Whilst many hardcore British twitchers were heading north to Pembrokeshire in search of the probable Western Orphean Warbler, I headed west along the south coast of Hampshire to Lepe Country Park in search of yet another American Wader. This bird, a lesser yellowlegs, had been found on a brackish pool last Sunday, 10th November, but Friday 15th was the first chance I had to go.
I arrived at the site around 09:30 and headed off towards the scrape located to the east of the car park. I had been confused by the directions, since despite having lived in Hampshire all my life, I hadn't know of this scrapes existence, or if I had I'd forgotten about it, which is a distinct possibility. I was part way to the scrape when I met a couple of birders that I knew, they were off to look at another patch of water to the west of the car park and know as 'Dark Water' since the bird was not on the scrape.
I tagged along, since I figured three pairs of eyes searching would be better than one. Apparently the Dark Water river and marsh drains Beaulieu Heath, and reaches the sea via a tunnel and sluice gate. The river is flanked on either side by a large expanse of reed bed and wetland habitat, a large body of water and other scattered pools. Viewing is difficult as there are loads of areas where birds can loiter out of sight, but there are three main areas to try. The first is from the road, where birds are distant but identifiable, from the west from a footpath which crosses an adjacent field, and from the east, from a boardwalk that passes through a small area of woodland.
We started from the road and recorded common redshanks, black-tailed godwit, common snipe, wigeon, common teal, lapwings, black-headed and Mediterranean gulls...but no lesser legs! After a good hour and half of scanning from the road and the footpath to the west, I decided to head back east to check out the other pool. The tide was high and as I wandered back a noticed a small, mixed flock of waders on the beach. They were trying to roost right in front of the car park, but were being continually disturbed by dog walkers.
|Roosting Dunlin Calidris alpina and lone Turnstone Arenaria interpres|
There were about 100 birds in the flock, pretty much equally split between dunlin, turnstone and ringed plover. While the others headed back to the eastern scrape I spent a few minutes scanning through the flock.
|Roosting Turnstone and lone Dunlin|
Despite my best efforts there was nothing unusual in the flock, but it was nice to see a few juvenile birds in the flock. When I eventually got to the scrape there was still no sign of the lesser legs, but six Med gulls, a grey plover, a couple each of black-tailed godwit and redshank kept me entertained for a while. After about another half an hour I decided to wander again. There is a small patch of woodland that runs along the western bank of Dark Water. It consists of mainly broad-leaved species including oak, a small area of beech, willow, yew and holm oak. The wood was fairly quiet, with a few goldcrests, coal tit, treecreeper and blue and great tit, but just as I was coming to the end of the trail, a couple of firecrests jumped out.
|Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavips|
Just as I got to the end of the woodland trail, new broke that the lesser legs had just flown back onto the scrape. I quickly headed back over and there it was, the closest bird to the shore. It was feeding along the south-western edge of the scrape, and with the sun behind me the bright yellow legs really stood out.
In comparison with the nearby common redshank, the yellow legs had greyer upperparts, a shorter and finer bill, which was mainly dark, but slightly paler at the base. The bird also gave the impression of being daintier, more elongated and elegant than the redshanks.
The upperparts seem fairly plain, with faint spotting along the feather edges and therefore this bird looks like an adult to me, as juveniles are usually more distinctly marked. There have been several previous records of lesser yellowlegs in Hampshire, but the last one I saw was at Farlington Marshes in 1986. I have of course seen the species regularly on my many visits to America and Canada, but it's always nice to catch up with one on home turf.