Baikal Teal – March Farmers, Cambridgeshire

On the 20th March a Baikal Teal had been found at Welney WWT just in to Norfolk. Unfortunately it wasn’t present the following day but on the morning of 29th April it was found again at Ouse Washes RSPB in Cambridgeshire. News was released promptly enough for people to connect with it that day. I had hoped that I would be able to see it when I visited Aly in a few days time. Unfortunately, however, there was no sign of it the following day. 

Three days later I was stood at Frampton Marshes in despair that the Long-billed Dowitcher had decided to end its 8 month stay on the day I visited. As I simmered with frustration news came through that the Baikal Teal had been relocated on the Ouse Marshes at March Farmers. It was 7:12pm and so there probably wasn’t time to get there before dark as I didn’t know the area, the directions seemed a little vague and navigating would be difficult on my own. The final message of the day, at 8:30pm, was that the bird was still just west of the power lines though distant and obscured by vegetation and then lost to view.

After Frampton Marshes I arrived at Aly’s house at 9pm and we decided that we wouldn’t set the alarm for 4:30am, that we would wait for news and that we would go together after Aly had been to order the rockery stones for her garden. We spent the evening making sure we knew exactly where to park and where to walk to.

The next morning at 6:12am my phone bleeped the news that the Baikal Teal was still present just west of the power lines. I was now wide awake and wishing I was there. After our trip to see the Red-crested Pochard Aly went on to look at and order the rockery stones and returned home at just after 10am, we quickly made some rolls, and we were on the road again by 10:25am.

Having parked up at March Farmers we began the walk out to join the fairly long line of birders already assembled. As we approached several birders offered us a look through their scopes and we had a new British Bird on our lists. BRITISH LIST 444.

Lake Baikal is over 5000 miles away and over the years Baikal Teal has been on and off Category A of the British List although it is now widely accepted that Baikal Teal can reach Western Europe as a genuine vagrant. Its re-admittance to Category A in 2009 followed stable isotope analysis (which can be used to trace where birds have come from) of a bird shot in Denmark in 2005. This led to a similar analysis of the first British Record (a bird shot in Essex in 1906) and Baikal Teal was back on Category A as a genuine vagrant. 

Subsequently there have been around 9 accepted records in the UK with the most recent being a drake at Fen Drayton Lakes RSPB and then Ouse Washes RSPB from 16th March to 3rd May 2014, could the current bird possibly be the same individual? There are around 15,000 Wigeon in the Welney area. Wigeon would be a carrier species for Baikal Teal and so this area is probably as good an area as anywhere for a genuine vagrant. At March Farmers we also saw a drake Garganey and a distant Crane with leg rings, the Great Crane Project later confirmed that this was one of their birds, a female named Beatrice.

In other Baikal Teal news, back in 1988, I had twitched Titchwell from Durham University for a non breeding plumaged Baikal Teal. We didn’t see it but the bird was re-found a day or so later and so we twitched it again and this time we saw the bird. However, several weeks later the bird moulted to reveal it’s true identity, a Pintail x Teal hybrid!

Black-winged Stilt – Ouse Washes RSPB, Cambridgeshire – 3rd May 2019

After the Baikal Teal we visited Ouse Washes RSPB hoping that a pair of Black-winged Stilts might still be present. They had been found on Tuesday 30th April and the news was accompanied by a lot of people getting angry online that this sensitive breeding news had been released – a pair of Black-winged Stilts had bred at nearby Welney WWT in 2017, the chicks hatched but none survived.  

Although there had been no further news of the recent pair we hoped that this was because they were being kept quiet rather than that the birds had gone. We made the long walk out to Cadbury Hide but unfortunately there was no sign of the Stilts. We did see Avocet, Crane, Garganey and Hobby and a pair of Tree Sparrows were using a nest box near the visitors centre, a new bird for the year. Tree Sparrow takes me up to 209.

White-winged Black Tern and Bonaparte’s Gull – Abberton Reservoir, Essex – 4th May 2019

With six White-winged Black Terns and a Bonaparte’s Gull reported at Abberton Reservoir (both are ticks for Aly) we decided to head down to Essex. I can’t remember ever visiting Abberton before and I certainly didn’t recognise the reserve as we drove in although checking my bird records on my mobile (via Bird Journal) I could see that I saw Britain’s 2nd Canvasback here in November 1997. 

We visited Gwen’s Hide and Island Hide and so did dozens of very young children from various brownie and scout troops! There were plenty of terns on the wing and in the strong harsh light many of them looked fairly dark although once we got onto the White-winged Black Terns there was no doubt. 

They swooped and banked with light and buoyant wing beats. There appeared to be 5 or 6 present and the bodies were clearly jet black although it wasn’t until it clouded over that we were able to see them really well in the more forgiving flat light, the jet black underwings and white ‘shoulders’ were much more obvious. All those I saw well appeared to be adults. There nearest breeding areas are probably Poland.

We then turned our attention to finding the Bonaparte’s Gull. This proved much more difficult as it seemed to be mobile and all the Black-headed Gulls we could see were on the wing and a fair distance away. As well as Gwen’s Hide and Island Hide we viewed from Layer de la Haye Causeway and also from the viewing screen overlooking Wigborough Bay. No sign although we did see a Channel Wagtail (an inter-zone hybrid of Yellow Wagtail and Blue-headed Wagtail), a Corn Bunting and a Little Gull from the causeway. 

We ventured back to the Visitor Centre and heard that the Bonaparte’s Gull had been seen again on the island in front of Island Hide. We headed off there and managed to squeeze into the hide as it was full of birders. Unfortunately, the gull was apparently on the wing again feeding in the bay but we decided to stay where we were and hope it would come back to the island. Thankfully it did and I relocated it 10 minutes later. 

It was clearly smaller than Black-headed Gull with a delicate all black bill and its hood was black although not complete. When its legs were revealed from the fairly deep water they were a diagnostic bubble gum pink colour. This was a much better view than the Bonaparte’s Gull I had seen at Blashford Lakes a week ago. White-winged Black Tern takes me to 210 for the year.  

Red-rumped Swallow – Grimsbury Reservoir, Oxfordshire – 5th May 2019

I headed home from Aly’s very early on Sunday morning (earlier than I’d planned) and made a short detour via Grimsbury Reservoir near Banbury in Oxfordshire. A Red-rumped Swallow had been found here on Friday morning in with a mixed flock of around 30 Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins. 

I arrived and faced an anxious 10 minutes before the swallow was relocated. After several failed attempts I managed to track it in the telescope. What a gem of a bird! 

The bird had been perching up on the railings which would have made a great sketch but I couldn’t stay long and so left really happy that the swallow hadn’t moved off in the good weather which followed yesterday’s wind and rain. 

Red-rumped Swallow takes me to 211 for the year.

Black-winged Stilt – Radipole Lake, Dorset – 7th May 2019

A Black-winged Stilt was seen from the visitor centre at Radipole Lake at just after 11am on Bank Holiday Monday. I couldn’t face the thought of fighting through the traffic around Weymouth and so decided to go first thing in the morning if the stilt remained through until dusk. 

It was last seen from the visitor centre at 6pm and so I decided to head down first thing. I texted Dad and he agreed to come and he got to my house at 6:15am. We arrived at Radipole in just over an hour and I was surprised to see no birders in the car park or around the Visitor Centre. 

The centre wasn’t open until 9:30am but we were able to view suitable muddy areas from alongside the centre building but there was no sign. The stilt had also been seen once from the North Screen and so we headed off there but again no sign. On the loop of the reserve we had very good views of Bearded Tit, Cetti’s Warbler and Reed Warbler. 

A final attempt for the stilt from the Visitor Centre revealed only a few Common Sandpipers. It seemed that the stilt had moved on and so we headed back home. The stilt wasn’t seen again.

Black-winged Stilt – Langford Lakes Nature Reserve, Wiltshire – 12th May 2019

On Saturday a pair of Black-winged Stilts were found in Wiltshire at Langford Lakes Nature Reserve 15 minutes north west of Salisbury. I was working in the afternoon and evening and so couldn’t go immediately which was a shame as having dipped the one-day Radipole Black-winged Stilt last week I knew my chances of seeing them would be reduced significantly if I waited until overnight especially with a clear night forecast and with spring migration well underway. The birds showed well all day and were even seen mating. I was working again Sunday afternoon and evening and so I decided that I would visit first thing and I set the alarm early.   

I pulled over into the layby on the A36 at 6:30am and scanned the lake and wader scrape. There was no sign. The view from Meadow Hide within the reserve would be better but by walking the length of the long layby I could see all areas of the wader scrape and it soon became clear that the stilts had gone.

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