Expectation is the enemy. If you know what you're expecting to see, you're already halfway toward a duff ID. From what I hear, most birders learn this lesson constantly throughout their careers, and that's why I don't feel quite so bad as I might.
But this story has a happy ending.
It all started on Monday morning. This was leaving Norfolk day, so we walked into Sheringham town centre to get food for the trip home. Naturally enough I didn't take my camera because food shopping rarely presents good photo opportunities, and this inevitably meant that when we walked along the 20 yards of coastline available to us on the way in it was covered in Turnstones. Because I have a remarkably tolerant girlfriend (who incidentally reads this blog) I ran back to the B&B for my camera. She held fort on the sea wall and, upon my return, reported with some small amount of smugness that while I'd been gone a couple of the birds had decided to chase eachother round the path and ended up about 2 feet from her. Mildly irritating, but since I'd spent the entire run back picturing silhouetted Turnstones disappearing over the horizon I couldn't find it in me to be too disppointed.
So ensued a bit of a mammoth Turnstone photography session - they're just so photogenic and so well behaved. One of my favorite coastal birds for all that they're common as dirt:
The trouble with Turnstones though is that they do like to poke around in drain outlets and other such accumulations of crap and litter, and it does rather spoil the ambiance when the bird is sitting next to a dead coke bottle. Fortunately, sharp eyed girlfriend came to the rescue. "Oh look, there's one on the rocks over there, do you want to try and get some pictures of that?"
FIRST CLUE IGNORED. It was sitting all on its own on a bloody great rock and not poking about in sewage with the others as Turnstones are wont to do.
"Oh cool" I replied, "Yeah definitely". And it was very well behaved and I was very pleased, and got some very nice pictures including a rather cool flight shot, and which I didn't really look at very closely. SECOND CLUE IGNORED. We finished up the food shopping and drove home, picking up a Buzzard over the car on the way.
Once back, I called a friend and expressed a desire for beer - a desire with the full weight of 7 hours in the car behind it - so we went to the pub and dissected our respective weekend's birding. On the way back he stopped by the house and I gave him the camera to peruse.
"Are you sure that's a Turnstone?" he said. Well I was until I was asked. "It looks more like a Purple Sandpiper" he said. "Look, the bill's clearly longer than a Turnstone's and there's white edging round all those feathers on its back". So down came the bird books, and a Purple Sandpiper it was. Lesson Learned - look at the damn bird in future. Prime example of why going out with a camera should never be confused with going out birdwatching.
So I feel a bit stupid because the bill alone was a huge giveaway, but I doubt it'll be the worst ID I ever make. And the photos are good. And I had fun with the Turnstones. And I had beer in a pub. A successful day all round.
It wouldn't be right though if I finished the trip report without mentioning the B&B where we stayed. It was a little place in Sheringham called the Alverstone, and it was extremely nice. Perhaps not one for the more dedicated birdwatchers out to catch all the rarities they can - breakfast was served at 09:00 each morning which is well after first light even at this time of year - but comfy and welcoming. Full cooked breakfast on request, though I stuck with scrambled eggs on toast after the first morning, and only just off the A149 so easy access all the way up and down the coast. Took about 15 minutes to get to Cley, and half an hour to Blakeney. If you're looking for a holiday, I recommend.