Found on 27th October, a small flock of Velvet Scoters on Thrapston’s Town Lake is the first in the county since 1995 and rightly continues to attract a steady stream of admirers. Widely touted as ‘juveniles’, additional high-quality photos to emerge allow a more analytical approach to ageing, sexing and individual recognition.
The original eight, found on 27th October, had become six by the following day when two distinct individuals, which frequently kept apart from the rest of the flock, had departed. As well as being the largest flock to be recorded in Northamptonshire, the remaining six may also be in line to break the long stay record for more than one bird, having been present now for at least eleven days. The record is currently held by two which were mobile between Hollowell and Ravensthorpe Reservoirs, from 7th to 27th November 1983.
Close examination of the excellent images obtained by Alan Boddington and Bob Bullock enables individuals to be readily identified by their head patterns, which are quite variable. Because of the broad, pale feather fringing on the wing coverts, the ‘long staying six’ (A to F) can be aged as first-winters and at least two of these (B, D) are young males, the dull yellow areas being visible on their bills. None of the other four shows the slightest hint of yellow but C, E and F are showing pale horn-coloured areas on, or around the sides of the nail. This is interesting because, according to Reeber (Wildfowl of Europe, Asia and North America, 1995), this is a characteristic associated with adult females and not present in first-winters.
The ‘short staying two’ (G, H) are adult females with uniform dark plumage, which includes, most importantly, the belly – visible in the only flight shot (below) obtained so far. First-winters have a pale belly until adult plumage is acquired later in the winter or during their second calendar year. Hopefully, the remaining birds will continue their stay at Thrapston for some time to come.