A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Hudsonian Godwit - Meare Heath, Somerset!

Hoping to catch up with the Blue-winged Teal at Donna Nook for Zac and Alex, I was awake bright and early on the Saturday morning, ready to make the 3 hour journey over to Lincolnshire with them. However, checking my phone after breakfast, I was stunned to see a MEGA alert at 7:30am telling me there was a Hudsonian Godwit present down at Meare Heath in Somerset!!! What on earth?!! All thoughts of the teal were hastily forgotten, and by 9am just after the report was confirmed again on Birdguides we were on our way down the M6 hoping to connect with this special American mega!

Making good time and luckily not becoming ensnared in any of the previous night’s congestion, we arrived on site just after 12, buoyed by the stream of reports coming through twitter and on RBA to reassure us of the birds presence and thankful that there were enough car parking spaces in the newly built car park to hold the masses that would be arriving throughout the day. Special thanks to Alex who got us there in good time, complete with dodgy overtaking moves along the way!

Arriving at the small flash just a short walk down the path from the car park, the birds location was soon betrayed by the absolutely HUGE line of birders assembled along the path watching it – one of the biggest twitches I’ve been at to date – perhaps only behind the Short-toed Eagle in Dorset on the first morning and the Little Bustard at Fraisthorpe on New Year’s Day.  
Hudsonian Godwit Twitch 2015
The crowds stretched all down the path...
Hudsonian Godwit Twitch 2015
....and down the other side!
We joined the 400 or so others and soon locked on to the bird, looking extremely settled and roosting happily with the Black-tailed Godwits just over the bank. It was immediately recognisable though the scope – much darker than the accompanying Godwits with a more dusky coloured plumage due to the heavy barring -  a lot more distinctive than I’d anticipated and easily distinguishable! Occasionally it awoke, showing the long two toned bill briefly, before tucking it away underneath the wing again. It was EXTREMELY fortunate that this hadn’t turned up where viewing was only from a hide – I can only imagine the sheer chaos and pandemonium a scenario like that would have caused!
Hudsonian Godwit - Somerset
Eventually, our rare visitor awoke, and wading through the flock the differences in comparison to the Black-tailed Godwits were even more striking. The fractionally smaller body and longer bill were evident, the latter of which was distinctly orange toned, completely different to the pinkish wash of the Black-tailed Godwits. 
Hudsonian Godwit - Somerset
Hudsonian Godwit - Somerset
Hudsonian Godwit - Somerset
Every now and again the Hudsonian would flap and flick it’s wings revealing the jet black colouration underneath– the key identifying feature – and the crowd reacted with admiring “ooohs” every time! An aberrant Black-tailed Godwit with a particularly well marked white head got pulses racing back in 2012 at the local Frodsham Marsh, although after some speculation, the white underwing covets seen the next day completely ruled out Hudsonian even though the head and bill looked spot on – proving just how vital getting good views of the underwings is in nailing this species.
Hudsonian Godwit - Somerset
Alex's video grab of the black underwings!
Hudsonian Godwit - Somerset
The barring on the plumage was really apparent
The Hudsonian departed from the reserve shortly after 4pm with a third of the flock of Godwits, and flying off high to the west there was no sign since that day – a great surprise for the weekend. This mega American wader was definitely NOT on my radar and was most certainly not a bird that I was expecting to see any time soon – it just goes to show in the world of birding that all it takes is one bird to unexpectedly unblock a species not seen in Britain for nearly 30 years. Thankfully the stars aligned this weekend to provide the perfect twitch – if it had turned up on a weekday then it would have been an entirely different scenario for many filled with stress and panic! The bird had actually previously been spotted the evening before roosting with the Godwit flock, but it wasn’t until early the next morning that the observer clinched the ID and alerted the masses!
Hudsonian Godwit - Somerset
The darker colouration stood out even from a distance
There have only been two previous records of Hudsonian Godwit accepted in the UK, usually found in Central America on migration and only occasionally making it over this side of the Atlantic.  With the most recent being a flyover record in Aberdeenshire back in 1988, the only other bird was a well twitched individual that was first found at Blacktoft Sands in Yorkshire in the autumn of 1981, before being relocated down in Devon where it subsequently spent the winter. Remarkably, the same individual was seen again back at Blacktoft a year later in the spring of 1983! With this in mind, there is every chance that the Godwit could get refound elsewhere in the country.
Godwit Flock - Somerset
The reserve itself was a great place to spend the afternoon, with a calling Wood Warbler near the car park and brief views of a skulky Garden Warbler in the Hawthorns lining the path – its location given away by the beautiful melodious song coming from between the leaves. A Bittern booming in the reeds behind us provided the perfect soundtrack, and the soaring Marsh Harriers, Hobbies and chattering Cetti’s Warblers were my first of the year. We also caught sight of two Cranes circling high overhead -  a reminder of the success of the Great Crane Reintroduction Project in the levels, as well as numerous flyover Great White Egrets – surely a sign of breeding on the reserve again this year. With the breeding Little Bitterns at Ham Wall, it will be great to return to this fantastic little reserve again in the summer months.

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