White-rumped Sandpiper  winning the lottery

In the summer of 2008, I met James Lidster, who was then about to move from England to the Netherlands. We went birding on three occasions, visiting some of the wetlands the Netherlands are famous for and twitching a few scarce birds along the way (for example, an obliging Aquatic Warbler Acrocephalus paludicola near Petten on 22 August). On 25 July, we headed north, hoping to see large numbers of waders at two high tide roosts along the Wadden Sea coast and at Lauwersmeer National Park. By the end of the day our score included four Black Storks Ciconia nigra, a Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris, 15 Western Great Egrets Ardea alba, two Little Egrets Egretta garzetta, six Temminck’s Stints Calidris temminckii, two Pectoral Sandpipers C melanotos and a Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia. A Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor putting on a show was fabulous too, but I am not sure if James took his eyes of the other birds present to have a look at it.

The absolute highlight, however, was watching thousands of waders just before high tide at about 15:00 near Westhoek. As I was scaning a large group of Curlew Sandpipers C ferruginea and Dunlins C alpina, an interesting looking sandpiper landed in my scope view. It did not show brick-red underparts or a black belly, unlike the surrounding sandpipers. As I tried to explain where the bird was, it took off, allowing me to see the white uppertail-coverts and part of the rump. Fortunately, the bird soon landed again and James got on it too. It now tucked its head into its back, suggesting we had all the time in the world to document our discovery. But after having taken just six digiscoped photographs, the birds suddenly panicked and we lost sight of the White-rumped C fuscicollis. There were simply too many roosting sandpipers to look through.

Our observation was accepted by the CDNA as the 34th record of White-rumped Sandpiper for the Netherlands (Ovaa et al 2009). After a revision of earlier records, the first now dates from October 1977 (Geskus & Holstein 1981). The species is a long-distance migrant, breeding on the arctic tundra in North America and wintering as far south as Tierra del Fuego, Argentina/Chile. Nowadays, it is a regular vagrant to north-western Europe. Picking one out of a large group of waders still feels like winning the lottery though!  

White-rumped Sandpiper intobirding.com

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Published 29 June 2018