Just one more twitch day out, I thought, before my week in Shetland. After missing the Stilt Sandpiper at Coombe Hill Meadows in August, what a better excuse than to try for another one at Campfield Marsh RSPB reserve, on the Solway Firth in Cumbria.
In fact, I've only ever birded once before in Cumbria. That was back in 1996, to pay homage to a certain little Spanish Sparrow (and the Golden Eagles at Haweswater). Arriba! He was a little cracker, probably Cumbria's most famous resident since Beatrix Potter. Cumbria is as famous for that bird as Staffordshire is for Nutcracker (it's nearly the 17th anniversary).
Sunday 28th September. South Walney, 10:20 - 12:40.
In addition to the Stilt Sand, there was also a 1st winter Rustic Bunting at South Walney Nature Reserve. It's kind of on the way, and would also be a lifer, so "let's go for it first" was the thought.
With the view of Piel Castle on arrival, the wardens said the bird was still around. As Jeremy Clarkson says, how hard can it be?
As it happens, as Jimmy Savile says, it took a wait of nearly two hours for the bird to appear. The wardens had laid some seed down on one of the footpaths, so that was the place to view. It was getting to the stage where I was wondering "how much longer should I give it?", when on an umpteenth scan with the binoculars this time it produced a bird flying towards us.
It landed on some brambles about 20 feet away. A first look, yes it's a Bunting. Then you make out the crest and the broad cream stripes above the eye and at the bottom of the face. "Jesus H Corbett, that's it!". It's the Rustic Bunting, and you have to be careful how loud you say it. One, you look like a plonker if that's not it. Two, you don't want to scare the bird. Some people may say that's the wrong way round.
It dropped down and out of sight for about ten minutes, then appeared along the path to feed on the seed. That was definitely one of my most satisfying ticks, one that I really had to put the effort and patience in. The following picture is a bit blurry, but it shows the crest off well, and the bird's jizz (for reasons I won't go into, I always think that's an unfortunate phrase).
Other birds seen at South Walney were a couple of skeins of Pink-Footed Geese (totalling around 60 birds), 2 Stonechat, 1 Whinchat. That's the starter, now onto the main course, Stilt Sandpiper.
Campfield Marsh RSPB Reserve, 15:40 (!!!!!!) - 16:10.
A harsh lesson learned today. Cumbria is a big, big place! I couldn't believe it took three hours to drive from South Walney to Campfield Marsh. Imagine having that to do that to cover local patches?
But eventually, driving through Barrow, Ulverston, up the M6 and through Carlisle, and arriving on the Solway Firth, the Stilt Sandpiper was dead easy to find. Most of the time it was accompanying a couple of Black-Tailed Godwits.
It really was a fantastic wader, just like a large Curlew Sandpiper. It just felt that giving it only half an hour really didn't do it, and the Solway Firth, justice. I've always thought that I should spend some time and do some birding along the Solway Firth, and in a way I still haven't. I just looked at a small pool.
But time was getting on. It was the right decision to leave as well. In addition to filling the car up in Wigton, getting lost in Wigton due to a closed road, and roadworks on the M6 north of Preston that took an absolute age to get through (and of course, no-one was actually doing any work on the road, grrr!). But once through them I cheered up knowing I'd had two ticks in a day. That doesn't happen every often for me these days!
Nuff respect is due to those twitchers who do this every weekend, my hat goes off to you. I couldn't do 14 hour days out (and no doubt more!) like this all the time.