Saturday 21 November 2009

Spotted sandpiper at Abberton Reservoir, Essex

As the penduline tits had gone from Dungeness, David Campbell and I decided to go to Abberton Reservoir for the spotted sandpiper, an American wader that bore more than a passing resemblance to a common sandpiper.

This trip turned out to be a harsh lesson in how it pays to do your homework before setting out. Abberton reservoir is large. It is man-made and eleven miles in circumference. The spotted sandpiper was seen in 'Peldon Bay'. Large bodies of water like this often have local names for parts of it but they aren't marked on any map. Peldon Bay? Could be anywhere. I looked on a map and concluded (correctly as it turned out) that it was the indentation nearest the village of Peldon.

I had been to Abberton only once before and knew that access was restricted. It looked like the best way in was to walk from Wigborough Bay (I'd learnt that name from my first visit) and walk about 2 miles round. Well, we got there before the centre opened and started off. We enjoyed watching flocks of dunlin, black-tailed godwits, avocets, Bewick's swans, lapwing, golden plover, teal, wigeon which abounded and the odd goldeneye . We didn't think it would take us long but, what with scanning the hoards of waders and other water birds that were thriving on the mud exposed by the low water levels, after two hours of walking we still hadn't happened on the small group of birdwatchers we assumed there must be around this bird!!

At this point, a call to the visitors' centre confirmed our fear that the reservoir was larger than it seemed. We were still further from our destination than we had walked already and it was possible to gain access only about a mile from the bird!! We decided to bite the bullet, walk back to the car the way we had come and drive round to the other entrance.

A short trip to the visitors' centre to get passes (all legal now) and we were off again. The other 'entrance' still involved scaling a gate with all our gear but after 20 mins walk we came across the spotted sandpiper. We watched it for an hour and a half before going back to the car.

Spotted sandpiper. Abberton Reservoir.

David's year list was now on 239 and mine was 238. David unselfishly agreed to go to Westcliff-on-sea on the way back to see the ring-billed gull that he had already seen this year. This American gull has returned to Westcliff every year for the last 12 years. It hangs out at Rossi's ice cream parlour and, sure enough, within five minutes of our arrival, David had picked it out in the twilight as the light was fading. 239!! That had to be celebrated with an enormous ice cream in the aforesaid ice cream parlour. Aah!

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