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Wednesday, 21 September 2011

A very very distant LONG-TOED STINT in SUSSEX

Pete Johnson came upon a small stint at Weir Wood Reservoir last Thursday and immediately phoned Garry Bagnell, who happened to be out-of-county trying to locate a Long-tailed Skua at Dungeness. As Garry was unable to get there, he contacted Jacob Everitt and Nigel Driver who both travelled down to check it out. The problem of course, as with the recent adult summer Little Stint occurrence there, was the range that this particular bird was feeding - beyond the rafts north out from the car park. After much discussion, it was eventually agreed that the bird was a Temminck's Stint and news to this effect was subsequently broadcast. Jacob however, was not convinced, but a lack of experience with the rarer species it could be meant that it he went 'with the flow'. The bird remained throughout the weekend and into this week but never came close.

As I happened to be visiting Sussex for my first-ever Pallid Harrier in that county, I decided to stop off at Weir Wood on my way back home to Buckinghamshire. Initially I failed in my quest to locate the bird - only a flock of 15 Dunlin and 8 Ringed Plovers - but after a prolonged effort, I eventually tracked it down - but at great distance. However, having had experience of reidentifying numerous Temminck's Stints in the UK, especially in autumn, I was not too surprised when I set eyes on this one. This was no Temminck's Stint but something much more interesting........

It was a very tiny stint with a characteristic feeding action - distinctly front-heavy and feeding at a 45 degree angle - much in the same way as a Wilson's Phalarope. It was particularly lethargic and slow-feeding and was closely hugging the mud. It had a nice rufous tint to the crown, a marked gorget of breast-streaking, a prominent eye-stripe (often appearing forked) and no obvious projection beyond the tail. It was too far away to see any critical patterning on the head but was gleaming white below on the lower underparts. Everything pointed towards it being either a LEAST SANDPIPER or LONG-TOED STINT. I immediately contacted Jake, Ian Barnard, Paul Marten, Garry Bagnell and other Sussex birders and within half an hour, eight of them joined me. Frustratingly, the light soon went and the bird wandered into an area of vegetation and became even more difficult to see.

All of the time I was worried about the length of the tibia (noticeably long) and its habit of strangely lifting its head and peering around (giving a long-necked appearance). I was also worried about the lack of primary projection, as well as the apparent dark underwing in flight I also heard it call at one stage as it flushed - a trilling call not that dissimilar to a Pectoral Sandpiper. There was a chance that it was a LONG-TOED STINT. I contacted a very experienced friend for backup and he kindly agreed to visit today.

When the Coopers and other Sussex birders confirmed that the bird was still present this morning, arrangements were made to finally nail the identification. The bird was videoed and the presence of pale greyish-green legs long in the tibia, dark lores, fine breast-side streaking and an isolated cheek/ear covert spot confirmed my suspicions that it was a LONG-TOED STINT after all - the first to be recorded in Sussex. This news was immediately broadcast on Birdline South East and consequently on the pager services. A total of 95 birders connected before nightfall.

IMPORTANT FACTORS TO TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION

This bird can be seen from the main car park and hide at the west end of Weir Wood Reservoir situated about 300 yards along Legsheath Lane from Grinstead Lane at TQ 384 341. There is room for about 20 vehicles here. Parking may also take place on the neighbouring verges but be very careful of hidden ditches. Frustratingly, the bird is only visible at vast range - about 400 yards at the least - so be fully prepared for your worst-ever views of a new British bird if you travel for it. It is also hugging the mud and the short vegetation close to the inlet stream and can be very camouflaged and difficult to find.

THERE IS STRICTLY NO ACCESS TO THE RESERVOIR from this point onwards and anyone doing so will be named and shamed. Information has been released on the proviso that twitching birders are on their best behaviour and local marshals will be on site to watch over proceedings. The reservoir is extremely low at present and hence why the viewing facilities are so poor but if some sort of closer access can be arranged, it will be widely broadcast. Please adhere to these instructions even though you may feel cheated by the views obtained but this is a popular local patch with birders and I wish it to remain that way.

LONG-TOED STINT is a very rare vagrant in Britain and Ireland with very few records - the only really twitchable bird being a very confiding juvenile at Saltholme Pools (Cleveland) from 28 August to 1 September 1982. There is also an additional bird which remained briefly at Ballycotton Marsh (County Cork) on 15-16 June 1996