Friday, 30 October 2015

Damned Americans, never there when you want them!!

The Autumn migration has sort of petered out now. There are a few nice birds hanging on, although most of them are up in Scotland. Even the "mega" Chestnut bunting in Orkney seems to have gone now, probably expired after being so weak yesterday it had to be moved out of the way of a tractor!!
Anyway, I had to go up to Peterborough this morning so I tried to combine it with a couple of birds "stops".
The first was at Eyebrook reservoir in Leicestershire where an American golden plover, a close cousin of our native birds, had been hanging out. All looked good apart from two things - it was absolutely chucking it down with rain and it hadn't been seen yesterday. Still, the car made a half decent hide with the boot lid sheltering me from the worst and I only got wet on my bottom half scanning the lake. The bird had been seen at the in-flow end, and there were, I suppose, about a hundred or more golden plovers mooching around with the same number of lapwings. A dozen dunlin and a lone redshank made up the supporting cast. Firstly on my own and later on with a couple of other birders every plover was thoroughly scrutinised. AGP's are quite similar to our birds and in the same plumage are hard to tell apart. Things like "slimmer build" are never easy to judge and "dark underwings" rely on getting them flying and overhead. Helpfully though, AGP's often keep their breeding plumage later than our birds (flash Yanks I hear you say) and this one, from a photo, had a lovely dark-belly so should have stood out well. The main word here is "should". Two hours scanning, watching small flocks fly in, the main flock lift off and come back, moving over to the other side of the reservoir - nothing....Still - well normally there is a still but apart from getting cold and wet there wasn't really an upside to that one apart from becoming an expert in subtle plumage variations of European golden plovers!!! I didn't even get the camera out as it was too wet and too dark!
Fortunately my next stop was hopefully a bit more predictable even if the birds were a lot less rare. Three velvet scoters had been loitering about on Grafham water, which is just by the A1. I got there about 12 as the weather started to improve. The weather wasn't nice, just not raining any more. An exorbitant £3 to park and a 5 minute walk and you could scan the choppy waters. As well as a large raft of tufties, three larger black shapes were lurking asleep near one of the buoys.
Velvet scoters are really sea ducks and closely related to the commoner "common" scoter seen off the east coast in some numbers at this time of year. They do sometimes stray inland, in fact the first ever one I saw was at Broadwater Lake near my house many years ago! There are a number of characteristics used to separate them, including a white wing-bar in flight, but these were going nowhere. Even when a fishing boat came near them they only just moved across a bit. Another classic i'd though is a white "ear" patch and when you combine that with a markedly larger and more orange bill you get these juvenile velvet scoters. The bill colour does not show well here as these are juveniles, but it is much chunkier in profile and the ears show up well.

Another field characteristic is a thin white line of their flank which is really the wing-bar showing through which you can see well on this photo.

So, overall a fair day. I missed the lifer but picked up another year tick and at least I had got dry by the time I got home!!