Sunday 24 February 2013

Freezing February. Pied-billed grebe, Ferruginous duck, waxwings and hawfinch.

The last pied-billed grebe I remember was up in Greater Manchester; too far for me. Another appeared recently at Ham Wall RSPB in Somerset which, I being a Devon man, is my part of the country! It had been there for a few days so, on Sunday 17 February, I decided to go and see it. All the world and his wife were there. It was quite an elusive bird but it did come out briefly a few times, almost always partially hidden by the reeds and distant.

Pied-billed grebe
The next weekend, Saturday 23 Feb, I decided to go and see the long staying ferruginous duck at Priory Country Park in the middle of Bedford. I got there fairly early on a dull, freezing crisp morning and was directed to where this handsome duck was fraternising with the local pochards. It came quite close at one point, probably only 20m or so.

Ferruginous duck - right. Pochard left.
Ferruginous duck stretching his wings
Ferruginous ducks can look superficially like female tufted ducks.
One obvious feature of the former is a nice white bum!

Two mute swans slept very nearby quite unconcerned at my presence. Shame their necks are usually dirty compared with the rest of them.

Mute swan

Some tufted ducks flew past:

Tufted ducks - all male

Afterwards, I looked round the nature garden which had been 'specially planted to attract wildlife'. It was nice, but the ravages of the harsh winter meant there wasn't much about apart from this handsome blue tit.
Blue tit
I got ready to leave. I noticed that on my route back, at Surbiton, a large flock of waxwings had been reported. I decided to check them out and was pleased to count 79 of them near the busy narrow high street full of traffic and Saturday shoppers, coming down to some trees holding only dark, shrivelled berries. Here are a few dozen of them.

I continued home.  Lynne, my wife, had yet to see waxwings even though I had 'already taken her on 3 wild goose chases in search of waxwings this year'?? Hmm!  Anyway, I convinced her to accompany me to Surbiton. I  promised she would definitely see waxwings this time, even though such pledges in relation to birds can be notoriously difficult to honour!! This time she was not disappointed and the whole flock performed in front of her eyes. Phew! Reputation saved!

Waxwing with rather unappetising berry
Today, Sunday 24 February, I took Lynne to see her parents in Kent. On the way we dropped in to St Margarets, Barming churchyard where a hawfinch had been reported for the last few days. We arrived at about midday and with perfect timing, bumped into the local birdwatcher who told us he hadn't seen it that day. However, we did gain valuable information on its habits and decided to look round this charming chuchyard. After about half an hour I saw a bird fly into the top of the tallest ash. It looked larger than the several greenfinches we had seen. Sure enough it was the hawfinch. It stayed in it's lofty perch for about 20 minutes although it was difficult to find an angle where it wasn't obscured by branches. Another lifer . . . for Lynne.

Hawfinch - probably female

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