Sunday, 4 October 2009

Pale Gold

Many of us seek the rare, whether we never leave the patch or never visit the same place twice a year we want to find uncommon, scarce and rare birds. The knowledge that anything can turn up anywhere is partly that which fuels us and gets us out and continually motivated. Rare birds come in many forms, take this morning, I stopped to scan through a small gull flock in one of the coastal fields near Gloucester Lodge Farm. Fond memories of finding and watching my first swallow nest in the mid seventies in the open fronted barn there but I digress. A little further along from the gulls and closer to the roadside was a mixed flock of Northern Lapwing & Golden Plover so as i was leaving I pulled the car over to see if I could take a couple of snaps. Picking my way through them I suddenly noticed an odd pale bird. Swing the camera over and think 'Oh a Grey Plover' and start snapping. Check the first few shots for light on the viewer and zoom in a little and now I'm coming over all sweaty, the bill on this bird is not much different to the Goldies all about and it doesn't seem to have that big goggly eyed look that Greys have. Now at this stage I know I have three other options, Pacific Golden Plover, American Golden Plover or maybe something even rarer.
I have little experience with Pacific & American, one Pacific maybe 19 years ago and never had a Yank and I'm trying to remember the ID criteria, now which one is greyer, which one is longer winged and exactly how many primary tips project how far in which species?

Oh did I mention I've no phone with me so the cavalry aren't arriving anytime soon. I'm so engrossed in this bird for the next 15-20 minutes that I when I eventually look up and see another car ten yards away from me with a BIG lens poking out the window my first thought is 'Where the F.... did he come from?'
So I gently rolled the car forward and leant out a little to try and attract attention. Got him on the bird but all I got was a bit of a blank look, not what I needed. By this time I'd counted the primary tips showing, although the bird looked like it was moulting some tertials but you could write what I know about Pluvialis moult timings and their significance on the back of a postage stamp.

I just couldn't reconcile the features. Lots of primary showing but on a short winged bird, the tips perhaps just reaching the tail and very white about the head and nape. Then I took the shot below and I'm thinking hang on surely this isn't Grey as there's no white rump so maybe...

Anyway cut a long story short by the time I got home and got the snaps on a bigger screen I was more confused than ever. Was I being fooled by a juvenile Grey. It certainly didn't look like either Grey or any American Golden Plover snaps on Birdguides and I had ruled out Pacific after consulting some text. The only other possibility would be some form of leucism, an aberrant European Golden Plover. After a few calls I finally managed to find someone close enough to a computer to help and banged the snaps on email with some thoughts. Sure enough despite me interrupting his Sunday lunch Stef Mcelwee duly replied and confirmed I wasn't taking leave of my senses and it wasn't a Grey but a 'pale' Euro Golden Plover in his opinion.
First time I've ever seen one of these, cracking bird, really got me going for a while, lovely frosted appearance on upperparts and probably a one off rarer than either Pacific or American just not tick ably rare.


Birding about Northumberland said...

Excellent photo's Alan you and your new camera are getting along really well.

Anonymous said...

Interesting individual that...never seen one quite like thing!


Steve Gale said...

What lens did you use for these pictures Alan?

Alan Tilmouth said...

Hi Steve, Canon 100-400mm IS, although they are cropped and sharpened.