It was almost 5 pm on Monday 2 May and time to prepare dinner, but a rising tide and a couple of Little Stints reported across Ireland tempted me out to my local patch of Tramore Backstrand.
The usual small waders were spread over the sand but something passed quickly through the lens that made me reverse and search. The black mask and sandy reddish crown really stood out, making me think of a sand plover. However, Kentish was on my mind too and I didn't want to be wrong on this one, so sent out some shaky and distant phonescoped images to a couple of local birders.
Initial views of the Greater Sand Plover weren't great for Arlo, hence the brief confusion over the bird's identification (Luke Geraty).
One, thinking I was still holidaying in Spain, went for Kentish. I was satisfied with his opinion so put the word out to the wider community on the national WhatsApp group. Kentish is still a great bird in Ireland and the twitch was on when Paul Archer messaged saying: "I'm on a boat back from Saltee, but that's a sand plover!!!"
The WhatsApp message was quickly amended and 20 minutes later birders were on site and the identification was eventually established as Greater Sand Plover, based on the bird's large size, leg length and hefty bill.
The tide was rising fast and as the mud was submerged the flock flew south to the main beach, disappearing behind a ridge. Birders were beginning to congregate in the car park and it wasn't going to be easy to re-find on a 3-km-long beach. This was Ireland's second or third Greater Sand Plover and potentially the first to be twitchable, so anxiety levels were through the roof.
The Greater Sand Plover went on to perform brilliantly at Tramore Backstrand for a further three days (Richard Mills).
Happily, the bird was relocated and, over the next couple of days, added to more than 70 Irish lists. This is a big twitch in Ireland and probably the biggest for Tramore's fantastic Backstrand, an under-watched site that has historically produced Baillon's Crake (1885) and Black-winged Stilt (1995), and more recently Collared Pratincole, with Short-tailed Shearwater on the main beach (both 2020), as well as a number of other quality birds.
Many birders said it was their first visit, so hopefully some will now stop on their trips to hot-spots in neighbouring counties of Cork and Wexford.
Needless to say, the dinner was late that Monday night!
Eds: There is currently just a single accepted record of Greater Sand Plover in Ireland, involving a bird seen by Killian Mullarney at Tacumshin, Co Wexford, for all of 30 minutes on 20 July 2016, which flew off and was never seen again. Another bird was photographed and belatedly reported from Ballycumisk, Co Cork, on 21 April 2021, with the poor-quality images taken suggesting identification as this species rather than either of the 'lesser' sand plovers.