Friday 24 January 2014

Devon Flashback 3 - Greater Sand Plover

April 29th 1988 - an early morning visit to the Warren, thanks to Dad, for Britain's 7th and Devon's first greater sand plover. The bird had been discovered two days earlier on April 27th by Andy Bond, Dave Stone and Ernie Davis. I can't remember how I heard about it but I remember it being an exciting time in Devon with a little bittern at Starcross three days later, hot on the heels of another at Slapton on April 16th (I dipped the Starcross bird and didn't even try for the brief Slapton individual). I'd also seen the East Allington black stork on April 14th.
Shortly after our arrival in the hide the bird flew in with a whirlwind of small waders. I remember being distinctly underwhelmed by its pallid, fairly featureless appearance but I'm pleased how my field sketches captured some nice subtle features such as a pencil-thin necklace across the breast and some fine chin speckling. It was aged as a first summer but I seem to recall I was expecting a nice summer-plumaged adult, hence a slight tinge of disappointment. I don't have much other detail in my logbook, probably because I had to dash back in time for school, but I can see the bird now, crouching nervously from time to time and exhibiting an impressively hefty bill.
I've only seen greater sand plover once since - a group of seven on Paphos headland, Cyprus in 1998. I really feel I should make the effort to go and see the next one that arrives in the South West. If it's going to turn up anywhere the Warren has to be the best bet.
A couple days earlier I had found my first ever BBRC rarity - a little egret on the river Teign. It was twitched by a few people back then but a couple of years later of course it was turning up in numbers along the south coast. It wasn't long before the BBRC stopped assessing the species altogether and the rest is history!


  1. Ah, rare birds were Little Egrets Matt! I remember twitching one down on the Kingsbridge Estuary from Wiltshire quite a few years before the one you found, and if I remember correctly there were only 3 or 4 UK records that year!

  2. Loving these flashbacks Matt, got the Sand Plover the evening after it was found. Went back a few days later as well hoping for a Broad-billed Sandpiper which had been seen there. No luck there but did jam into the Little Bittern at Starcross. ( having put in a bit of time the previous day at Slapton with no luck ). As you say, some good birds around that time, think there was a little influx of Alpine wifts a s well ?

  3. Hi Perry - Of course. I knew I was forgetting something! I can remember being so envious of the birders who scored broad-billed sand and the plover on the same day - incredible! I seem to remember I missed the little bittern because I was stood in the wrong place but I found that out after the bird had gone of course.

    Hi Terry - Seems an awful long way to go for a little egret now but they were really exotic back then weren't they. I remember going for that Powderham bird that was mooted as western reef heron for a while - I think that was my first in Devon but I'm not sure.

  4. Another good-ish memory of my Devon birding days. I heard about the GSP and walked down to Plymouth station - only to watch the train disappearing out of sight. An hour later I was back for the next train - which had just started moving. The conductor refused to let me jump into the last carriage. Finally my mum drove me down for the next train another hour later and I duly connected.

    I also saw the 1990 Great Spotted Cuckoo (plus another one near Brighton!), but my first Little Egret - also a major excitement at the time - was seen across the Tamar from Moditonham Quay.

    Really enjoying these memories of my early birding years - they seem a long way in time an space from the 22nd floor of a high rise in Hong Kong.