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Sunday, 29 January 2017

White- billed Diver at Woodhall Spa

An early start of 7am on Sunday 29th January saw me driving Rob Wil and James W up to Martin Dales near Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire. Incredibly, a second White- billed Diver had been spotted on the River Witham for the second time in 21 years. I had tried unsuccessfully to twitch the first one in 1996, that had very unfortunately got a fisherman's hook tangled up into its bill. That poor bird was suffering badly and was quite rightly taken into care, but all this had taken place 20 minutes before si I failed to see the bird, it would have been no joy for me anyway to see such a magnificent bird in distress. So 21 years a later, we parked by the road leading to Kirkstead bridge and walked right along a concrete path for a mile and a half. The path skirted the river and for some time was surrounded by a buffer of hedges skirting the edges. After around 40 minutes walk, we could see a gathering of birders, or more specifically photographers by the riverside, and as I scrambled down the bird instantly popped up, looking in rude health and into view! I finally connected with this very special enigmatic Arctic visitor. It was an amazingly immature White- billed Diver! Sporting the characteristic large upturned "ivory" white banana bill and brown and white plumage that appeared darker in the harsh light. Access was only available down the southern side of the river which meant the river was spotlighted by a very strong sun, making photography difficult with the brown areas of the bird appearing much darker and really bleaching out the white areas. The bird was constantly diving and travelling under water for around 30 yards initially travelling north then south. The bird spent much of its time the far side of the river around 30- 40 feet away but on 3 occasions swam much closer at one stage being barely 15 feet away, it really was giving outstanding views and opportunities for some potential stunning photography! It was only when a birder brought his dogs to the river side that the bird appeared more vigilant and it subsequently spent the next 15 minutes up on the water. This elegant denizen of the Arctic then rose up and flapped its wings before travelling south and diving frequently again. On the fields opposite the track, at the back a gathering of Swans included both 5 Mute and from Scandinavia 2 Whooper Swans right in front of a distant house, Rob heard and called a a Green Sandpiper which I also heard and saw when it flew away right. Also stood out on the close ploughed field rather incongruously were 2 single Little Egrets. Moving onto at Kirkby on Bain looking over Riverslea Lake, a male Ring-necked Duck and immature female Scaup were seen. The Scaup was in the foreground in front of it swimming left . Both ducks were on the far side of the lake (with Wigeon, Tufted Ducks and Pochard around 10 of each) where we were viewing this fine gravel pit complex. The grey/ black and white at the front breast of this North American bird were very distinctive, seen as it spent most of its time asleep but as it swam strongly right, it briefly lifted its distinctive head up sporting its three tone bill (black, white and grey) plus a Great White Egret seen walking in the water of a pit 100 yards further down the road concluding a great day in Lincs. It also emulated my first holiday to Shetland when visiting with Mum, we visited Dennis Coutts photography shop and he told of us about 2 special birds a White- billed Diver at Quenelle and Ring- necked Duck on a loch, its been 40 years since I've been able to see these 2 birds in 1 day again!

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