Thursday, 11 November 2010

Good weather for ducks

Common Goldeneyes (above and below): back at Staines for the winter.

With strong winds and steady rain, I headed out on Remembrance Day morning to check the west London reservoirs via the scenic route – a site just beyond the north-west edge of the London Area where Grey Partridges were reported last week. None there today, however – just three Red-legs, as I have come to expect. Nonetheless, I worked the fields between this location, which is next to the site of the old Roman city of Verulamiam, and the M25; in the deteriorating conditions there weren’t many birds, the best being two more coveys of Red-legs (numbering five and 15 birds), 30 or so Fieldfares, a Yellowhammer, a calling Common Buzzard and a Red Kite over the M25 as I headed away westwards.

Up on the Queen Mother Reservoir – which straddles the border of the London recording area – the wind was far stronger, though the rain had abated. The water was positively rough and I had hopes of finding a seabird swept up from the south coast, but an hour of diligent scanning brought no more than another Common Buzzard (surprising to see large raptors on the wing in these conditions).

A distant female Greater Scaup (left) with a male Tufted Duck at Staines.
At Staines Reservoirs early afternoon, I set out in glorious sunshine with the southerly wind abating. By some meteorological quirk which I still can’t fathom, an ominous grey cloud to the north-west ignored the prevailing wind and seemed to make a beeline straight for my position on the causeway, far from cover. Over the next 15 minutes it deposited a ridiculous amount of water, and at one point a micro-squall within this shower could be visibly tracked passing across the south basin, whipping up the water and raining intensely as it progressed. I haven’t seen such a downpour in London for several years.

This Tufted Duck with a nasal saddle may have originated from France.
I just about managed to keep the camera and lens dry and, when the weather permitted, take a few wildfowl shots. Wind-blown seabirds were absent here too, but I did find a distant Greater Scaup among the Tufted Ducks (only the second I’ve seen in London this year), as well as good numbers of Common Goldeneye (my first returners of the autumn) and Northern Shoveler, a few Eurasian Wigeon and plenty of Great Crested Grebes. Also noteworthy was a Tufted Duck with a nasal saddle which, according to Mark Grantham at BirdGuides, may have originated from a French scheme - more to follow on this.

Great Crested Grebe in non-breeding plumage at Staines Reservoirs.
UPDATE: here's another image of that Greater Scaup, out of the water
and showing its unusually grey flanks to good effect. Probably an adult
female, but eye colour indeterminate from these distant record shots.


  1. An interesting looking bird, Dominic - pity it doesn't seem to have stuck around at Staines. Ken Purdey saw it distantly on the same day as you, but I'm not aware of any other reports.

    I've never seen a female Scaup (or photo of one) with such contrasting pale grey flanks as your photo appears to show. Was that something you noticed in the field? Also did you see the eye colour? Bit of a long shot in the conditions, I know. Cheers, Rob

  2. Hi Rob
    Yes, the flanks were clearly and visibly contrastingly grey in the field, which made me hesitate about the bird's age. But on reflection, I suspect an adult female despite the indeterminate eye colour. I've added another image at the end of the post which shows the bird standing out of the water, and the grey flanks can be seen to be genuine rather than an artefact of the image. Cheers, Dominic



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