Saturday, 28 October 2017

Spoon-billed Sandpiper!

I left my woodlot almost in tears Friday morning as all I had seen was an Asian Stubtail Urosphena squameiceps which flatly refused to be photographed. Pretty much every finch you could name had been recorded during the week in the north (with obviously some kind of invasion going on), but where I was it was blowing a gale and I had absolutely no idea of where to go next (as passerines do not turn up in tiny woodlots in such conditions). I settled on Ma Sha Gou, but en route stopped at a fish pond which held a large number of waders and I thought might be worth a quick once over. This particular fish pond held both good and bad memories for me, as I had seen a Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea on it (at about this time) last year, but had seen it (albeit clearly) for such a brief instant and so wanted photographs (it was fumbling for my camera that caused me to lose the bird in the first place) that I decided not to count it. The first bird I looked at on the fish pond had its head stuck deep in the mud and was feeding 'a bit like one', but was structurally always just a Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis. The second bird I looked at, however, was immediately different in being much stockier and was frantically 'bulldozing' the mud with its large, square, and much whiter head than any Red-necked Stint: an obvious Spoon-billed Sandpiper!

 
Mindful of not wanting to make the same mistake twice, I watched it for long enough see a clear 'spoon' and take note of its feeding behaviour. This took all of ten seconds, after which the frenzy began and I dove straight into my bag for my camera (as Spoon-billed Sandpiper was without doubt #1 on my 'most wanted' to photograph list). The bird was around for most of the day (though at one point did disappear for over three hours), but sadly never really came close.


All day Friday on the bird quickly turned into all day Saturday, but the circumstances that day were very different. The bird showed up for a total of just three minutes: two at 09:00 and a further one at 11:00. Otherwise, it was absent from the rapidly drying out fish pond and seemed to leave it to fly 'Heaven knows where' at 11:00. (We never saw it leave as, frustratingly, we had to give way to a vehicle on a single track road, the only vehicle to pass us all day long. This was a large noisy wagon, which chose to pass us right at the point when the bird was at its closest!) Despite a six hour wait the other side of 11:00, the bird never reappeared, and with the fish pond seemingly losing over half its water during the day, it may have left altogether when it flew off at 11:00.


Obviously, I would have liked better shots of this incredibly charismatic little bird. However, getting anything at all of this species now is no mean feat and I am thrilled to have what images I do have. This is only the third Spoon-billed Sandpiper I have seen in almost twenty years in Taiwan, the other two being an individual miles away in a 'scope and the aforementioned 'glimpse' (of probably this individual) last year. As such, getting to spend the best part of a day with one was a real privilege, and more than I could have ever expected when I left my woodlot miserable and grumbling on Friday morning! Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 27-8/10/17.

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