Monday, 24 September 2012

An (almost) expensive finds tick

I had been to Knockadoon Head on Saturday but after just 2 Blackcaps and 6 Chiffers it was clear that the fall of Yellow-browed Warblers long the east coast of the UK would take a while trickle through.. A whole afternoon bashing the hedgerows left me thinking some 'wadering' would be a better option.
And so on Sunday lunchtime I headed for Ballynamona beach hoping for a Little Stint or Curlew Sand at a minimum. However on arrival my hopes were dashed. A group of kite-surfers had taken over the beach and I knew from past experience that these really do spook the birds. I spent 30 minutes at Ballynamona and while there reasonable numbers of Dunlin, Ringed Plovers and Sanderling present, the poor birds were being constantly disturbed by dogs, people and kites. As with my previous post, I really do feel for these poor birds at times. The constant disturbance must be exhausting.
I hoped Pilmore might at least be a bit quieter and I was right. Hardly a soul there. It was about 2 hours after high tide and the water was starting to recede. A big flock of mixed 'smalls' had gathered along the beach just up from the carpark. I climbed down onto the beach and began to sort through them. Nothing unusual however, but fantastic to see the birds up close like that, keeping still they just walk right up to you. It's good practise if nothing else just to note the various different stages of moult in Dunlin and Sanderling and to admire the moulting summer plumage of some of the Turnstone. Present also were smaller numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot and Grey Plover (or Black-bellied Plover to my US readers). A flock of about 30 Brent Geese swelled to about 50 within the hour. Good to see them back but a sign that winter is on the way.
Having satisifed myself that I had checked all the 'smalls' as closely as possible I started moving further east towards Redbarn strand. Moving along the worn path I noticed a flock of about 50 Golden Plover. On the off chance that one of their American cousins might be mixed in I started to scan through the Goldies with my scope. No sign of any striking superciliums there, but the flock was moving around a good deal as a couple of Hooded Crows harassed it. So I kept checking in case I had missed something. Once or twice I'd see a bird with what looked like a bright supercilium but each time it was just a well marked Goldie, perhaps a trick of the light. But suddenly I passed one bird that really stood out, it had a noticeably pale and distinct supercilium and was clearly smaller and colder looking. I moved about 10 meters to get better light and lost the bird. Damn, I thought, possibly I had just gotten onto another well marked Goldie. I kept scanning and then picked it out again, yes, now I was sure, American Golden Plover, only my second Irish bird and a finds tick.....happy days! And funnily enough I remembered that I had never seen an American Golden Plover alongside European Golden Plover. And when you do see them side by side the difference is quite sharp. I had seen a single bird (my first Irish) on Muckross estuary near Clonakilty in 2009 and large flocks wintering on the Argentine pampas in 2007 but as I say, never alongside their european counterparts. I think the photo below illustrates the contrast reasonably well.

American Golden Plover, Pilmore, Cork - 23rd September 2012
Getting a shot though would be tricky. Sitting out on the mud as they were would mean you couldn't just stroll up to them. There was no cover worth talking about and any approach would surely flush the flock.
Time to bring out the frying pan. But first I had to sneak up to within about 50 feet, I managed this carrying all my gear (including tripod) and a frying pan by assuming a crouched walk. Once I was about 50 feet away I took a few tripod mounted shots before taking the camera and lens off and dropping them into the frying pan. This was the tricky part though. It wasn't a smooth mudflat but strewn with stones, weed and shallow pools. The closest I could get was about 20 feet, I had some reasonable shots but had made a stupid and potentially very costly mistake. I had kept the gear dry but each time I handled the camera I was covering it in wet sand. In my eagerness to get close and get a good shot I didn't notice the wet sand getting in around the shutter and other buttons on the camera body. The autofocus suddenly failed and the review on the LCD screen disappeared. Oh, bugger!!! Enough was enough, I was wet, my gear was in serious trouble and I had probably gotten close enough. With the flock still on the deck and clearly not bothered by my proximity I crept slowly backwards. And god how stiff was I! Back at the car I cleaned and examined my gear. The camera body seemed truly knackered.
At home having dried myself off, I started to check if my insurance policy would cover a new camera. I tried switching over lenses and guess what.........the camera came back to life again.........thank goodness. And its been fine since. So I learnt a valuable lesson and will bring a small hand towel next time tied to my belt to wipe the sand off my hands and keep it away from the camera.
Here's the best shot I got, could have been a very expensive one. A delightful little bird indeed and am very pleased with myself to have dug it out.

American Golden Plover, Pilmore, Cork - 23rd September 2012

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