Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Lesser Scaup: 300 and counting

Eclipse drake Lesser Scaup, Pennington Flash

Eclipse drake Lesser Scaup, Pennington Flash

Eclipse drake Lesser Scaup, Pennington Flash

My main aim this year in terms of birding, has been to drag my rather pitiful British list over the 300 barrier into a state of semi-respectability. This quest has been going somewhat better than planned and Saturday's unexpected Stilt Sandpiper took me to 299 for Britain, one away from the magic 300. I had figured my 300th tick would therefore come during my trip to Spurn for the Migration Festival and the end of this week so I was pleasantly surprised yesterday evening when news came through of an eclipse drake Lesser Scaup at Pennington Flash in my home county of Greater Manchester. Greater Manchester is one of the worst counties in the country for rarities so for something that I needed to turn up when I was one away from my target was unexpected to say the least! I immediately texted Scott to try and arrange a quick twitch but he was stuck in work so I had to settle for a lift in the morning with my Grandma. A nervous wait followed overnight but as dusk approached the bird was reported as fairly settled so I was optimistic about my chances of connecting.

As soon as I awoke this morning I checked the news services and the Manchester birding forum but no reports had come through. Slightly worried, I sent a text to county recorder Ian Mckerchar who confirmed that the bird had not yet been reported but reassured me that it was unlikely to have moved on given its current state of moult. I was picked up by Grandma around 09.30 and after a quick detour to Chorlton to pick up my little cousins, Joe and Dan, and their mum Gemma we were on the road to Pennington. On route I was informed by Pete Hines that the bird was still present at 07.00 and this lifted my spirits greatly, 300 was in my grasp! Upon arrival at the site Grandma dropped me at the far end of the car park and I headed off round the south end of the flash while the others went to Horrocks Hide.

I quickly reached the East Bay and quickly began to scan the assembled masses of Tufted Duck with no success. I was starting to get a little desperate when I picked up a distant drake duck steaming towards me from the direction of the Yacht Club. The bird was head on and distant but appeared to be pale mantled and the black on the nail of the bill was very restricted. At this point another birder who had been searching for the Scaup arrived and I informed him of the bird I was watching. After having a look through my scope, he agreed with my suspicions and we waited for the bird to approach. After a couple of minutes the bird arrived in the East Bay and promptly turned side on revealing a pale mantle with visible vermaculations. BOOM! LESSER SCAUP, my 300th bird in Britain. The bird continued to approach closer settling with the Tufties at a distance of 50-100 yards. Here it gave great views, allowing me to capture a series of decent record shots, before promptly falling asleep. The bird was pretty similar in size and structure to the accompanying Tufties with a visibly more rounded head. A few more birders arrived and I helped them to connect before spending a while watching the bird and revelling in the glow of finally breaking the 300 barrier! Some have said that its a fairly dull/drossy bird for my 300th but Lesser Scaup is a species I've long been chasing and reaching 300 in my usually dire home county brought a little more gloss to the occasion.

After ten minutes or so Grandma called me back and I headed round the flash to meet the others. On route I got nice views of a Willow Tit, a valuable year tick, and also bumped into Brian Hilton whom I haven't seen in a long time! The rest of the trip was fairly quiet with at least 2 Green Sandpiper on the Teal Scrape and another Willow Tit at the feeding station. Despite the dearth of interesting birds it was nice to spend some time birding with my cousins and to witness first hand their passion for birds and wildlife. They're only young but if they keep it up they'll be giving me a run for my money before too long! After a walk round the hides it was lunch time and I enjoyed a decent burger and chips from the burger van. I then pointed out the distant Scaup to another birder before we hit the road for home.

Having finally reached the admittedly low milestone of 300, it seems to me that the only course of action is to push on towards 350 then 400. I think, with the amount of tarty species such as Jack Snipe I still need, that 310 by the end of this year is an attainable target. Accounting for a reduction in the rate of accumulation of new birds, 400 in the next 5 years seems like a bold but achievable aim as long as I continue to have the desire and financial means to go twitching. I'm heading to Spurn tomorrow afternoon for a 5 day trip and am eagerly anticipating the delights that could await over the course of Britain's first Migration Festival. To steal an idea from Scott, surely Gray's Grasshopper Warbler is a long overdue first for Britain? Its not beyond the realms of possibility that one will be found lurking somewhere along that hallowed peninsula.  In reality I'd be more than happy to spend the trip cleaning up on the few drift migrants such as Barred Warbler and Common Rosefinch that have so far eluded me. I guess I'll have to wait and see what happens...

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