Red-necked Stint – Somersham Gravel Pits, Cambridgeshire

I left Landguard Common having given up on the Isabelline Wheater and headed to Cambridge for the Red-necked Stint. The drive was made in heavy fog with the pager reporting that weather conditions on site were very difficult. I arrived in Somersham village at 9:20am and began the 1 mile walk along the disused railway line to the flooded field.

Birders coming back said that it was too foggy and that I would be lucky to see anything. I began to panic that I would run out of time, I would need to leave here at 11am and the fog was showing no sign of lifting. I joined the large group of birders, perhaps 400, things looked grim as you could only just make out the edge of the flooded pools and not even the silhouettes of birds.

I met up with Martin Terry, Mark Gibbon and Colin Savage, they had been here since 8am and hadn’t managed to see the bird. They did say, however, that it seemed that the fog was starting to lift.

Sure enough and almost miraculously the fog lifted so that within only five minutes conditions had become absolutely perfect. People up the other end of the line appeared to be looking towards an abandoned trailer in the field and fairly soon I managed to pick out the roosting Red-necked Stint, what a relief! I wasn’t sure what age of bird I was looking for but the obvious red collar indicated that this was an adult bird.

Over the next 15 minutes or so I had prolonged and close views in perfect conditions and noted the red face, throat and chest. The main sign of moult from  full summer plumage was a slight  lack of orange on the ear coverts. Compared to an accompanying Little Stint it seemed shorter legged giving a flatter squatter appearance, this was exaggerated by its rather elongated body.

This was the 6th record for Britain with the last twitchable one in Northumberland in 1995. This bird should have been heading from North East Siberia to its wintering grounds in Australasia!                       

I left Somersham at around 11am and arrived back in Salisbury at 1.56pm, a round trip of 465 miles! Soon afterwards a further Mega Alert reported that a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler had been found at Blakeney, Norfolk. I couldn’t possibly go on a long distance twitch for both days of the weekend.  Peter sent me a text ‘bet you’re nervous now’. I began to panic that Peter would clean up the next day and was regretting that I didn’t wait until Sunday.

The next day Peter set off hoping for a rarity double but gave up at Oxford when negative news came through on both birds. At about 11am, however, the Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler was refound but by then Peter had returned home and couldn’t face the trip. The Red-necked Stint was not seen again.

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