The Long-billed Dowitcher is getting colourful

When life shits into the fan, the best is to leave everything behind and go out birding. So, off I went to Lincolnshire after seeing some cracking photos of the long-staying Long-billed Dowitcher at Frampton Marsh RSPB Reserve. Sun breaks the horizons a couple minutes earlier every day so the season of really early birding has finally kicked off. It also means that I have to leave home in the middle of the night in case I want to visit any coastal sites. The closest is around 2 hours away from my home. The Frampton Marsh is one of the closest ones.

The Frampton Marsh is one of the prime RSPB reserves I have ever visited in the United Kingdom. This coastal wetland complex is right in the neighbourhood of The Wash providing feeding, roosting and breeding habitat for thousands of birds.

I was a bit surprised being the first visitor of the reserve on this Sunday morning, probably due to the unpleasant weather in the morning. Waiting for the sleet and rain storm to pass, I stayed in the car. As there are observation hides in the reserve, there is always shelter from the bad weather. As I tried to get myself ready ready for a long walk, a surprising 8 Arctic Tern passed the whole area with a steady flight. They were in a real migration mode. They flew over the visitor centre and carried on flying towards the north. They have been around the southern oceans just a few weeks back and they are now heading north for their breeding grounds. Spectacular birds. Later I told this story to the reserve manager who suspiciously looked at me and questioned: “Weren’t they Common Terns instead?” I’m used to these questions… not.

Adult Black-headed Gull (Probably first summer, based on the remains of the immature wing coverts?) Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly
Adult Black-headed Gull (Probably first summer, based on the remains of the immature wing coverts?) Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly
Black-headed Gull is beautiful pinkish lights. Morning bird photography is always rewarding. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly
Black-headed Gull is beautiful pinkish lights. Morning bird photography is always rewarding. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly
Morning photo of the Frampton Marsh RSPB Reserve. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly
A flock of Brant Goose heading towards the feeding grounds. Sony a7RIII, Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master OSS © Gyorgy Szimuly
Bird photos by the high-resolution Sony a7RIII are on a whole different quality level. Brant Geese. Sony a7RIII, Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master OSS © Gyorgy Szimuly

The whole area was dominated by Brant Geese. They were in and out of the reserve. Black-headed Gulls were in stunning breeding plumage and were territorial and quite aggressive with Northern Lapwings. Moulting Ruffs and Common Redshanks were feeding at the edges of ponds while the first Sedge Warblers sang in their early occupied territories. Western Yellow Wagtails (M. f. flavissima subspecies) flew with European Skylarks over the meadows while multiple couples of Common Redshanks and Pied Avocets copulated. An early morning stroll of a Peregrine Falcon caused a blast of birds. Black-tailed Godwits and Dunlins flew high up to avoid the speeding predator. Later it was roosting on a fence in The Wash.

This Long-billed Dowitcher was first reported last August and spent the whole Autumn and British Winter at the same area. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A few birders started to arrive but it still seemed weird not seeing crowds at such a nice reserve like Frampton Marsh. Anyway, in search of a rarity at a less known place, the best is to watch the behaviour of other birders. Right at the Long-billed Dowitcher spot, I asked a birder about the bird’s whereabouts. He did not find the bird but in fact, had been feeding next to us the whole time. I could only tell it must have been there as a photographer was up and down the path for a better position for the desired shot. Eventually, I found the bird what left the boring grey non-breeding plumage behind and was in the process of getting the full breeding plumage. At the visitor centre, I was told it was the 285th consecutive days this individual have been reported from the same area.

Long-billed Dowitcher into its breeding plumage. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly
It was actively feeding during my stay. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly
Long-billed Dowitcher is a North American vagrant to the British Isles. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly
Long-billed Dowitcher Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly
Flying Northern Lapwing. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly
Feeding Ruff along the banks of the main pond. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly
Taking off male Ruff. Sony a7RIII, Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master OSS © Gyorgy Szimuly

Close to the dowitcher, a Spotted Redshank was feeding as well. The whole area had a wonderful tranquillity and made me forget about everything and being a little sentimental really. Listening to the love songs of shorebirds created some indescribable atmosphere and made think of my dear friend, Barb Padgett, who sadly passed away at the end of last year.

At the end of the 4 miles walk, hirundines started to arrive at the main lake and I found one of the two reported Little Gulls hunting in front of the visitor centre.

eBird checklist of Framton Marsh:

Greylag Goose (Anser anser)  8
Brant Goose (Branta bernicla)  570
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  14
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)  34
Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)  20
Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata)  77
Gadwall (Mareca strepera)  4
Eurasian Wigeon (Mareca penelope)  163
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  3
Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca crecca)  15
Common Pochard (Aythya ferina)  6
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)  17
Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)  5
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)  1
Common Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus)  2
Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)  15
Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)  12
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)  168
Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)  12
Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)  65
Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)  14
Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)  16
Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata)  3
Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)  74
Ruff (Calidris pugnax)  8
Dunlin (Calidris alpina)  17
Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus)  1
Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)  3
Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus)  1
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)  33
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)  380
Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus)  1
Mew Gull (European) (Larus canus canus)  19
European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus argentatus)  9
Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea)  8
Little Egret (Western) (Egretta garzetta garzetta)  2
Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)  1
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)  1
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica)  2
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)  3
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis)  17
Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)  6
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)  6
Common House Martin (Delichon urbicum)  2
Eurasian Wren (British) (Troglodytes troglodytes indigenus)  2
Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti)  1
Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)  5
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)  4
Common Blackbird (Turdus merula)  2
Western Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava flavissima)  4
White Wagtail (British) (Motacilla alba yarrellii)  4
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)  10
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)  1
Common Linnet (Linaria cannabina)  3
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)  7
Common Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)  7

The next stop was the nearby Gibraltar Point Nature Reserve. I got there an hour later after dealing with horrible drivers on the way. This reserve is again a nice mixture of habitats and one allows plenty of time to discover it, it could be really productive. Common Redshanks a few Eurasian Curlews were around the marsh and a Short-eared Owl were harassed by Black-headed Gulls. I don’t often come across a Short-eared Owl so it was nice to see one today. A Ring Ouzel and a Common Redstart were also reported from the area but I had no luck to find either of them. At the first car park I a saw and heard my first Lesser Whitethroat. At the ‘rocks‘, I saw a female Northern Wheatear.

Berry Fen in the evening lights. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Berry Fen with the Bluntisham church in the background. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly
Female Mallard with a freshly hatched duckling. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly
American‘ Green-winged Team drake with Eurasian teals. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly
Another record shot of the distant Green-winged teal. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

My last stop was at the Berry Fen on the way home. I was close to my route anyway and I had no rush to get home so I gave it a go to see a Green-winged Teal drake. It was the first time I visited this nature reserve near Bluntisham, Cambridgeshire. It took a while to spot the teal as being a bit distant. It was busy showing off his potential to a female Eurasian Teal. The area was very busy with all kind of dabbling ducks and a few shorebirds. Mallards and a pair of Egyptian Goose already had babies. Cetti’s Warblers, multiple Common Chiffchaffs, a Willow Warbler and Eurasian Blackcap were singing in the reserve. First time in 8 years I saw a stunning drake Garganey and it was my first in Britain.

Berry Fen at sunset. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly
Drake Garganey in decreasing lights. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

All in all, it was a wonderful day with some usable photos and nice experience with longtime-seen or newly explored birding habitats. I need more days like these… and a pair of new trekking shoes. My current North Face is just horrible.

Berry Fen eBird checklist:

Greylag Goose (Anser anser)  1
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)  3
Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca)  12 (2 ad and goslings)
Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)  2
Garganey (Spatula querquedula)  1     Drake
Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata)  62
Gadwall (Mareca strepera)  41
Eurasian Wigeon (Mareca penelope)  72
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  110
Mallard (Domestic type) (Anas platyrhynchos)  7
Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca crecca)  146
Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca carolinensis)  1
Common Pochard (Aythya ferina)  2
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)  1
Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)  2
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)  3
Stock Dove (Columba oenas)  6
Common Wood Pigeon (White-necked) (Columba palumbus)  56
Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)  7
Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)  26
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)  2
Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)  1
Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)  23
Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)  1
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)  7
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)  97
European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus argentatus)  2
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus graellsii)  5
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis)  3
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)  7
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)  2
European Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis viridis)  2
Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)  2
Western Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)  4
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)  4
Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)  7
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)  16
Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)  2
Great Tit (Parus major)  4
Long-tailed Tit (europaeus Group) (Aegithalos caudatuseuropaeus)  3
Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris)  1
Eurasian Wren (British) (Troglodytes troglodytes indigenus)  5
Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti)  3
Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)  1
Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)  3
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)  2
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula)  6
Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)  1
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)  1
Common Blackbird (Turdus merula)  2
Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  9
Dunnock (Prunella modularis)  1
Western Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava flavissima)  7
White Wagtail (British) (Motacilla alba yarrellii)  8
Common Linnet (Linaria cannabina)  5
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)  4
Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)  1
Common Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)  3

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