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Open Mic: Wader Quest Back Home

At the Mic: Rick Simpson

Rick Simpson of Newport Pagnell, UK, is a bird guide, illustrator, author of Confessions of a Bird Guide, and a Birdlife Species Champion. 

He previously wrote about Wader Quest at the ABA Blog in Thailand, the UAEFlorida,Washington, California and the UK.

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The United Kingdom in May is one of the most exciting places to be if you are a birder and a twitcher (bird chaser) at that. The Wader Quest list was at 93 now and we had hoped that the time we were to spend there was going to mean adding some migrants to our list.

One of the hoped-for species was Eurasian Dotterel. This species breeds in the UK in the mountains of Scotland, but I knew that every year they pass through England and have stop-overs in rather more accessible places. I have seen these birds from my car on many occasions on the flat fields of eastern England, so the idea of traipsing up a mountain to see one did not appeal; our hopes were high.  However, this was going to prove one of the worst spring passages for this species in our region, we had chased one and missed. It wasn’t looking good. We were then told about some birds that had been seen regularly and had been hanging around for some time in Lancashire in the north-west of England, we decided to give it a go and drove overnight to get there forsaking sleep in our desperation.

Dawn saw us at the foot of one of the steepest inclines I have ever faced, so much for avoiding the mountains of Scotland, this was potentially worse; at least the cairngorms had chairlifts! We trudged up the hill, me fighting for breath, Elis laughing at my discomfort, eventually I made it to the top and we started looking for the birds. After an hour or so we were beginning to feel a little nervous, but we then came across a group of birders watching three Eurasian Dotterel. These birds are really confiding, indeed their very name comes from an old English expression meaning dimwitted or foolish as they were so easy to kill.

Eurasian Dotteral, photo by Elis Simpson

Eurasian Dotterel, photo by Elis Simpson

We spent a long time with these birds and Elis got some marvelous photos of them. It is a morning’s birding that I will not soon forget, in part because of the hill climb, but mainly for the pleasure of spending so much time in the company of such beautiful and confiding creatures. Not even missing the Spotted Redshank afterwards diminished the good cheer I felt as we returned home.

Eurasian Dotterel, photo by Elis Simpson

Eurasian Dotterel, photo by Elis Simpson

Shortly after we found ourselves dashing out for yet another twitch, this time for a female Red-necked Phalarope in summer plumage. It was a bee-buzzingly, beautiful, British summer day when we drove out to gorgeous Gloucestershire to look for this little gem which we found easily enough where we had been  told it would be, at Combe Hill. The only trouble was that it was so distant that we really didn’t get the best of views of one of the most attractive waders on the planet, still, the important thing was ticking it off, wasn’t it? We’d have to content ourselves with that.

There was a tantalizing bit of news that failed to produce another bird for the list when a Black-winged Pratincole was seen for one day only in Kent, this bird was never seen again and we were very unlikely to see one anywhere else on our travels. We considered going to Ukraine to see them and Collared Pratincoles, but we were by now a bit late, and the expense couldn’t be justified as the risk of missing them was too high.

That then left us with only one potential new species, a regular, returning summer visitor, Eurasian Stone Curlew. These birds breed in small numbers in Norfolk in the east of England and one day we made the pilgrimage up to see them. Once again they remained distant, this was beginning to get very vexing, why can’t all birds be like those charming dotterels? The pair we were watching had made a scrape nest in a stony field and when the brooding bird hunkered down it was all but impossible to see. When it had its eyes shut, the crown of its head looked like any other lump in the field, but when it opened its beady yellow eye, it became much more discernible from its surroundings. The non-brooding bird, instead of standing proudly by for us to enjoy, slunk off down the slope away from us and out of sight.

Soon enough our downtime in the UK was once more up and we were heading south, this time to South America where we were to visit Brazil and Peru.

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