Saturday, 2 May 2015

Twitching the Hudsonian Godwit in Somerset

Last Saturday (25th April) when I was in Cornwall news broke of a Hudsonian Godwit at Meare Heath in Somerset. It was the third record of the species in Britain and a species that I had not seen before; obviously I was quite keen to connect with it. I had hoped that it would hang around and I would be able to call in on my way home on Monday. No such luck, the bird departed late in the afternoon and was not relocated. Around lunch time on 29th April it was back again at Meare Heath, which was great, but I would not be able to get there until Saturday. I suspected that most local birders would have already gone by then and intended to go on my own, but Dave Ryves was in a similar position to me. We decided to leave early and before there was any news in order to avoid the Bank Holiday traffic and were at the site before 8am. 

News of the bird being there had come through at 06:45 so we were feeling pretty confident, and when we arrived there were around 70 birders present. Unfortunately the bird had flown from the back of the wader pool to the front and was out of view behind a bank; we had a nervy 20 minute wait before it eventually appeared. We did scan through the Black-tailed Godwits on view, just in case the hud-wit had sneaked back out, but alas it had not. Despite our target bird not being on view there was plenty to keep us occupied; a drake Garganey, several Great White Egrets and booming Bitterns and a couple of Ruffs were the highlights. The Great White Egrets were in full breeding attire and looked quite stunning, certainly a much better view than the bird I saw at Marazion Marsh last week.

Great White Egret - a better picture than last week's attempt at Marazion Marsh

After what seemed an age and several false alarms as Black-tailed flew from the out-of-view area, the Hudsonian Godwit appeared and flew to the back of the pool where it fed in full last. Despite having seen so many images of this bird as I was scanning through the flock of Black-tailed's I had questioned myself as to whether I would have been able to ID it, but now it was there it all it's glory I had note doubt. My first impression was of a generally dark bird which lacked the orange colouration and pale underparts of the Black-tailed's, but as I worked my way around the bird there were many differences, some subtle and some much more obvious. In flight it really stood out from the other godwits. A summary of features I noted are as follows;

  • Generally darker upper parts, lacking orange on breast and neck of Black-tails;
  • Greyish tone to neck;
  • Slightly upturned billed;
  • Underparts dark, including vent and underrated coverts strongly barred;
  • Under wing coverts dark and wing bar fainter than Black-tailed;
  • Only feet project beyond the tail in flight (part of tarsus also does in Black-tailed)

Hudsonian Godwit
Hudsonian (left) and Black-tailed Godwit - note the longer primary projection beyond the tail on the Hudsonian
Hudsonian (right) and Black-tailed Godwit - note the difference in the projection of legs beyond the tail
Hudsonian (right) and Black-tailed Godwit
Hudsonian Godwit
Hudsonian (top) and Black-tailed Godwit
Hudsonian Godwit (centre) with Black-tailed Godwits
Hudsonian Godwit (top left) with Black-tailed Godwit - note the fainter wing bar on the Hudsonian as opposed to the very broad and white one of the Black-tailed's

We spent a good couple of hours watching the bird, which was an absolute corker, and decided it was time to head home. We stopped briefly on the way back to look at a Bittern that had been sat on the edge of a reed bed for a while, and were on our way. 


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