19th July 2017. Spent the day with my good friend Anthony Oates in and around the Marais Breton area which is on the border between the Loire-Atlantique and Vendée départements. This wild open landscape if full of old salt pans, little pools, ditches, areas of scrub and numerous little roads giving good access to the general area. In fact one can often see some birds such as waders particularly well here and in summer it’s not too difficult to find breeding Redshanks (Tringa totanus), Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus), Avocets (Recurvirostra avosetta) and the area is also very good for Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus). Recent years have also seen the spread of Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) which have now firmly established themselves here. On the day we saw a minimum of 21 birds, mostly in one large group. We also recorded 3 Montys, several Purple Herons (Ardea purpurea) and there was a decent selection of returning waders on show with Black-tailed Godwits (Limosa limosa), Curlew (Numenius arquata), Dunlin (Calidris alpina), Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)and Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) all available.
We had spent several hours inland before visiting the coast for a look at the waders on the mudflats at Port Collet and then decided to return inland again. Scouring the various pools here and there we’d clocked up several Common Sandpipers (Actitis hypoleucos) and Green Sandpipers (Tringa ochropus) and were standing by the car near “Les Furets” south of St. Cyr-en-Retz when a rather different call made us look up. Flying overhead was a small to medium sized wader with a rather twittering call. “Wood Sandpiper ?” I ventured as it passed us but as it flew away it was clearly darker than one would expect for this species and the underwings were dark too. Eh, and a dark rump ? WTF ??? Alarm bells started ringing and I checked with Anthony; no, I wasn’t imagining things. He too had noted the dark rump as the bird had dropped down towards a pool about 250m away. As the bird was not visible on the pool from the road we asked at the nearest house for permission to cross the land we were lucky that the bird got up of it’s own accord from about 70m away as our passage was impeded by a deep water-filled ditch. It again passed just overhead, very close in fact, and again it was calling constantly. I was able to confirm all the features we’d seen earlier: dark underwing, dark rump, slighter build than Green Sandpiper, different call, feet projecting just beyond tail, no wing bars, greyish breast band with inverted white V in the centre. Wow, Solitary Sandpiper ! It flew off behind some farm buildings and landed out of view and in another area that was inaccessible so we’d didn’t pursue it further but what a stroke of luck we’d just had. This constitutes just the 6th or 7th record for France and the first one for the Loire-Atlantique département.
A bit of research over the following days shows that the date is not particularly unusual as Solitary Sandpipers (Tringa solitaire) apparently start their post-breeding migration rather earlier than many other species and ther was another record from the Azores a few days later. Unfortunately the bird was not seen again despite several observers scouring the area in the following days.
My notebook sketches from the day.
This photo taken from the internet gives some idea of the type of views we had. Photo from Antshrike.blogspot
Edit: This record has since been accepted by the French national rarities committee (CHN)