Monday, 19 October 2009

SCAUP surprise


The wind veered SE this morning, the first time in a long while, with the raw and freshening breeze continuing throughout the day. It brought in low cloud and intermittent drizzle and saw a light fall on the hills.

(1200-1400 hours)

Pride of place went to a stunning male RING OUZEL and unlike all of the previous individuals at Ivinghoe this autumn, was actually 'settled' and 'twitchable'. Mike Wallen had discovered it first thing and had very kindly placed details on the local email group; Mike Campbell had searched but failed to find it. I arrived at midday and relocated it after about fifteen minutes but it had moved. It was showing extremely well, feasting on Hawthorn berries, in the cluster of bushes and scrub just 100 yards NE of the S-Bend at SP 961 164 and could be easily 'scoped from the main footpath leading up to the Beacon looking over to the right (east). It was very vocal, 'chacking' frequently, particularly when in flight, and was a well-marked individual albeit quite scaly. It had a well-defined white breast-band.

This same clump of bushes had also seen landfall of a good number of 'migrant thrushes' with 10 or more CONTINENTAL SONG THRUSHES and 7 dark-billed CONTINENTAL BLACKBIRDS. I was surprised though at the lack of REDWINGS - just one flock of 68 birds passing over high to the south over Coombe Wood.

There was little sign of much other migration apart from the constant diurnal passage of low-flying, mostly singleton Chaffinch - a total of 27 passing to the west in the two hours I was present.

A MARSH TIT was unusual in scrub below the main car park, whilst Jays were again much in evidence (12+ flying to and fro gathering acorns) and 4 COAL TITS were together in the main wood above Incombe Valley.

A single Yellowhammer passed over, 14 Meadow Pipits and two local Great Tits. Top Scrub was particularly uninspiring with yet again not a single warbler in sight - and no thrushes either.

(1415-1600 hours)

Wilstone Reservoir is now at the lowest I have ever seen it with the mud in the SW quadrant the most expansive on record and the water in that sector in great danger of drying up completely. There was little evidence of any new arrivals and in fact, the large European Golden Plover flock of recent weeks had disappeared. I undertook a complete inventory of the site and in doing so located a juvenile GREATER SCAUP. However, I couldn't believe myself on this one, firstly because I had previously written it off and secondly because of all of the current controversy surrounding the Marlow flock (see images of putative Greater and Lesser Scaups on Uploaded Images Files on Bucks Bird Club Website). I did not dare put it out, following my comments reference the Marlow birds, and summonsed a second opinion from Mike Campbell and Joan Thompson (both observers I knew would be close at hand and without commitment). Mike of course came armed with his video camera and took a lengthy piece of film (watch his highlighted edits at and I also contacted David Bilcock who I can always rely on to get something of a good record shot at least (see his images above as well as two stills from Mike's video sequence). I was totally convinced that the bird was a juvenile Greater Scaup but found the circumstances barely conceivable after events of the previous 24 hours.

Anyway, here's the documentation:

GREATER SCAUP (juvenile)
I discovered a juvenile whilst click-counting the Coot flock just after 1420 hours. It was showing extremely well in the extreme NE end of the reservoir and was feeding alone but in close accompaniment of the Coot. It was occasionally joined by the odd drake Tufted Duck and male and female Northern Pochard and was slightly larger than Tufted Duck but with a noticeably wider and more spatulate-shaped bill, dark grey in colour with the dark nail restricted to the tip. The head was large and rounded and the neck long with no hint whatsoever of any tuft at the rear of the crown, with a clearly evident pale crescentic area of pale feathers around the ear-covert area (extending down to the lower part of the face) and buffish-white extensive patches at either side of the base of the bill (but significantly not forming a thick blaze over the top of the bill on the forehead). It was also much warmer (paler brown) in body colouration (than female Tufted Duck), with warm brown sides but a dark brown head and neck. When roll-preening, its belly and under-carriage was seen to be gleaming white. It had a very dull brownish-yellow eye, typical of juvenile Aythyas, and obvious grey legs when preening. The mantle was very dark brown but interspersed with a few new grey vermiculated feathers, several of these also bearing through on the fore-flanks as well as on the scapulars. In flight, the wing was seen to be broader than Tufted Duck but very similar in pattern, with a striking white bar across the secondaries and primaries petering out to grey in the outermost two primaries. It had a very unique diving ritual too - leaping right out of the water when diving - quite unlike that of the technique preferred by Tufted Ducks

And now for the other birds encountered -:

(43 species)

Great Crested Grebe (17)
Little Grebe (3)
Continental Cormorant (21)
Grey Heron (6)
Mute Swan (18 adults)
Atlantic Canada Goose (30)
Mallard (76)
Gadwall (18 including 12 drakes)
NORTHERN PINTAIL (3 present including an adult drake now maturing out of eclipse)
Northern Shoveler (156)
Eurasian Wigeon (215)
Common Teal (338)
Pochard (121)
Tufted Duck (72)

Red Kite (2)
Eurasian Sparrowhawk (female flew south over)
Common Kestrel (male)

Common Pheasant (male, with 9 more feeding in a field south of Tringford)
Moorhen (63 including 25 together near the hide)
Coot (382)
Lapwing (65)
DUNLIN (1 juvenile still)
GREEN SANDPIPER (1 feeding on the south shore)
COMMON SNIPE (increase to 9 birds)

Black-headed Gull (102)
Lesser Black-backed Gull (7 including a juvenile)

Woodpigeon (37)
*SCANDINAVIAN ROCK PIPIT (the two birds still present between the Jetty and Cemetery Corner)
Pied Wagtails (37 feeding in the large field immediately north of the new overflow)
Wren (3)
Dunnock (2)
European Robin (4 in the Drayton Wood)
Mistle Thrush (2)
Great, Blue and Long-tailed Tits
Magpie (1)
Jackdaw (18 by Wilstone Great farm; 36 in field by Cemetery Corner and 102 near Little Tring)
Rook (15 by Little Tring)
Carrion Crow (6)
Common Starling (7 in trees behind car park)
Chaffinch (1 over)

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