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Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Baikal Teal at Fen Drayton

Tuesday 1st April I had some training at Fulbourn near Cambridge. We had some excellent training on Critical Appraisal of Medical trials/ procedures. During the day we heard the constant and uplifting liquid song of a newly arrived Blackcap and Chiff- Chaff calling too whilst a Brimstone butterfly flew past on 4 occasions. I took advantage of my geographic position afterwards of travelling an extra 10 miles west in the early evening to Fen Drayton RSPB gravel pits. The place, a fine RSPB reserve that really needs better information boards and signs put up for the visitor, wasn't very well signed at all and twice I went the wrong way and probably walked a mile further than I needed too. I did eventually meet a couple of birders who gave excellent directions (I am very grateful for their help) of going back to the funicular guide path for buses and taking the path right from the car park and following the walkway for 1/2 a mile running parallel with the funicular and then taking the second main path on the left just past a newly constructed dragonfly pool on the left. I followed these instructions and 500 yards along this path I found the hide. The excellent male Baikal Teal was the seen on the island to the right. An absolutely superb bird, an adult male in immaculate full breeding plumage. Structurally quite a chunky bird appearing slightly larger than a Teal with dark crown, bordered below by a white line it had a yellow face with green behind the eye and extending down to the neck. It had a thickish black line running down from the eye bending back slightly and joining back up to the bill. It had a lovely salmon pink breast, grey at the rear and striking vertical white line marking the area between the breast and the flanks in much the same way design as a GW Teal but being thicker whiter and more prominent. If that wasn't enough, the scapulars were very long and draped and sleeked back regally over the rear flanks, the scapulars were chestnut black and white coloured and draped over the rear flanks in an even more exaggerated fashion and longer in length than the scapulars on the breeding plumage of a male Garganey. The black under tail coverts were separated tom the grey flanks by a white line. A really smart bird, one of the smartest ducks you'll see and given its rarity in both world and British terms, its one I'd recommend seeing. This duck is fully winged and wary and with the recent easterly winds and records from elsewhere in Europe and appearing at the right time for duck migration (March) it appears to be a prime candidate for acceptance as a genuine wild bird by the BBRC, I urge you to go and see it if you can. It looks settled at the moment. Only the second I have ever seen, my first one since the one I saw on 2 separate occasions at Minsmere on the West Scrape in November 2001. It was quite active when I first arrived, looking around and preening for 5 minutes before it promptly went to sleep on the island. During the next 2 hours or so, its sleep was interrupted on around 8 all too brief occasions, when all it did was wiggle its tail as a precursor for poking its head out looking around have a mini preen and then tucking its head under again. Finally, it woke up and moved back a few paces and went to sleep again! Meanwile, scanning around, on the first island on the left, 2 Avocets were seen. Whilst on the far island to the left, an excellent Little Ringed Plover was running around the near edge on the right and then the middle of the island, ts sleek stream lined appearance and yellow eye ring differentiated it from a normal Ringed Plover and my first British one for a couple of years. Whilst on the water a fine male Goldeneye and female Goldeneye were seen. Walking back along the track, a Blackcap was heard singing and by the entrance, 3 Goldeneye, a male and 2 females flew past, capped a fine end to this very summery and warm evening.

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