Bingo! It’s (another) Ringo!

Billing Gravel Pits. A favourite local patch for me in my early teens when I used to cycle there regularly after school and at weekends. These days I rarely visit the main pits and the site is largely underwatched. Because of this I decided yesterday to check out the main lake, which is private, although parts of it are viewable from the road and from Billing Garden Centre car park.

Opting for neither, I parked my car at Cogenhoe Mill and walked the 1 km or so west along the river toward the main pit. After negotiating a fence and slogging through the willow herb and reeds I finally got close to the eastern end of the pit but progress was halted by a tributary of the River Nene which prevents access to the pit itself, although viewing is possible but a little distant and partly obscured by vegetation.

A largish raft of ducks was visible in the north-east corner. This consisted of tightly-packed Pochard, Tufted Ducks and a few Wigeon. A few scans through the scope initially revealed nothing, apart from a few white-faced Tufted Ducks – sadly no Scaup. Then, suddenly, an interesting head popped up among the tufties. Obvious eye-ring with short, swept-back streak, diffuse, whitish face patch around the base of the bill, rear crown peak and longish, pointed bill with black tip and a subterminal white band. Ring-necked Duck!

I watched it for a few minutes to ensure no hybrid characteristics were present. It looked good so I put the news out and continued to watch. Views were distant, partly obscured but good enough, although not up to allowing any photography. With grey cheeks, obvious long spectacle line and overall cold-toned plumage, this bird looked quite different to the Wicksteed Park Lake individual from early November, so likely to be a different bird.

Dave James was there this morning and managed to shoot this video:

For anyone going to look, the lake is private and views can be made from the road at the western end or from the car park by Billing Garden Centre.

Juvenile Garganey

Thought I’d post some video of the Summer Leys Garganey. Never a lame duck but not one which stands out to anything like the extent of a fine spring drake and this juvenile has a not particularly well-marked face pattern compared to many.

This is because the dark horizontal cheek bar is reduced to a blob on the ear coverts and the pale loral spot is rather diffuse. It’s a juvenile – as opposed to a female – aged by the neat, fresh feather fringes giving it an immaculate appearance, the finely-streaked neck (adult females are more blotchy here and on the upperparts), the brown, streaky belly – not visible here, but hinted at where the flanks disappear below the water level – (females have a whitish, unmarked belly) and the warm, almost rusty-brown hue to the plumage compared to the colder tones of adults.

Which Cackler?

Prompted by the last post on the subject, Minimal Interest, Joan Chaplin sent me these images of a Cackling Goose at Foxholes Fisheries, Crick from 23rd April 2012.

Taverner's Cackling Goose, Foxholes Fisheries, Crick, 23rd April 2012 (Joan Chaplin)
Taverner’s Cackling Goose, Foxholes Fisheries, Crick, 23rd April 2012 (Joan Chaplin)

This bird arrived with visiting Canada Geese and was subsequently thought to be of the race minima. In common with the Daventry individual it shows a number of features which are inconsistent with that race: too large, too long-necked, the body is more elongated, the head not square enough and the bill – though small, is the wrong shape, i.e. too long.

Taverner's Cackling Goose, Foxholes Fisheries, Crick, 23rd April 2012 (Joan Chaplin)
Taverner’s Cackling Goose, Foxholes Fisheries, Crick, 23rd April 2012 (Joan Chaplin)
Taverner's Cackling Goose, Foxholes Fisheries, Crick, 23rd April 2012 (Joan Chaplin)
Taverner’s Cackling Goose, Foxholes Fisheries, Crick, 23rd April 2012 (Joan Chaplin)

All features are, however, spot-on for taverneri, Taverner’s Cackling Goose, right down to the thin, broken throat line which almost divides the two white cheek patches.

Taverner's Cackling Goose, Foxholes Fisheries, Crick, 23rd April 2012 (Joan Chaplin). The broken throat line is just visible.
Taverner’s Cackling Goose, Foxholes Fisheries, Crick, 23rd April 2012 (Joan Chaplin). The broken throat line is just visible.

Note how the bird’s size and shape appear to vary with pose and camera angle! While this western USA bird was surely an escape, Taverner’s has been recorded in Ireland in the recent past.

Minimal Interest

That’s what this Cackling Goose at Daventry CP today is likely to elicit. Apparently it has been present two weeks among the local Canada Geese and, given its range along the western seaboard of North America, and its time and place of occurrence, it is almost certainly an escape – although it is a long-distance migrant!

Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii minima, Daventry CP 13th July 2014 (Mike Alibone)
Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii minima?, Daventry CP 13th July 2014 (Mike Alibone)

Cackling Goose was split from Canada Goose as long ago as 2004 and four races are recognised: hutchinsii (‘Richardson’s Cackling Goose’), taverneri (‘Taverner’s Cackling Goose’), leucopareia (‘Aleutian Cackling Goose’) and minima (‘Ridgway’s Cackling Goose’). Each race is identifiable on a combination of structure and plumage characters and the individual at Daventry most closely resembles minima in plumage but it can sometimes appear a little larger than would be expected and the head shape is not quite right, minima should show a squarer head profile and shorter bill than this bird. So is it another race or a hybrid?

Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii minima, Daventry CP 13th July 2014 (Mike Alibone)
Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii minima?, Daventry CP 13th July 2014 (Mike Alibone)

It’s between half and two-thirds the size of the accompanying Canada Geese, darker, shorter-necked and much smaller-billed. The main plumage difference is the all dark brown breast and belly, with the black at the base of the neck ‘fuzzing’ into it.

Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii minima, Daventry CP 13th July 2014 (Mike Alibone)
Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii minima?, Daventry CP 13th July 2014 (Mike Alibone)

Richardson’s Cackling Goose is similar in size and can be almost as dark but has a clear cut neckline with normally a narrow white base dividing it from the brown breast.

Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii minima, Daventry CP 13th July 2014 (Mike Alibone)
Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii minima?, Daventry CP 13th July 2014 (Mike Alibone)

Cackling Goose is not on the British List though a number of records have been accepted by BBRC. The Daventry individual is a nice bird and well worth a look, even though it must surely be an escape …

Ruddy Shelducks: Northamptonshire and the European Perspective

It has been less than a year since I summarised the Northamptonshire status of Ruddy Shelduck and speculated on the possible origins of birds visiting the county. There is an annual pattern of late summer/early autumn occurrences which ties in nicely with the now well established post-breeding, summer moult migration to The Netherlands. It would appear that birds occur locally as a result of dispersal from The Netherlands after they have completed their full body moult, which leaves them flightless for about four weeks.

There are currently two – a male and female – at the southern end of Pitsford Reservoir, which were first discovered on 24th June – a somewhat earlier arrival date than would normally have been expected.

Ruddy Shelducks, Pitsford Res, 30th June 2014 (Mike Alibone)

The date coincides with the arrival of others in the UK: two in Gloucestershire on 19th and singles in Staffordshire on 25th and Cheshire on 28th, while the build-up in The Netherlands has also begun with two hundred or so at Vreugderijkerwaard, west of Zwolle (remember the Hawk Owl? 🙂 ) on 27 June. A flock of ten had also reached the west coast island of Texel by 25th June where, according to René Pop, they are very unusual; from here it is just a short hop to East Anglia …

The Pitsford birds are in active moult and the drake at least is flightless, having shed all its primaries and secondaries. This, then, begs the question, are we now getting some of the ‘Dutch’ birds before they moult?

Flightless drake Ruddy Shelduck, Pitsford Res, 30th June 2014 (Mike Alibone)
Flightless drake Ruddy Shelduck, Pitsford Res, 30th June 2014 (Mike Alibone)
Flightless drake Ruddy Shelduck, Pitsford Res, 30th June 2014 (Mike Alibone). Note total absence of primaries and secondaries.
Flightless drake Ruddy Shelduck, Pitsford Res, 30th June 2014 (Mike Alibone). Note total absence of primaries and secondaries.

The origin of the ‘Dutch’ birds is still not fully resolved but we are now more than half-way to understanding where they come from. In an attempt to discover the source of the summer moulting population a Ruddy Shelduck Work Study Group was set up and, in 2013, it launched an investigation into the origin of the large numbers (eight hundred or so) summering at the Eemmeer as well as those elsewhere in The Netherlands. Forty-eight were trapped and fitted with individually numbered yellow neck-collars and seven were fitted with GPS transmitters.

As a result of this we now know that many – if not all – of these birds are from feral populations in Germany  and Switzerland, and it has been established that birds from the German lower Rhine and the Swiss birds are connected to each other. However, there are still a number of individuals with collars which have not been seen after having left the Eemmeer in August 2013. The Dutch are still hoping that these may be from the ‘wild’ population in south-east Europe. It’s nice to dream …

Back to the feral birds. The German and Swiss populations are said to be growing, particularly around Lake Constance, at the tri-point of Switzerland, Germany and Austria, where approximately six hundred and forty were counted in February 2014. There is some concern in the region that they may successfully compete with other hole-nesting species and this has conservation implications. For this reason, along with the fact that this is a European ‘C’ list species and, therefore, potentially worthy of admission to the British list, shouldn’t we be taking Ruddy Shelducks a Tad more seriously?

Marbled Duck at Stanwick Gravel Pits

The Marbled Duck, first discovered by Steve Fisher at Stanwick GP’s main lake on 13th January and still present today, promptly disappeared almost immediately until rediscovery on 19th February. Or did it? With persistent inclement weather, rising water levels and less than ideal viewing conditions, it appears it may have been there, somewhere, all the time as it is now known to hide among the overgrown islands on the western side of the lake.

Marbled Duck, Stanwick GP, 20th February 2014 (Bob Bullock)
Marbled Duck, Stanwick GP, 20th February 2014 (Bob Bullock)

Despite being recorded sporadically in the UK, this species remains on category D of the British List as it is common in captivity but an established pattern of records suggests it is likely that some wild individuals occur.  Vagrants have been recorded in Northern Spain and in the Camargue in Southern France with most French records in August-September and a secondary spring peak in April. The pattern of British records also reflects this and Marbled Duck has been accepted as a genuine vagrant in the Netherlands.

Pouring at least some cold water on the vagrancy hypothesis, analysis of the stable-hydrogen isotope content of feathers taken from a first-winter shot in Essex on 1st September 2007 suggested that the bird originated from outside of the normal breeding range of the species and was most likely to have been of captive origin (see British Birds).

Although thought to be in decline, the global population is estimated at c.50,000-55,000 individuals, based on estimates of 3,000-5,000 in the west Mediterranean and West Africa, 1,000 in the east Mediterranean 5,000 in south Asia, and at least 44,000 individuals counted in Iraq in 2010 according to BirdLife International.

There has been one previous record of Marbled Duck in the county – coincidentally at Stanwick GP, on 29th June to 3rd July 1990.

Wood Duck

Found by Jack Douglas, this female Wood Duck has been present along an overgrown stretch of the River Nene, between B&Q and Carlsberg, Northampton, for approximately two weeks and is still present today.

Adult female Wood Duck, Northampton, January 2014 (Mike Alibone). The iridescent blue extending on to the third row of coverts ages this as an adult.
Adult female Wood Duck, Northampton, January 2014 (Mike Alibone). The iridescent blue extending on to the third row of coverts ages this as an adult.

Although common in the USA, where it is also an east coast migrant south to Mexico, Wood Duck is kept commonly in captivity and the many documented records from UK counties refer overwhelmingly to escapes but with individuals appearing in Iceland, the Azores and Canary Islands the potential for transatlantic vagrancy should not be dismissed.

As with most presumed escapes there is always the nagging fear that this might actually be a wild bird 🙂

Goosander Gander

For the past few years Goosanders have become regular winter visitors to Abington Park Lakes in Northampton. The largest, middle lake is very shallow and provides opportunities for the Goosanders to catch fish with relative ease while offering birders the potential to capture fantastic images.  In some winters more than twenty Goosanders have been present. They are a delight to watch and such close views are rarely matched elsewhere.

Pair formation can occur early in the winter with copulation taking place as early as December (for full details see BWP). Displaying males can adopt a partial neck-stretch with head feathers erected as below.

Goosanders, Abington Park Lake, Northampton, January 2014 (Dave Jackson)
Goosanders, Abington Park Lake, Northampton, January 2014 (Dave Jackson)

Both sexes engage in pre-copulatory drinking, with heads tilted upwards before the female assumes the full prone posture inviting copulation.

Drake Goosander, Abington Park Lake, Northampton, January 2014 (Doug Goddard)
Drake Goosander, Abington Park Lake, Northampton, January 2014 (Doug Goddard)
Female Goosander, Abington Park Lake, Northampton, January 2014 (Doug Goddard)
Female Goosander, Abington Park Lake, Northampton, January 2014 (Doug Goddard)
Female Goosander, Abington Park Lake, Northampton, January 2014 (Doug Goddard)
Female Goosander, Abington Park Lake, Northampton, January 2014 (Doug Goddard)
Goosanders, Abington Park Lake, Northampton, January 2014 (Doug Goddard)
Goosanders, Abington Park Lake, Northampton, January 2014 (Doug Goddard)

‘Redhead’ Goosanders are either females – this one showing her teeth – or first-winter

Female Goosander, Abington Park Lake, Northampton, January 2014 (Dave Jackson)
Female Goosander, Abington Park Lake, Northampton, January 2014 (Dave Jackson)

males like this one, where the generally duller brown head, indistinct whitish chin and broad blackish lower border to the brown upper neck is a clue to its sex.

First-winter male Goosander, Abington Park, 22 Dec 2011 (Keith J Smith)
First-winter male Goosander, Abington Park, 22 Dec 2011 (Keith J Smith)

Abington Park Lakes have also attracted Red-breasted Merganser and Shag in recent years – not bad for a small urban park habitat!

Many thanks to Keith J Smith, Doug Goddard and Dave Jackson for providing photos of these superb birds.

Peak Practice

We all know what Lesser Scaup looks like, right? One of the key ID features is head shape, which shows a small peak at the rear of the crown. Well here’s a Greater Scaup which breaks the rules.

Drake Scaup, Ditchford GP, 12th January 2014 (Bob Bullock)
Drake Scaup, Ditchford GP, 12th January 2014 (Bob Bullock)

Photographed by Bob Bullock at Ditchford Gravel Pits yesterday, this adult drake clearly shows a peaked crown. But it’s still a Greater Scaup.

Drake Scaup, Ditchford GP, 12th January 2014 (Bob Bullock)
Drake Scaup, Ditchford GP, 12th January 2014 (Bob Bullock)

The head is still too bulbous and rounded, the vermiculations on the upperparts are uniformly even (coarser towards rear on Lesser Scaup) and there are no traces of faint vermiculations on the flanks, which Lesser Scaup shows to a varying degree.

Drake Scaup, Ditchford GP, 12th January 2014 (Bob Bullock)
Drake Scaup, Ditchford GP, 12th January 2014 (Bob Bullock)

In addition to this the bird just looks too broad and bulky. Here’s what a Lesser Scaup should look like.

Drake Lesser Scaup, in captivity, Slimbridge (Bob Bullock)
Drake Lesser Scaup, in captivity, Slimbridge (Bob Bullock)

While the peak is visible it can appear equally subtle but it is often more pronounced. Note also head gloss – usually green in Scaup, purple in Lesser but it can vary with lighting.

Drake Lesser Scaup, Newquay, Cornwall, 19th February 2012 (Brian R Field)
Drake Lesser Scaup, Newquay, Cornwall, 19th February 2012 (Brian R Field)

Lesser Scaup has occurred in almost every British county except Northants, so the first record is up for grabs!

Many thanks to Bob and to Brian Field for the use of their excellent images.

Pochard x Ferruginous Duck hybrid

While searching for the female Scaup reported from Sixfields Lake at Stortons GP yesterday, I came across this interesting-looking duck. It was obvious among the Pochards on the lake by virtue of its overall darkness compared to ‘standard’ drake Pochard, to which it bore a passing resemblance.Pochard x Ferruginous Duck hybrid, Stortons GP, 31st December 2013 (Mike Alibone)Pochard x Ferruginous Duck hybrid, Stortons GP, 31st December 2013 (Mike Alibone)1AThis individual exhibits characters associated with both Pochard and Ferruginous Duck. Approximately the same size and shape as Pochard, perhaps a fraction smaller. The head, neck and breast colours are close to, and are clearly ‘borrowed’ from, Ferruginous Duck, as is the head shape and, to some extent, the bill. The latter has a dirty wash across its basal third.Pochard x Ferruginous Duck hybrid, Stortons GP, 31st December 2013 (Mike Alibone)1B The golden/orange eye colour is neither Pochard (= red) nor Ferruginous Duck (= creamy-white) and the white secondary bar and dirty white undertail coverts are also lent by Ferruginous Duck although they are not as extensive or as distinctive as in that species. The body and wings (apart from the secondaries) appear to be Pochard derivatives.

Pochard x Ferruginous Duck hybrid, Stortons GP, 31st December 2013 (Mike Alibone)2Pochard x Ferruginous Duck hybrid, Stortons GP, 31st December 2013 (Mike Alibone)3Hybrids of similar appearance have been recorded before, e.g. at Alexandra Park, London in 2010 here and at Slimbridge on 21st March 2013 here with the latter individual appearing almost, if not completely, identical to the Stortons bird.