Purple on the rocks


I have the real pleasure of writing my first blog post of 2022 about a trip to Battery Point, Portishead, Bristol to photograph Purple Sandpipers (Calidris Maritima). As many of my readers will know I love waders probably above all bird species and so when I had the opportunity to get some pictures with my good friend Paul Joy of this rare, specially protected and very confiding wader species that winters in the UK coastland I was really excited.

Up until this point I had never seen a Purple Sandpiper. They are small waders, bigger than a Dunlin but slightly smaller and less robust than a Turnstone.  They migrate to the UK in the winter from as far away places as Canada, Greenland, Svalbard, Fennoscandia and Russia. They then spend their time along the coasts roosting and feeding on various rocky outcrops. They have a preference for rocks covered with seaweeds where they forage for insects, molluscs and crustaceans.

They get their names because of a Purple sheen that can be seen in their feathers - particularly on their wings. In the winter they tend to be a little drab to look at apart from their bright orange beak and legs. However, in the right sunlight, you can see the purple colour in their plumage.

Paul and I timed our visit so that we arrived at Battery Point a couple of hours before high tide. The location consists of a rocky outcrop that juts out into the Severn Estuary.

When we arrived there was a small group of fishermen and the tide was already starting to rise up over the rocks.

I scanned the rocks with my trusty Nikon P1000 camera and soon enough picked up a couple of Purple Sandpipers scuttling at the water edge over the rocks. That was my first tick of the year for a new "lifer".

Paul and I were accompanied by another friendly photographer and the three of us edged up closer to these little waders. By just sitting up on the rocks we waited as the tide gradually rises and it pushed the Sandpipers ever closer to where were sitting.

Soon they were just a couple of meters away. These birds are very accommodating if you are patient and give them some space to get used to you. When they got too close we moved further back and they settled nicely and practically posed in front of us. The light was amazing and you could not ask for any more. I felt very privileged and fortunate to get to see these birds. They were quite happy foraging away amongst the seaweed and dodging the odd wave. In all, we counted seven birds.

After an hour so we had taken more than enough pictures and video and it was time to leave. I was amazed when I turned around to see lots more birders had arrived with scopes, binoculars and cameras.

Happy New Year to all my readers. May you have a healthy and joyous 2022.


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