Today was a day of contrasts – a notable birding hotspot proved disappointing, the rarest bird of the trip thus far was somewhat boring, and the highlight of the day was a pre breakfast sortie.
To the latter first! As with yesterday, breakfast wasn’t until 8.30, so I made the 20 minute drive to Dunwich Heath. I was met with the warm glow of early morning sunshine, and plenty of moist dew underfoot. Target bird here was Dartford Warbler, and they didn’t disappoint. To the not too distant sound of a Green Woodpecker, a pair of scratchy calls helped pinpoint the birds to a bush not far from the path, only 5 minutes or so from the car. The weak sunshine lit up the birds, one of which perched at the top of the bush. Having made the mistake of leaving the now fully charged camcorder in the car, I switched to observation mode, and trained the telescope on the showy individual. At the time, scores of Meadow Pipits were passing overhead in a southerly direction, along with lower numbers of hirundines. The first 5 of subsequent hundreds of Barnacle Geese formed skeins heading towards their breakfasting fields. When trying to follow more Dartford Warbler calls, a family party of Stonechats was followed across the heather.
Then on to Abberton Reservoir, and my first ever birding mission within the confines of Essex. This is a large and on the whole monotonous waterway, with newly constructed banks holding little vegetation. That being said, one or two scarce birds had decided to make this their home for a day or two, including a Semipalmated Sandpiper which had taken a couple of hours to identify when found on Sunday. The problem was that there were large numbers of birds on the small spits of exposed mud, and these mostly at some distance. Thankfully, most were wildlfowl and larger waders (Lapwings and Black-tailed Godwits galore), leaving much smaller numbers of smaller waders (mainly Ringed Plover) to sift through. A likely trio of (probable) stints was one of the distant throng, so I made the decision to make the short yet muddy trek to the furthest hide. No-one was there, but I picked up a likely candidate, which turned out to be the aforementioned Semi-P, roosting on one leg, but giving scopable views. A Black Tern zippering up and down the open waters was definitely a more interesting feature. Before setting off for the journey to Devon (and the thrill of avoiding accident holdups on the M25), a visit to Layer de la Haye Causeway at the end of the reservoir added a much more obliging Yank in the form of Pectoral Sandpiper. A chap shooting off multiple megabytes of SD card memory on his long lens next to me seemed to have some great shots of the bird for his blog or some such, until he turned to me and asked what the smaller brown bird was next to the Ruff! He now knows that such a bird as a Pectoral Sandpiper exists!