Monday, 2 June 2014

Devon Flashback 6 - Terek Sandpiper

I haven't done a 'flashback' since January, but today is the 18 year anniversary of Devon's second and last terek sandpiper. 
I had a phone call from Dave Norman around lunch time, did the usual panic and rushed straight up to Bowling Green Marsh (leaving my roast on a plate back home in Newton Abbot) only to be told that it had disappeared off downriver - BOLLOCKS!! Mark Bailey and a few 'quick off the mark' others had scored but Bob and Pete Dennis had missed it. 
The finder, my good friend Brian Heasman, had found the bird around 10.30am but, back before the time when we all carried mobiles, he'd had to leg it up to John Gale's house (in Topsham) to phone the news out. I remember Stoney cursing the fact that he'd checked the marsh unsuccessfully not long before Brian had found it. That made us all chuckle - sorry Dave! I spent the rest of the afternoon checking the estuary from Cockwood, Starcross, Powderham, Exminster Marshes and Countess Wear but with no success. Everywhere I went, anxious birders were staring forlornly at the mud and pinning their hopes on it returning on the evening high tide.
At about 5pm I joined a load of birders on the bank overlooking the Clyst (before the viewing platform was built). The tension was almost unbearable but the birder next to me was on to something. He'd picked up a small 'bobbing' wader way off downriver and everyone agreed it looked promising. It flew a short distance, landed, and then took off in our direction. I kept losing track of it in the scope but as it got nearer it became apparent it was indeed the bird and it conveniently pitched down just upriver to provide confirmatory views. Very soon it was off again and on to Bowling Green - utter relief!
A mad stampede then ensued and I'm proud to say I led the charge back towards the hide, bumping into Pete Dennis coming the other way who also started running (Pete hated running - he had asthma). The bird was then enjoyed in glorious evening sunshine as it fed on the muddy margins of the marsh - a wonderful species and all the sweeter for having missed it earlier. 
The bird was only present that one day but I think most older Devon birders probably caught up with it. The only previous record was of one wintering on the Plym from 17th November 1973 - 5th May 1974. 

Above - my notes and sketches.


  1. Nice one Matt, never saw this bird, live in hope of another. What happened to Pete Pasty, great bloke. Last time I spoke to him he was about to wage war on Grey Mulllet with his rod and line.

  2. Hi Perry - it's really good to hear from you. Pete was sighted at the Brixham white-billed diver apparently but I haven't seen him for years. I'd love to see him back birding but like you say, I think he's fishing nowadays. All the best, Matt (not Maisie!)