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.
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 🙂
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.
Both sexes engage in pre-copulatory drinking, with heads tilted upwards before the female assumes the full prone posture inviting copulation.
‘Redhead’ Goosanders are either females – this one showing her teeth – or first-winter
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.
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.
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.
Photographed by Bob Bullock at Ditchford Gravel Pits yesterday, this adult drake clearly shows a peaked crown. But it’s still a Greater Scaup.
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.
In addition to this the bird just looks too broad and bulky. Here’s what a Lesser Scaup should look like.
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.
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.
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.This 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. 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.
Hybrids 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.
You wait seven years for one and then three come along together – well, almost. After Neil Hasdell found the first Northants Long-tailed Duck since 2006, at Pitsford Reservoir on 23rd November, it promptly disappeared before another was discovered by Adrian Borley and Nick Parker the following day at Thrapston Gravel Pits, this bird still being present today.
That might have been the end of it if Tony Vials hadn’t run into another on Mary’s Lake at Earls Barton Gravel Pits this morning (30th November) and then, bizarrely, Alan Coles found two more on a different part of the same lake during the afternoon.
Tremendous little sea ducks, rarely seen in Northants and seemingly with different behavioural traits. The Thrapston bird kept well away from the bank, preferring to stay in the middle of Town Lake and spend 90% of its time under water. Consequently very difficult to see. The loner in the south-east corner of Mary’s Lake showed well, though distantly, spending more time on the water’s surface than below it, while the two in the south-west corner of the same lake spent an estimated 75% of their time below the surface, although they were reasonably approachable.
Long-tailed Ducks, Earls Barton GP, 30th November 2013 (Mike Alibone). [Click on the cogwheel and change resolution to 720 to watch in HD]
Difficult to age/sex but all likely to be females or first-winters as adult males normally show some degree of pink on the bill. Of the two together, the individual with the whiter face and smaller dark spot on the cheeks possibly a first-winter male.
This afternoon Steve Fisher found Northamptonshire’s 4th Ring-necked Duck at Stanwick Gravel Pits. A female, it spent a couple of hours in the north-east corner of the A45 Lay-by Pit before flying to the island at around 16.15. Perhaps this is the recent long-stayer from Eyebrook Reservoir in neighbouring Leicestershire. Hopefully it will still be present tomorrow.
Previous Northants records are:
1979 Ditchford GP, 15th-18th April and Hollowell and Ravensthorpe Reservoirs, 3rd May 1987 Ditchford GP, 16th November 1987 1990 Pitsford Res, 16th-23rd September and Billing GP, 30th September
The week started cool with overnight frosts on 9th and 12th giving way to milder, though cold, mixed weather throughout, the winds remaining largely westerly. A number of new birds were found during the early part of the period.
An adult Whooper Swan was discovered at Blatherwycke Lake on 13th but could not be found there the following day, while the same site continued to host a Barnacle Goose, an Egyptian Goose and at least seventeen Mandarin Ducks mid-week; a pair of Mandarins was also present at Ravensthorpe Res on 11th. ‘Real’ geese, however, were limited to a skein of approximately one hundred Pink-footed over Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 9th and two Dark-bellied Brents briefly at Boddington Res on 11th. Eight Pintail remained at Pitsford Res on 12th and one was at Blatherwycke Lake the following day and, at the former site, the Red-crested Pochard flock had risen to twenty-one on the same date. Elsewhere, one was at Stanford Res on 11th, another remained at Ravensthorpe Res between 11th and 13th and one was at Boddington Res on 11th with five there the following day. These last two reservoirs also produced ‘redhead’ Red-breasted Mergansers on 11th and 12th respectively, the occurrences considered to relate to different individuals.
A Bittern was found at Stortons GP on 9th and was again seen briefly there on 12th and 15th, while up to two Great White Egrets remained at Pitsford Res throughout the week and the Black-necked Grebe was seen again at Stanford Res on 11th and 12th.
Stanford also produced Northamptonshire’s latest-ever Osprey on 9th – presumably the lingering individual from late October – and both Merlin and Peregrine on 11th, while single Merlins were also at Harrington Airfield on 10th and 15th and at Stanwick GP on 11th and Peregrines were also seen at Harrington AF on 9th and 11th, Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 10th and 15th, at Blatherwycke Lake on 13th and 14th and in Northampton on 15th.
On the wader front, single Dunlins were at Hollowell Res on 11th and Stanwick GP from 11th to 13th, while two visited Pitsford Res on 12th where there was also a Ruff on the same date. A Jack Snipe was found at Hollowell Res on 11th, the same date to which last week’s Black-tailed Godwit remained at Stanwick GP, where there were also three Redshanks on 11th and 13th and the same number at Pitsford Res on 12th.
An adult Mediterranean Gull visited the roost at Pitsford Res again on 10th and 13th, an adult and a second-winter Caspian Gull were at Stanwick GP on 9th along with seven Yellow-legged Gulls while single adults of the latter species were at Boddington, Hollowell and Pitsford Reservoirs on 11th.
A Northamptonshire record count of migrating Wood Pigeons was made at Stanwick GP on 13th, when 15,400 were logged moving south-west in just ninety minutes. In suburban Northampton the two Bearded Tits continued to be a popular draw at Stortons GP throughout the week while at least two more were calling from the reedbed at Stanwick GP
on 10th. Wintering or late migrant warblers included a Chiffchaff at Earls Barton GP’s Quarry Walk on 10th with two at nearby Mary’s Lake on 12th and two at Stanwick GP on 11th while a Siberian Chiffchaff put in a brief appearance by the screen hide at Quarry Walk on 10th along with a Blackcap in the same area. The two Stonechats remained at Blueberry Farm all week, while three localities held Bramblings with the usual site of Harrington AF producing a maximum of eight on 15th, and two Crossbills flew over there on the same date with three over nearby Pitsford Res on 10th.
Good news today from the Netherlands! I got an email from my old buddy René Pop in which he told me that, at last, the Dutch have this year radio-tagged ten Ruddies and colour-ringed some as well! Hopefully we will get some answers on their origin soon.
You can read a bit about it and see part of this year’s 700-strong flock here (in Dutch!) and some facts about the tracking program here (also in Dutch!) Google translate may come in handy …
Think about it. If there is an established national pattern of occurrence of a species, which is reflected in Northants, then something must be going on. And it is … with Ruddy Shelduck.
This species occurs annually in the UK in late summer and early autumn and the origin of the individuals involved has been the subject of much debate over the years – see here, here and here for open discussions from Keith Vinicombe and Andrew Harrop, for example. Escapes and ferals certainly do not account for all the occurrences as there is no feral colony in the UK and you can’t tell me that, every summer, there is a mass escape of juveniles (and adults) from wildfowl collections across the UK!
The birds we see here are believed to be from the moult gathering which occurs annually in the Netherlands and which involves any number of individuals between 500 and 1000. Either they overshoot in late summer or they disperse after moulting, resulting in records later in the autumn. The origin of these birds is unknown and may involve wild birds from southeast Europe but this is pure speculation and until the Dutch bother to ring or radio-tag some of them I guess we’ll never know.
The records in Northants mirror those nationally and Ruddy Shelducks have occurred in the county in 20 out of the last 45 years (1969-2013), including this year with a female currently at Pitsford Reservoir. The pattern of occurrence is consistent with the majority of the records in August and September (with a tail in October and some in November). Although many of the records relate to single birds, there have been small flocks – three together in 1989, 1992, 1999, 2005 and 2009 and four together at Hollowell Reservoir on 22nd August 1979 – adding weight to the belief they are not escapes. Other records in months earlier in the year are a puzzle and could partly be explained by escapees or by misidentification of the similar Cape Shelduck (South Africa), which also escapes from time to time and has occurred in the county on several occasions.
Ruddy Shelduck is on the British List but only in Category B, i.e. it has not been proven to have occurred here in a wild state since 1950. Hopefully its status will change for the better before too long so if you haven’t seen one then there’s still time to catch up with the Pitsford bird. Shouldn’t we be taking occurrences of this species more seriously?
It doesn’t say much for your birding day when the best bird on the tally is an escape. But today it was. I have not seen a Ross’s Goose in Northants before. Norfolk with thousands of Pinkfeet, in the winter, yes. This one was with Greylags in the north-east corner of the main lake at Stanwick Gravel Pits.
The species is said to be widely kept in captivity and, despite a recent increase in records in Europe mirroring significant population increases in North America, it is still a BOU category D species, i.e. not (yet) on the official British List.
Ross’s Goose, Stanwick GP, 11th August 2013 (Mike Alibone)
Compact, neat, dinky goose – a really nice bird and arguably not a candidate for the Gruesome Goose Gallery! Differences from Snow Goose include smaller size, shorter neck and smaller, shorter more triangular bill, lacking the ‘grinning patch’ (black borders to the cutting edges of upper and lower mandibles) which is obvious on the bill of a Snow Goose. The bill also has a bluish base, which can develop into caruncles (bluish warty bumps) with age. I thought the bill on this bird looked fractionally too large, which made me wonder if it was a 100% pure Ross’s Goose …