An American in Wells

On our way home from Suffolk last night I checked my Rare Bird Alert app in the car (Brenda was driving!) and discovered to my surprise that whilst we had been out of Norfolk a rare Wilson’s Phalarope – a vagrant from north America – had been seen at the pools just east of Wells. It was only reported at 6.15pm and I knew that it would be dark by the time we got back home, and so – since I guessed it would bring a lot of birders out – I decided to get up at dawn to beat the rush: I think I’m allowed a bit of a twitch when it’s only half a mile from my house!

So up I got at about 6am, and I was down at the pools at 6.20am….along with about ten or so others. There were lots of greylag and Egyptian geese that had roosted there overnight, along with plenty of teal, lapwings, black-tailed godwits and 29 spoonbills! There was also a greenshank and a pectoral sandpiper…..but no sign of the phalarope. I waited until about 8.25am and then headed home as I had an online meeting at 9.30am. My meeting finished at about 10.30am and so I had a quick check on the bird app to discover that the phalarope had re-appeared at 9am….obviously it was toying with me!

I knew that at this time of day there would now be a lot of birdwatchers there, so as Brenda had to go out to a meeting at about 10.45am I got her to drop me near the pools so that I didn’t have to try to find a space to park: A good decision as there was no space in the very small car park at the pools, and cars were in all the available spaces on the verge of the coast road. I guess there were maybe about 40 people around, and in these situations I would normally head in the opposite direction but – as I said – it was a rarity on my doorstep.

So as I arrived once again at the pools I discovered that Mr Phalarope had been showing well, though somewhat distantly, but had just gone behind a small spit of land on the far side of the pools as could no longer be seen. “This is not going to be my day!”, I thought. So a gradually diminishing number of people stayed, binoculars and telescopes at the ready, while those who had already seen the bird called it a day and went off in search of other rarities!

And I was lucky: After about 40 minutes the bird decided to come out from behind the vegetation, and a lovely bird it was too: Phalaropes are very dainty waders with needle-thin bills, and this species have a distinctive habit, when on land, of pecking for food with a sort of pivoting action. I overheard someone saying that this was only the 2nd record of this species in Norfolk. I have only ever seen one once before; at Welney – which is in Norfolk – on October 4th 2010…so it’s possible that I’ve seen the only two birds of this species to ever have been found in the county!

Finally at about 5pm I took Brenda down to the pools so that she could potentially see the phalarope as well, and this time it was very obliging and we saw it straight away – though still at a fair distance. If it stays for a few more days I will try to get a decent photo…..

As the bird today was much too far away to photograph here’s a photo of one of it’s less rare cousins, a grey phalarope, instead (in non-breeding plumage, as was the Wilson’s).

grey phalarope (photo taken at Graffham Water in September 2011)

Brenda writes: “It’s interesting how the moth trap population continues to change. As large yellow underwing numbers wane (6 today), they are being overtaken by others: Today’s winners were setaceous Hebrew character (7). We had a beautiful barred sallow today but the big excitement was a new rustic for me, Clancy’s rustic. It’s an immigrant first recorded in Britain in 2002 but which has now colonised. James says he sees it regularly on the Isle of Wight where it was first recorded in 2005.”

Clancy’s rustic
barred sallow

New species for September 29th:
Birds: Wilson’s Phalarope
Moth: Clancy’s rustic, barred sallow

Birds = 221
Moths = 241
Wildflowers = 286