Lesser Sand Plover – Pennington Marshes, Hampshire

Having delayed travelling for the Audouin’s Gull and subsequently getting to Dungeness a day too late and then a month later not going for the Black Lark on Anglesey I was due a successful twitch. Spring & Summer had passed without any other excitement birdwise but on Tuesday 22nd July at 9:45am my mobile phone received a text message, a Mega Alert reporting that a sand plover species had been found at Pennington Marshes. Over the months since leaving Poole I have rarely taken my pager to work and so I was then reliant on the internet and messages from Dad in order to keep up to date with what was happening.

I had seen the first ever record of Lesser Sand Plover in Britain at Pagham Harbour in August 1997. I had travelled to that bird with it being described as a sand plover species. At that time either Greater or Lesser would have been a tick although with no previous records of Lesser in Britain it seemed very likely that the bird was a Greater Sand Plover. Photographs examined after the bird had departed subsequently identified that bird as Britain’s first Lesser Sand Plover and a subsequent ‘sand plover’ species seen in Lincolnshire in May 2002 also became a Lesser Sand Plover. The Pagham bird was assigned to one of the eastern races Charadrius mongolus atrifons.

By 9:54am this new bird in Hampshire was thought probably to be a Greater Sand Plover and I began to make mental arrangements for how I could get there that evening. I was seeing Sarah later on in Bournemouth and so I decided that I would leave work at 3:30pm and head down to Lymington. Throughout the rest of the day I checked the RBA website, they were reporting the bird as a probable Greater Sand Plover. The National Bird Line were reporting the bird as a Greater Sand Plover with no mention of probable or possible.

I left work at 3:30 and by 4pm I was on the outskirts of Lymington. Although I didn’t know it at the time the pager was now downgrading the bird to merely a sand plover species again. I arrived on site and began the 500 yard walk from the small car park at the end of Pennington Lane. Half way along the path I noticed Nick coming towards me. Clare was waiting in his car in the car park. He rang Clare while I went on ahead to the bird and I joined a group of about 20 birders sat on the sea wall with telescopes trained on an area of salt marsh about 75 yards away. Fairly soon Nick and Clare joined me and we had reasonable views of the plover roosting in the short grass. I decided that I would try and get back to Pennington again on another evening with my drawing stuff. 

We stayed and chatted for a while and after about 30 minutes or so we headed back to the cars. On the way back we passed a birder who said that there were mumblings that this bird may be the nominate mongolus race of Lesser Sand Plover. I was a little disappointed although I knew this was not the race I had seen at Pagham and could therefore be a future split. Sand plover records in Britain have nearly always been initially controversial and so I felt that leaving the identification to other more experienced people was the best idea. I decided that I would head back to Pennington on Thursday after work. 

During Wednesday the bird was confirmed as a definite Lesser Sand Plover of the nominate mongolus race (Charadrius mongolus mongolus) and a potential first for Britain if the races were ever split. The bird was seen throughout Wednesday and Thursday morning and so when I left work on Thursday at 5pm, I was looking forward to some sketching. 

Unfortunately by the time I reached Lymington the weather had become cool and windy and the bird had not been since 5:30pm. I waited until about 7:15pm and then gave up to find some Fish and Chips, the sand plover was not seen again until after 9pm. I was seeing Mum & Dad at Calshot with Sarah on Friday evening and so I decided that I would take Sarah to see it on Saturday assuming that it was still present. 

The bird was still present throughout Friday and so with my drawing stuff packed we headed back to Lymington on Saturday morning. We arrived at about 10:30am with the bird on show but fairly distant. The weather had deteriorated again and it began to drizzle persistently. I stood and chatted with Paul Gale and began some sketching. Conditions were not easy because the paper became so wet, Sarah headed off for a walk towards Lymington and by the time she returned I was ready to leave with a sketch completed. 

It was 12:30pm and we headed off back to the car and then drove into Lymington. Saturday is market day and after buying fish and chips (again!) at Goodies we took them down to the quay and ate while watching the world go by. After lunch we wandered around the market stalls which lined the main high street. A successful day and Sarah’s first twitch.

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