Tuesday, July 24, 2007

For the record

Production editor Matt Merritt writes:
It's been difficult to get out birding over the last few weeks - the moment I get my gear together and head for my usual haunts, the heavens open and there's a mini-monsoon. So, Sunday was a good chance to make up for lost time, and I hurtled around my patch while the going was good. OK, so there's a LOT more water on the ground than usual, but even that can have its advantages.
Just as it was getting towards dusk, I arrived back at Sence Valley Forest Park for a last look. All the regulars were on the main lakes (good views of Common Terns, and a Water Rail squealing somewhere in the reeds), but I headed towards a smaller pool just off the bridlepath. It's on the edge of a farmer's field, which is often used by sheep, and their constant trampling has left some good muddy patches at the water's edge. In the past, it's been a good place to see Yellow Wagtails, plus the odd wader. Usually Little Ringed Plovers, or Curlews in spring, but about three years ago it did attract a very confiding Pectoral Sandpiper.
Anyway, as I walked towards it (I was still about 300 yards away), I saw a largish wader fly in and land on the edge of the water, close to countless sheep. At first I was thinking Curlew, but I needed to get closer, because of a hedge partly obscuring the view. In the end, I was able to approach to maybe 150 yards. A quick look with the bins aroused my suspicions, and once the scope was on it, I was sure. A Whimbrel. The smaller size (than a Curlew) wasn't immediately apparent, there being no other birds nearby to provide scale, but the very distinct eye stripes made me certain. I watched it for 20-odd minutes, during which it seemed rather agitated by the sheep, scuttling around here and there in a rather un-Whimbrel-like manner.

Mike Weedon
I made the mistake of walking on a little way to the stream, to see if there were any others around, but by the time I came back it had gone. I didn't see or hear it fly away, but perhaps it went to roost near the far lake, before continuing its migration in the morning.
One thing this sighting did, though, was confirm for me once again the value of sending bird records to a county recorder. July 22nd seemed a bit early for Whimbrel to me, but back at home, I checked back through the last few Leicestershire and Derbyshire Annual reports, and found that the species usually passes through Leicestershire starting in this week in July, having arrived in Derbyshire a little earlier, if anything.
So, although debate has raged about it in the letters pages of Bird Watching over the last few months, I'm firmly in favour of sending in those records. It's not just that they help identify all sorts of national and regional population trends - they also help individual birdwatchers put their subsequent sightings in an invaluable context.

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