seen on the east coast than on an inland site like Brandon.

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