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, 12 May 2015

Greater Yellowlegs - Titchfield Haven in Hampshire

When news broke of a Greater Yellowlegs at Titchfield Haven down in Hampshire at the beginning of the year, I was all the way up in Scotland having just been watching the Harlequin duck on the river Don, with no feasible way of getting down there! With no sign the following day, it was assumed this would be a one day wonder – no one could have predicted that exactly 3 months later to the date it would reappear in the same place, incredibly while I was up in Scotland again having just been watching Ptarmigans, Crested Tits and Capercaillies! Again, with no feasible way of getting down to Hampshire and the bird disappearing the following day, it wasn’t until a week or so later that it reappeared, when work and various other factors prevented us from connecting.

Luckily, I was awake bright and early when news broke for the fourth time this year that the bird had returned to Titchfield, remarkably on the same flooded field where it was first found, and after an hour or so we were well on our way down south hoping to connect with this beautiful American wader.

Arriving at the small car park next to the public footpath on Bridge Street, we made the short walk through the gorgeous fields and along the canal, serenaded by the calling calls of Cuckoos and Cetti’s Warblers whilst trout splashed in the clear water next to us. Eventually reaching Posbrook Floods, (the flooded field in question that the Greater Yellowlegs was favouring), we joined the small crowd of birders and immediately got our scopes on this rare American vagrant. Originally dozing quite distantly with a flock of Black-tailed Godwits, after a while it thankfully awoke, probing around in the vegetation and wading through the water in search of small morsels to feed on.
Greater Yellowlegs, Hampshire
Flying considerably closer to join the nearer Godwit flock, we could really see the beautiful speckled plumage in much better detail, and as it waded through the water the bright golden legs were exceptionally obvious.
Greater Yellowlegs, Hampshire
Greater Yellowlegs, Titchfield Haven
Superficially very similar to the more frequently recorded Lesser Yellowlegs, there are various subtle differences to aid identification between the two. When in mixed flocks the obvious size difference is an easy way to tell the two apart, but solitary birds can be considerably more difficult to determine, with bill size and structure the main feature to look out for. The bill on the Greater Yellowlegs is considerably longer, being roughly 1 and ½ times the length of the head, whilst the bill of the Lesser is just barely longer than the head. The Greater Yellowlegs’ bill is also quite blunt-tipped and slightly upturned compared to the straighter, sharp pointed bill of its smaller cousin. The underparts are also a good feature to make a note of, with Greater Yellowlegs having more extensive dark barring as opposed to the plainer underparts of the Lesser.
Greater Yellowlegs, Hampshire
The barring on the underparts is obvious
Watching contently for a while, the Yellowlegs then remarkably flew right in front of the assembled crowd to the edge of the pool, giving excellent views to the 20 or so people there (the majority of birders in the country had evidently already connected on one of its previous 3 visits!) We could really admire the subtly beautiful patterns on the feathers and the egg-yolk coloured legs up close, and the bird happily made its diagnostic call on several occasions for us to hear – 3-4 high pitched piercing notes. This is also a very reliable way to tell the two species apart, with Lesser Yellowlegs making a short, rapid, 2 note whistling call that is much softer.
Posbrook Flood, Titchfield Haven
Posbrook Flood, Titchfield Haven
With just under 50 records of Greater Yellowlegs in the UK - the last one being the well twitched individual that overwintered back in 2011/12 in Northumberland, the Loch of Strathbeg and various points in the Highlands of Scotland - it was great to finally catch up with the rarer of the two Yellowlegs, having only seen my first Lesser in Buckinghamshire only a year earlier last spring.

Going missing for such long periods, it’s clear that this American vagrant is spending its time elsewhere in the vicinity that just isn’t being birded, either on the river Meon, on a private pool somewhere or simply out of sight on one of the lagoons at Titchfield. Either way, it’s been something of a mystery - I’m just glad it gave us a second (or fourth!) chance to connect!
Greater Yellowlegs, Hampshire
The Yellowlegs with Godwits - the large size of the bird is apparent
With a Bonaparte’s gull showing well nearby in Southampton, we spent the rest of the day trying to locate it, first at Chessel Bay then on to Riverside Park near the Cobden Bridge. Unfortunately, there were only Black-headed Gulls present for the afternoon, and it wasn’t until half an hour later when we were enjoying a delicious meal of Crispy Mongolian Lamb and Chilli fried Chicken at one of my favourite restaurants in Southampton, the news came out that it was showing well on the jetty! Bad timing or what! Hopefully another North West bird will make an appearance soon that I can catch up with!!

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