I've been trying to track down Golden Plover flocks on the fens near Langtoft since getting back from Ireland, although it's been a frustrating and unrewarding experience. Birds have been difficult to see on the deck, favouring fields well away from public rights of way, and windy weather has made viewing a challenge.
But that all changed today, with 2,000 Golden Plovers present in fields easily viewable from the road between Deeping St Nicholas and Frognall. For once the birds were settled, feeding and giving decent views, so I started working through the flock systematically – and fairly quickly was startled by a small, custard cream-coloured bird. Initial views were much as below.
I was pretty excited by it. It was small, uniform and had a distinct gait compared to the surrounding Euros. But then it flew, and I failed to see the underwing, although my poor video footage suggested it was dusky. I was pretty sure it was a Pacific Golden Plover, but was left wanting better views before putting the news out more widely. It also didn't look like it had any black on the belly, which was weird, as my automatic assumption was that it'd be the adult found a few days ago by Jonathan Taylor near Thorney.
Hugh Wright joined me shortly afterwards to assist with the search and, after a frustrating hour or so, he picked it up. We both saw the underwing for the first time when it flew, confirming things beyond doubt, before it flew off again.
Then, another hour on, I re-found the PGP in a small flock of GPs and larger numbers of Lapwings in fields towards my patch. As I was watching, the flock flushed for the umpteenth time. The GPs, Lapwings and Starlings cleared off completely, leaving one bird behind in the field. Completely surreally, that single bird (of thousands present seconds before) was the Pacific. I couldn't believe it!
The next five minutes couldn't have played out more perfectly. I left my phone attached to my scope, taking video of the bird, while I sneaked up a ditch with my camera to get closer. As I was taking photos the bird was flushed by an overflying Buzzard, and flew directly towards me, calling repeatedly, and rapidly gaining height. I fired off a bunch of shots while the phonescoping setup simultaneously recorded the call (albeit with a cacophony of rustling trees in the background courtesy of the afternoon's brisk breeze).
That was it, everything clinched for the record submission. It couldn't have gone more perfectly! The bird appears to be a juvenile, with overall pristine plumage, neat underparts showing subtle mottling extending down the breast and flanks, lacking contrast as in an adult, and the upperparts are intricately marked. Jonny T's Thorney bird was an adult that had retained quite a lot of black belly feathering, so clearly different. These represent the first two Peterborough area records of this Asian wader; amazing they should occur within a few days of each other.
Later in the afternoon, the bird gave itself up to Will Bowell, Jake and Trevor Williams and myself back in the original field, among the main plover flock. We enjoyed views of the bird feeding, preening and stretching over a 30-minute period and left it there around 3 pm.
I would say this is probably my most satisfying find in 20 years of birding. Plenty of unproductive hours have gone into tracking plover flocks down both in this and past autumns on the fens here. It can be infuriating, chastening and completely unproductive for long periods, so for things to suddenly click today was very pleasing!
The musings of a wildlife enthusiast, usually armed with his camera.