Saturday, 8 January 2011

Lesser Scaup or Little Scamp?

Where to start? I have been in Devon over the last few days and was itching to get the patch list going. Lol and I had arranged to do a thorough work over on the whole patch on Friday, his man flu and constant rain put paid to that.

Plan B was to do the reservoirs this afternoon to try and catch up with amongst other things the somewhat less than annual Pintail etc. First up to the Lockwood to try for any Waders. From the South end I spied a Redshank and decided to drop back down the bank and come up behind it rather than spook it. On walking up the West side of the Low Maynard my eye was taken with a slightly smaller ‘Aythya’ amongst a few Tufted Ducks and Pochards, it swam out from under hanging branches and I became more interested.

Slightly, but noticeably, smaller than nearby Tufted Ducks it was a more gingery brown, in certain lights some feint grey crescents visible on mantle, which together with the head and wings were the darkest parts of the bird. The flanks were paler and it had off white under-tail coverts which were tipped with dark making the stern appear dirty, this was all the more noticeable due to the tail being continually being held up, compared to all the Tufties which held theirs down. Underparts, that is belly and vent, were off white. Two discreet oval patches at the base of the bill did not meet above, these appeared creamy coloured at first but later in strong sunlight at a distance looked whiter. In some views there was a slightly pale ear covert spot but not very noticeable, also there was a slightly paler ‘collar’ around the base of the neck when stretched. The bill was dark grey and looked ever so slightly broader than Tufty and had broader distal flanges and a much more prominent nail, appeared quite hook billed in profile. I struggled to see any black on the bill, perhaps just the nail was black, there was no pale band behind the nail. Legs and feet were dark grey. Head shape was at first a bit shaggy, maybe due to dampness, but later appeared somewhat square, certainly no sign of a tuft. The eye was a mustard colour in direct sunlight but in duller light seemed all dark.

The light was abysmal and although I saw it flap once I was unable to get any detail in the second that the wings were open so decided to come back to it later when the sun was out. I continued round the base of the Lockwood until I was well past the Redshank and then climbed the bank, only to come up to the exact point it had subsequently walked to. As it flew I thought I heard a second bird and later saw another at the North end so maybe as many as three birds, certainly two. A pair and a half of Goldeneye (2 ff 1m) were amongst very few Duck on the reservoir, a redhead Goosander was another.

The overflow channel to the North and East was pretty high, hence no Waders, also hence why I flushed a Green Sandpiper from the edge of the High Maynard. There was the lone R*ddy D*ck still hanging around the island, probably won’t be year ticking these for many more years.

By now the sun was out and I decided to try my luck with the Little Scamp again. I really needed to see the spread wing and despite it preening from time to time it seemed determined to flap at the speed of light, at one stage it stretched a wing but it was the one on the other side to me. I was not amused!

Then it stretched the nearside wing, for a second and, don’t quote me, but I think I saw white secondaries and greyer primaries, both with a dark trailing edge. It was time for a nervous phone call. I had only been looking at the patch list the other day, with an eye on what the next new addition might be, and Lesser Scaup was certainly in the frame, but now it seemed like it could be a real possibility.

If you had to ask me what rarity I would not want to find I think 1st winter female Lesser Scaup would be right up there (perhaps behind Short-toed Treecreeper).

So is it one? Well hopefully tomorrow will tell. If it turns out to be one I told you so, if not the light was too poor at first too bright later, it was distant and didn’t reveal it’s important features. (I think that’s covered all the bases)

As I walked up and down the bank trying to get good views I inadvertently flushed a hiding redhead Smew which flew to the south end of the reservoir before coming back to the north and then hopping over to the High Maynard. One, possibly two Chiffchaffs were by the Ferry Boat Inn near to dusk.


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