Monday, 6 February 2017

Ruddy 'eck

A few years ago the government launched all out war on ruddy ducks. Native to America, they initially escaped from Peter Scott's Slimbridge reserve and became a self-supporting naturalized population. Then in the late 90's there was a point of view starting to be held that they could hybridize with the closely related, rare and natural European white-headed duck that lived in Spain.
For reasons which have more to do with political expediency than conservation, the Government bought into this line and sent out the DEFRA inspectors with rifles to shoot all the ruddy ducks in the UK. We even had them down our little local reserve at Maple Lodge to shoot our resident pair! Despite the best efforts of the birding community to keep locations private, about two years ago the cull was practically over. There were a very few birds left, probably under 10, and it wasn't worth their while to hunt down the last individuals.
They had effectively gone off my radar now for year-listing, so it was slightly surprising to say the least when I got a text from Dave Simms saying that Paul Lewis had found them on xxxxxx reservoir! This was a out 12.45 on Sunday afternoon, so I dropped everything, threw my 'scope and camera into the back of the car and drove hell for leather round the M25 to xxxxxxxx.
For those who know xxxxxxx, there are two very large reservoirs, separated by a causeway. It can be VERY windy and cold there, but today was not too bad. It can be hard to track down birds though, as there are large numbers of ducks, grebes and gulls and a lot of water often puts them at some distance. I was very pleased therefore to spot two ducks sitting on their own in the near corner of the southern basin almost as soon as I put up my 'scope.

As soon as I had them in my field of view, it was clear they were the ruddy ducks.

This is an extreme crop, but you can make out the main points. A very stocky duck, with a stout bill and a broad white face patch. At  distance they are somewhat like female scoters. What was a bonus was the fact I got in the same frame a breeding plumaged black-necked grebe that seemed to be making friends with them! These are regulars at the reservoir here.

They never got very close, so I gave it about 20 minutes and left them to it. That wasn't before I called my brother-in-law Martin though to give him the heads up, and he did come down later to get them as well. Pretty generous that of me I thought, as it kept him 5 ahead of me in the year-list stakes, on 153 to my 148. Still, he's away skiing for the next two weekends so that gap will be in the other direction hopefully by then and I still have a full weekend of birding when Judith is away and our week in Speyside to come.
As an addendum to this, when I got home I saw that birdguides was showing the report of actually 4 of them on Saturday, with location. This is a change from a few years ago when reports were suppressed. I can only hope it doesn't make DEFRA get out their guns again as a breeding pair I would have thought would pique their interest.