Playing "where's wally the wader" at Goldcliff

"Wally" the Curlew Sandpiper

 The monster spring tides we have had over the last week have resulted in the lagoons attracting large numbers and a variety of different species of waders.

Saturday morning the lagoons were alive with hundreds of waders. A big flock of Dunlins was skyrocketing around the reserve's lagoons being very skittish and getting startled at the slightest hint of a raptor being seen.

At this time of year during the autumn passage, you need to keep a close eye on the small wader flocks as in amongst the hundreds of Dunlin there may be some of their rarer cousins such as Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers.

Both these rarities can be troublesome to find in a flock and identify. I find Curlew Sandpipers are easiest to identify when they fly as they have a white rump. The only thing with that is it is not easy to see that rump when the little Dunlins fly in a tight flock whiz past you are 100 mph.

I usually have some fun later reviewing my pictures and doing the birding equivalent of "Wheres Wally the Wader?" and magnify my flock pictures on the computer trying to pick out the white rumps. Below I have included an example. I am not really 100% on the Sanderling ID but its a good bet I think. You can see the white rumps of the Curlew Sandpipers.

The flock of smaller waders

This is one of  the "fun" activities I play when I get back from the reserve

When Curlew Sandpipers roost with a flock of Dunlins they can be really hard to find and positively identify. I often find myself jumping the gun and getting all excited only to discover the bird I thought was a Curlew Sandpiper is a juvenile Dunlin.

The sandpiper has a longer curved beak than a Dunlin and tends to appear slighter of build, taller and leggier than a Dunlin when it starts moving about. The underparts are also more uniform and a cleaner white. However, being able to pick these features out at distance even ay high magnification can be a challenge when they are surrounded by numerous Dunlin.

It is rare at Goldcliff or anywhere else for that matter, to see a Curlew Sandpiper close up. They are usually a couple of hundred meters away from me on the muddy shores of the reserve's lagoons.

So on Saturday, I was very fortunate to get to see one of them close up with friend John Lawton ( aka "Video John" - check his great videos out here.)

We were tracking a nice flock of Dunlins that were moving from lagoon to lagoon in response to a Peregrine. As we watched them shoot across the sky in close formation I watched them drop to Priors Lagoon and they landed directly in front of the Marsh Platform. I was so excited at the prospect of seeing them I started to break into a jog. I joked that I need a trailer to pull John along in as he had a job to keep up with me.

As I got to the Platform I was delighted to see that the Dunlins were busy feeding in the shallow waters only twenty or so meters away. I set up my camera and immediately started scanning the birds.

Curlew Sandpiper feeding in with the Dunlins

I was thrilled to find a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper busily feeding away with the Dunlin. A nice opportunity to photograph and video it as close quarters. The flock did not dally and dither for too long and soon they were into the air again and hurtling off towards Monks Lagoon - the other side of the reserve and a bot of a walk.

I am really enjoying using the Nikon P1000 to get close up views of Dunlins. Its so good I am rarely using my scope.

Can you spot "Wally" the Curlew Sandpiper?

It would have been even better if I could have seen a Little Stint. Now, these tiny waders are a nightmare at times to find. They are the United Kingdoms' smallest wader visitor and are about as small as a House Sparrow.

I would have to move to Monks Lagoon later before I could find and photograph a Little Stint. Unfortunately, the little bird kept its distance so I could only manage some record shot quality pictures.

Little Stint . Extremely magnified and viewed at signiciant distance.

 I guess I will have to look forward to eventually seeing one of them close up one day if I ever get that lucky.


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