Yesterday I decided to see if the Long Billed Dowitcher was still at Cresswell Pond.
I arrived at around 9:30 to news that the Dowitcher was still present, but that I’d just missed a Black Tern and a Little Gull.
Cresswell Pond is very full at present, with no exposed mud other than around the perimeter, so any waders present were confined to the west and north shores. For the two and a half hours that I stayed at Cresswell the Dowitcher was feeding alongside Teals and Widgeons on the north of the pond. It remained within a ten metre strip, alternating between feeding, grooming and disappearing behind a duck.
Having read that field separation of Long and Short Billed Dowitchers is, at best, a job for experts who have a good close view, I hoped that, at least, I would get a good enough view for it to be identifiable as a Dowitcher. Happily, with the help of a view through a better scope than mine, I was satisfied that I would be able to identify a Dowitcher if lucky enough to see one again.
The Dowitcher is physically like a Common Snipe, but the patterning is more like a Godwit. Whereas a Snipe tends to walk and stand with bent legs, the Dowitcher always had straight legs, making it look much longer legged than a Snipe. The size is a giveaway in comparison to a Godwit. The most distinctive characteristic was its feeding action, which is described by the Handbook as being like the needle of a sewing machine. It feeds with a horizontal stance, beak held close to the ground and uses a short rapid stabbing motion. I didn’t see it probing as would most other long billed waders.
The gait of the Dowitcher was slow and short stepped. It did’t move far from the spot whilst feeding. Very different from the other long beaked, long legged birds likely to be seen in Northumberland. Redshanks and Spotshanks stride purposefully and Greenshanks have that long, swaggering gait. Godwits also tend to quite active whilst feeding.
Several people came to the hide and went away happy to have seen this rare visitor.
Although the Dowitcher was a new bird for me, it was a species that I have seen on several occasions over the years that stole the show. Flocks of Starlings and Lapwings suddenly took flight from the fields to the north of Cresswell Pond. The Starlings formed two tight flying balls and I knew we had a raptor in the vicinity. Suddenly a Merlin attached one of the balls. It caught nothing and then flew over the dunes, before settling within view on a fencepost in the dunes. After a short rest it flew across the pond quite close to the hide. Certainly a female bird judging by her size, but I don’t know sufficient about plumage to say whether adult or juvenile.
In between the excitement of the new bird and the Merlin, we had a flypast of 30 Whooper Swans. There were several juvenile birds. A large flock of finches appeared twice near the farm, but were too far away to identify. One of those present in the hide picked out Goldfinches, but judging by size, I suspect that there may have been a Twite or few.
A Water Rail entertained its audience by running in and out of the reeds in front of the hide. As the tide came in, around 50 Redshanks landed on the west side of the pond. I saw no other waders.
I went up to East Chevington at midday. I was surprised to see a Dragonfly hawking along the hedge. A female Marsh Harrier was quartering the rough grassland next to the north lake. At both Cresswell and Chevington there were good numbers of Goldeneyes and Little Grebes. Conversely, I only saw one pair of Gadwalls and a smattering of Tufties.
On my return down the coast, a flock of around 120 Pinkfeet flew south to the second field west of Cresswell Pond. By this time, a large number (probably around 500) Widgeons had settled on the pond. The sea at Snab Point was very quiet, with a few gulls and Eiders.