BANK HOLIDAY MONDAY 30 MAY 2011
After what seemed like an age, a band of heavy rain moved across the region yesterday afternoon and evening on the fringe of an Atlantic Front that moved northeastwards. This managed to 'down' numerous passage waders, including impressive numbers of SANDERLING, a PURPLE SANDPIPER in Oxfordshire and a number of RED-NECKED PHALAROPES. Incredibly, one of the latter was forced down into Rookery Pit - the first ever to be twitchable in Bedfordshire and sparking off a major local twitch..........
ROOKERY PIT SOUTH (BEDFORDSHIRE)
Keith Owen stumbled upon the male RED-NECKED PHALAROPE in Rookery at 1145 hours, about half an hour before the belt of rain moved in. It was joined by a single SANDERLING. Keith immediately contacted Steve Blain and others of his momentous find and within minutes Andy Plumb had broadcast it to the county's keenest.....
I happened to be in West Wycombe at the time so it was a very hasty retreat but in just under the hour, I had made it to the damp pitside, joining MJP, Dave Odell, Pip Housden, SB, LC, BC, Mike Ilett, Cliff Tack, Richard Woodhead and others by the second railway bridge. The phalarope was still present and feeding along the east shore, swimming in and out of the shallow muddy bays. By now, it was drizzling and in the poor weather conditions, a further 5 migrant SANDERLINGS had dropped in, as well as 2 summer-plumaged Dublin and 2 apparent Tundra Ringed Plovers. There were also a few Common Redshank to be seen.
As with most waders in the pit, the phalarope could only be viewed at great range and it was not possible to make out finite feather detail. LC had been closer and had managed a few shots and from what I could ascertain, the lack of contrast and intensity in the plumage and the presence of a pale supercilium suggested that the bird was a male. It constantly fed in the shallows and took short flights on occasion but was still present until 1500 hours when I departed (and much later when Darin Stanley visited at 1945 hours).
Red-necked Phalarope is a surprisingly massively rare bird in Bedfordshire with just ONE record mentioned in Steele-Elliott (1904) - a female shot on the glebe pond at Houghton Conquest on about 1 June 1890. (note the close proximity of date with our bird). Since then, only TWO have been discovered -:
2) A female in breeding plumage present at Priory Country Park during the morning of 30 May 1991 and observed from a distance of just 10 feet ! (observer unknown - photographed)
3) A juvenile seen very briefly by Jack O'Neill at Dunstable Sewage Works on 31 August 1995.
In addition, two phalaropes watched very distantly at Stewartby Lake on 12-13 September 1969 were considered to be most likely this species by observers.
So, as you can see, a very rare bird in the county indeed and a new species for virtually everyone, and representing my 259th species in the county and my 170th species of the year.
In addition to the waders, the 3 RED-CRESTED POCHARDS were still present (two drakes).
PITSTONE QUARRY (BUCKS/HERTS)
The two transitional plumaged SANDERLINGS that Don Otter had found a short while earlier were both still present when I visited in heavy rain late afternoon, wading between the far Bucks section of the drained lagoon and the closer Hertfordshire section. There were also two Common Redshank present and a pair of displaying Little Ringed Plovers, as well as the territorial pair of Common Shelduck and the female Mandarin Duck with 6 (out of an original 9) surviving young.
WILSTONE RESERVOIR, TRING (HERTS)
Despite the continuing rain, I tried to locate the Spotted Flycatcher in the Black Poplars in Cemetery Corner but failed in my quest. This section of dense vegetation between the Poplars and the old boathouse did yield an impressive number of breeding species though with Great Spotted Woodpecker (adults feeding two young), Song Thrush, Blackcap (family parties plus 6 singing males), Common Chiffchaff (singing male), both Great and Blue Tit (family parties), Chaffinch (one brood being fed) and Goldcrest (singing male).
Over 1,000 Common Swifts were still hawking for insects over the surface.