Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Holy Island, 26th May 2019

We spent the morning watching a fierce rain storm raging outside, impossible weather for birdwatching, but at least it gave us time to recover from the long drive north and gave me time to plan out the rest of the week. There was much that I wanted to do while in Northumberland, such as taking the Puffin Cruise boat trip around Coquet Island to see the Roseate terns again and to explore Holy Island which would be new territory for me. There was an added incentive to get onto the Island too since the Broad-billed Sandpiper had been seen again yesterday. The only snag now, other than the inclement weather, was that the Island was cut off by the tide until 15:00. So we settled for a Sunday lunch while we waited for the tide to recede and  for the weather to improve.

It was still raining when we drove onto Holy Island and headed for the Snook car park. The Broad-billed Sandpiper had been favouring the north shore which can be accessed from the Snook, the piece of land that almost connects the island to the mainland, and I was feeling hopeful that, at just after the high tide, that I'd be able to find it. I learned a lot very quickly as soon as I'd cleared the dunes, the shore, even at high tide, was half a mile out from where we stood! Laid out in front of us was a vast vista of sand and mud and, despite the rain that had fallen and a rather chilly temperature, a shimmering heat haze made scanning with the scope almost impossible. This was going to be much harder than I'd imagined. I half-heartedly walked out onto the sands but gave up after just a few hundred yards and retreated to the car again. I hadn't seen a single bird out there, whereas we had noticed a few small wading birds along the causeway as we'd driven over, so we felt that we may as well sift through the feeding birds there.

I parked up right by the place where the main channel races under the road and began looking at the waders around us. Ringed Plovers were everywhere, with some right next to the road which allowed for some nice close up shots. The rain had abated too and we were even blessed with a drop of late afternoon sunshine. One particular Ringed Plover was feeding within just a few yards of our vantage point.

Ringed Plover
I cast my gaze further away and picked up some Dunlin and Sanderling that were feeding on the mudflats. I paid most attention to the Dunlin since I knew that the Broad-billed Sandpiper, if present, would be associating with them but no amount of scrutiny could turn up the rarer bird. After exhausting the search and with the tide falling I satisfied myself with capturing the Dunlin extracting worms from the sand and mud.


A year tick then presented itself in the form of a beautiful Little Tern, probably my favourite of our breeding Tern species (although that opinion may change later in the week). The Little Tern, #217 on the year list, was actively fishing in the main channel and afforded great views as it dived for fish after hovering above them. I didn't manage to capture a dive but did get a poor shot of the bird with a fish.

Little Tern
The Little Tern was joined by another and they began chasing each other up and down the channel. This gave me a chance to grab some nice flight shots as the birds passed.

Despite another search through of the wading birds there was still no sign of the Broad-billed Sandpiper and I determined to research thoroughly in the evening how to access the north shore properly tomorrow and make a more concerted effort in finding the bird, should it be there of course. The truth is that Holy Island and the surrounding area is vast and there are umpteen places where wading birds can go to feed and me being new to the area wouldn't know of most of them so all I could do was to concentrate on the little info that I already knew. I had spoken to a couple of other birders that I'd met during the afternoon but none of them had any inkling of where or when to look.

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