Friday, 23 August 2013

Costa del Frodsham

After yesterday's Citrine Wagtail twitch my considerable appetite for rares had been momentarily satiated. However I had a desire to obtain some better pictures of the bird so decided to go again today with Scott who had been working when I went yesterday and still needed it for his list. The proposition became even more exciting yesterday evening when news again filtered through from Alex Jones (he really has his finger on the button), this time of a fully winged adult Marbled Duck at Frodsham Marsh. Although the species currently languishes in the doldrums of Category D of the British List, probably for eternity, there is always the chance that a Spanish ringed bird will turn up or stable isotope analysis will prove the wild credentials of one individual. The Frodsham individual appeared to have decent credentials, turning up in late August after a possible drought induced northwards dispersal, being fully winged and apparently fairly wary. As such it seemed like a possible candidate for future acceptance if wild individuals were proven to naturally occur in the future. It was clearly worth the detour on route to Conwy as insurance so Scott picked me up around 6 am and pointed the car West.

We arrived at Frodsham shortly before 7am and we're greeted by top Cheshire birder Mark Payne. He had just finished checking the flock of c500 Teal on the main lake with no success. We therefore headed round to the small pool where the bird was seen to roost yesterday evening but drew a blank here as well. As we had plenty of time we decided to head back down the entrance track and check the Teal on the main lake again. After a few minutes Scott located the Marbled Duck and we proceeded to enjoy great views as it headed towards us from the far side of the lake emerging onto the muddy shore infront of us. The bird was truly stunning with its gorgeous marbled plumage and its larger size and sleek structure made it really stand out from the accompanying Teal. The bird posed for a few record shots and showed that it was at least fully winged, stretching before flying off right with a couple of Teal.

Marbled Duck (escape)
At least it was fully winged!

We headed back along the track towards the area where it was first found hoping to relocate the bird and achieve better views. As we were walking along the track me and Scott simultaneously picked up an egret flying towards us from the direction of Frodsham Score. Immediately alarm bells in my brain began to ring; the bird appeared really compact and short-legged in flight and I quickly asked Mark if it was just a Little before quickly getting it in my bins. At this point all hell broke loose as I saw the short yellow bill and realised at once that I was watching a Cattle Egret!!! I quickly expressed this thought to the other two, screaming the words cattle and egret several times in rapid succession. Scott instantly agreed however Mark was a second slow and only caught the arse end of the bird as it headed off over No. 6 tank. We all stopped in disbelief for a moment before Mark and I bolted after it down the track while Scott dashed in the other direction to get his camera from the car. I managed to periodically keep track of the bird in flight as Mark ran ahead. Fortunately as we reached an area with a good with a good view across the main lake the bird circled round and landed on the scaffolding on one of the water towers. Scope on it and BOOM, there it was a self-found Cattle Egret and a stonking adult summer bird at that! I quickly fired off a few record phone-scoped shots before allowing myself to relax slightly. Scott soon arrived with his DSLR and after more shots were acquired and the news put out to both locals and the news services, the joy of the find began to wash over me and Scott.

Adult Cattle Egret, Frodsham

Adult Cattle Egret, Frodsham

We proceeded to watch the bird for a while as several local birders turned up to appreciate it. We also picked up a couple of Black-necked Grebes which appeared to be and adult in winter plumage and a scruffy juvenile. Austin Morley arrived on his way to work and after failing to relocate the Marbled Duck for him, we decided to head onwards to Conwy for the Citrine Wagtail. On route we were sad to learn that the Marbled Duck was seen to be carrying a red ring on one of its legs making it a definite escape. I was rather disappointed by this fact as the birds credentials seemed fairly good and while I was not expecting an immediate tick I had allowed myself to vainly hope that one day it might just have a chance of being accepted as a wild bird. Alas it was not to be! Still it was a stunning bird and a real treat to see in Britain despite its rather dubious origins. Plastic fantastic for sure!

We gave it a couple of hours at Conwy but it quickly became clear that the Citrine Wagtail was not going to show and we left just after 12pm. During this time however we did see a few nice consolation birds including a juvenile Water Rail, 2+ Green Sandpiper, 7 Greenshank and a smart juvenile Peregrine which gave great views as it put the fear of god into everything on the scrape. On the way home we called in briefly at Llandullas but there were fewer Scoter than yesterday and they were just as distant., It appears that a winter visit here to bag Surf Scoter and the tart of all tarts, Velvet Scoter, is a must!

Despite the wagtail dip and the unfortunate news concerning the Marbled Duck, Scott and I were still buzzing about our Cattle Egret find the entire way home. The bird was completely unexpected and put a shine on what would otherwise have turned out to be a rather disappointing day. On a personal note it was also nice to finally find something better than a Cory's or Great Shearwater, a nice reward for the hours of birding put in over the past couple of years. If anyone wants to see some shots of the Cattle Egret then Mark Payne has posted some crackers on the North West Birding Facebook group. Thanks as usual to Scott for driving. A fantastic day in the field which will be remembered for years to come! It just goes to show that in birding you must always expect the unexpected! In the meantime the East coast looks good in the next few days, Icky anyone?

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