Metaphorically. Not literally. I wouldn’t be here right now if that was reality. Many apologies for
that impetuous piece of genius the blood-curdlingly cheesy post title. Yes. I know. Even The Sun ain’t matchin’ that The phrase has been done to death by birders the world over. Nonetheless, it’s relevant to today’s post.
I realise its important to enlighten those confounded non-birders who are currently reading and wondering what the hell I’m on about. In birding jargon, a ‘Pec’ refers to Pectoral Sandpiper, an American species of wader that is a scarce but annual autumn (and occasionally spring) visitor in good numbers to British shores. Therein lies the significance of today’s
My first day of local birding officially as an adult on 1st September saw me partake in a half-hearted search for this Nearctic species up at Scotland’s Pec Sand central – Strathbeg. We arrived on site at a respectable hour in the morning, to find the pools and the entire place pretty much empty.
Strathbeg? Empty? You must be taking the piss. There was literally just 3 Greenshank and a small posse of dingy Teal on the pools in front of Starnafin, and a wander round to Tower Pool Hide revealed no water on the pools there and thus held no waders nor anything else apart from the commonest of the common resident species. That said, several hundred Curlews were in the Mosstown Fields beyond the pools, whilst a green wing tagged male Marsh Harrier was definitely the most interesting bird seen.We wandered round to the lagoon with hopes at an all time low. It was equally devoid of birds. All activity seemed to be happening offshore from the reserve though, with 20 Knots seen heading north and plenty of Gannets feeding quite close in.
Seawatching seemed like the wisest option after that demoralizing experience, so we headed to Battery Park in Peterhead for a look offshore. Finally, things started to improve a bit. A curious sight as we parked up was a group of 200 Golden Plovers on the rocks in front of us, adding some atmosphere to our seawatch. Amongst them were 2 Knot. Things were reasonably lively offshore over half an hour, with a single Sooty Shearwater heading north far out, accompanied later by 4 Manx Shearwaters, 2 Bonxies and a single pale phase Arctic Skua all heading this way as well, Most curious though was 2 Great Northern Divers which were picked up heading south at close range before landing on the sea, both birds having completed their moult into winter plumage. Just as things were getting better it started to chuck down with rain, and did not stop for hours. With this weather and the tide being high everywhere, we headed home.
I was feeling more Pec-ish for some good birding after 1st September’s disheartening experience. Last weekend (Saturday 8th) we covered the Ythan and its environs. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the day before that two Pecs were on a pool at a very obscure location near the estuary, but with no knowledge of where this pool was and the likelihood of the birds having disappeared I was not too fussed in trying to search for it. However, as we were getting set up at the Snub one of the local birders pulled up and offered to show us where this mystery pool was. We obliged, and were whisked along the main Slains’ back road, where we eventually parked up by a small reservoir by a stubble field. Climbing over a fence, we entered the stubble field and walked past the reservoir, flushing 2 Snipe in the process. We continued to walk down the stubble field until eventually a tiny pool appeared in view to our left.
I struggled to imagine how someone was aware of this tiny pool’s existence and how it could attract two Pecs out of the blue, so I set up the scope somewhat incredulously, expecting nothing. Much to my surprise I immediately alighted on the 2 juvenile Pectoral Sandpipers at the left hand end of the pool, crouching low and feeding amongst the grass encompassing it. I got the others onto the birds, and what followed was one of the most enjoyable birding experiences I’ve had this year. Keeping low and creeping slowly, I was able to approach the pool and the Pecs down to a 15ft range (the closest I’ve ever been to this species). The light conditions were idyllic, so I took the opportunity to get some photos for the ensuing half hour. Being so close, I expected the birds to move away from me, but instead they came closer! They were fearless, seemingly unfazed by my presence. Towards the end, one of the birds ventured over to the end of the pool closest to me, coming within about 10ft and posing perfectly for the camera.
This was magical, one of those intense moments when nature is at extremely close quarters and what you are seeing is as alive and tangible as it can possibly feel. The fact that what I was within several feet of was a Nearctic vagrant made the whole experience more intense. Seeing these Pec Sands at such close quarters allowed me to appreciate their finer features such as the yellowish colouration at the base of the bill, the dark lores and white supercilium. What particularly struck me however was the contrast of the rufous fringes to the otherwise blackish scapulars and tertials, combined with the white Little Stint-esque scapular ‘V’s’, which gave the birds a defined, almost ‘tiger striped’ look to the upperparts as a whole. The pics of the bird which came the closest really emphasise this upperpart appearance; without being so close I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate such intricate features. The second bird was not quite so sharply defined in this respect. A truly fantastic experience, and one which will hopefully stick with me for a while.
After this very welcome distraction we continued working the Ythan, heading round to Waulkmill Hide. The highlight here was at least 2 juvenile Curlew Sandpipers, picked out amongst a group of 100+ Dunlin, my first in the region this year. The Dunlin total was a vast improvement on the numbers there through August, so was particularly refreshing to see. Numbers of all other waders were also high, sitting at 400+ Redshank, 300 Lapwing, 150+ Golden Plover, 70+ Knot, 50 Ringed Plover, 20+ Sanderling, 17 Black-tailed Godwits, 6 Greenshank and 5 Barwits. This eclectic mix of waders were a nice wrap-round selection to the Pecs nearby and provided us with lasting entertainment. Much of them were flighty, partly due to raptor disturbances with Peregrine and Sparrowhawk both flying through. Also of interest was the reappearance of the Pink-footed Geese, with 100+ spread throughout the wider area. Winter, here we come…
So in the end I did to satiate my desire for a Pec and good birding, and thus was no longer peckish. At the moment however, my stomach would probably appreciate some dinner, so on that note…
Thanks for reading,
Great to see some great pics of the pectoral sand. Very proffesional. Hope your having a great time birding the same as me. Nice to talk to you. Ben Moyes.
Hi Joseph great photos of the ” Pec ” plus the title of this post made me laugh , nearly as chessy as some of mine…lol
Nice to hear from you both. Thanks for your kind words on the Pec photos, definitely the best ever views I’ve had of that species and the conditions were great for photos.
Hi Ben, hope your enjoying your birding too. Always great to read out about you having good day’s out in the field; great stuff for such a young lad 🙂 .
Thanks Rob. Haha yeah, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of cheese every now and then; gives a serious blog post a quirky side. Glad it came off in this case; not a tactic I can see myself using very often from now on!