Saturday, 24 November 2012

Mandarin spectacular, Eccleston Mere

Once again the late risers missed the best part of the day! It was a beautiful, calm, crisp morning at Eccleston Mere and my reward for making the effort was one of the best sights I have ever seen on the mere.

You may recall that back in September, when the American Black Tern was around, there was a flock of 11 Mandarins on the mere for one or two days. Well today, presumably part of the same flock was back, this time consisting of 9 birds. Unlike the September version, today they were in pristine breeding plumage, and courting was very much what they had on their minds. Seven of the flock were males, two were females, one of which seemed paired up with a male and was left well alone by the other males. The second female however was not so lucky! She was definately fair game, and the remaining six males chased her everywhere, splitting their time between displaying to her and trying to drive away each other. They kept flying around the mere, circling the island, then landing in the water and displaying, tipping their heads back and raising their tails, with their sails erect as they called. They charged at each other like lecking grouse, and even flew up out of the water and hurled themselves feet first at their opponent. Then they would take off again and circle round, before landing and starting over again. Breathtaking! A really spectacular sight, and a great experience!

Where they have been since September is hard to say. I've not seen any reports from Knowsley Safari Park, Carr Mill Dam, Taylor Park, Ravenhead or anywhere else which mention more than a couple of birds at any one time. Mandarins are most active early morning, and then spend most of the day under overhanging vegetation, so I suppose that despite their spectacular and unmistakable plumage,there is an outside chance that they could avoid being seen somewhere. Whatever the answer, let's hope they're here to stay. I did wonder whether the waterlogged woodland at the south end of the mere with it's associated dead trees was starting to look attractive to this tree hole nesting species.

Mandarins are of course an introduced species in the UK, one of the few examples of an introduction which doesn't seem to affect our native wildlife. In fact, declines in the species natural range mean that the UK now holds an important percentage of the population.

Other birds seen today, a Woodcock flushed from woodland at the end of the stream, 5 Snipe in the fields adjacent to the mere, 2 Bullfinches, 10 Siskin, 50 Goldfinches and 10 Goldcrests.

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