I've extolled the virtues of bird watching in the past on how it takes you to beautiful out of the way places.
Today I was at Coalhouse Fort. This is the view of the Thames at low tide with an old radar control tower in the foreground and the gravel extraction site at Cliffe Fort on the far bank.
The reason for the trip down there was in search of a Semipalmated Sandpiper. Check out RCB's grainy digiscoped shot to see the trip was a success.
I arrived around 8:30 and by 9:00 there was a group of four of us scanning the mud that was being revealed as the tide receded. There were quite a few little waders - Ringed Plover, Dunlin and a few Little Stints plus reportedly among them was a Semipalmated Sandpiper.
Differentiating between a quite rare Little Stint and a very rare Semipalmated Sandpiper is definitely tricky. The Sandpiper has a thick bill with deep base and lateral thickening at the tip, shorter primary projection, greyish tertial centres, webs between front toes, slightly larger and more compact than Little Stint and a tail tip that projects slightly beyond the wing tip. Sounds easy don't it!! Now add the fact that you're looking south into the sun and it's a bit windy so the scope's moving about a bit and now it sounds really easy!!!
So the four of us debated on the merits of a few birds for a couple of hours, but nothing ticked all the boxes - then around 11:30 (there were six of us by then) we found one that seemed to fit the bill. I fired off a few digiscope shots as I had been doing previously on the rejected birds and we watched the bird over the next half hour. It then hunkered down in a mud channel out of view and our group dispersed happy in the knowledge that we'd seen the bird.
I had a look round at what else was about, a flock of 200 Avocets being a particular highlight, then returned to the mud channel. You could just make out the bird being in there, so I decided to try and get a better and closer viewpoint by clambering up onto the remains of an old jetty. Trying to work out which mud channel held the bird was challenging and although I got it on a couple of occasions through the binoculars I couldn't then find it in the telescope, eventually I thought enough's enough and packed up. As I was leaving though the couple who'd joined us later found the bird from a different viewpoint and it was now on more open mud. From a watching point of view the bird was closer, but it was an exposed windy viewpoint, so difficult to get steady views. Again I fired off a few digiscope shots and then headed back to the car. While walking out I met another couple of groups of birders and pointed them in the direction of the two looking at the bird.
At home, coffee in hand I was able to go through today's shots and with the help of a couple of shots from the internet of the Coalhouse Fort bird was able to say for certain that our initial rejected birds were all Little Stints and the 11:30 bird we'd finally agreed on as being the Semipalmated was indeed it. Surprisingly the shots I'd taken from the final viewpoint with the two birders, actually turned out rather well despite the windy conditions - shame they were of a Little Stint though!