Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Relieving the cabin fever at the Nene Washlands

I seem to be spending most of my time during the week these days ensconsed  in a hotel in bird free deepest Buckinghamshire. Everytime I check Birdguides / Nearby it tells me there's a Quail still singing at some RSPB reserve I've never heard of in a county called Oxon, wherever that is. Sounds like it should be somewhere near Oxford. Surely that would be Oxfordshire though? Anyway there's never anything else reported on Birdguides, it's been that way for three weeks now and I'm not confident it's going to get any better in July. Birds just don't exist in this part of the world at the moment, and I can't even look for inverts this week, with the sun now a distant memory and dull drizzly weather day after day. I feel like I'm getting the Premier Inn version of cabin fever, so allow me at least this indulgence.

Today, just for laughs, in an attempt to inject some excitement into my week and faced with the prospect of another afternoon in the hotel room, I decided to head up to Northampton and have a look for the female bufflehead which has been at Clifford Hill Pits on the Nene washlands. This is a large flood defence system, similar to Hesketh Out Marsh or Donna Nook, the difference being that it's inland, but it serves much the same purpose, designed  to relieve the pressure on Northampton and surrounding area should the River Nene flood. The bird has received scant attention so far from birders, partly because of the time of year I guess, but also because it's sporting a metal ring on its right leg.

Ducks seem to be guilty until proven innocent these days, the attitude seems to be, if it's wearing a ring it must be an escape, yet the reality is, thousands of wild ducks are ringed every year, including buffleheads, and in fact the ring may ultimately prove it to be a genuinely wild bird. Perhaps somebody has read the ring, but I don't think so. Unless people try we'll never know. Anyway I decided to give it a go, because I was bored and I've never seen one in the UK before so let's call it an insurance tick, plus I'd never been to the Nene washlands before so it was a new site tick, which is always worthwhile for future reference.

I'd gleaned a few site instructions from Bird Forums so I had a reasonable idea how to find the place, but I wasn't prepared for the scale of the washlands. Obvious I suppose really, if you're going to build a flood defence system it needs to be big, but this really is on Hesketh Out Marsh scale, possibly even bigger. Anyway, to sum up it was a hell of a walk. The place where the bird had last been reported was actually close to the entrance, but I couldn't find it, and in the end I walked all of the way round. I'd more or less given up, but decided that it was either go back to the misery of the hotel room or keep trying. I walked over again to where it had last been reported, and guess what?  There it was. It must have thought that I needed the walk when I went past first time, which is probably true.

Fortunately I'd inadvertently managed to "trap it" in a narrow part of the lake so it couldn't swim very far away from me and I fired off a few photos, but it was very nervous and after a few minutes it took flight for 100m, joining a small flock of tufted ducks. It was very nervous..... I've seen them much closer in Central Park in New York, where they also seem tamer. Not that tameness proves anything one way or the other.

Before I saw the bird, I'd had the vague hope of reading its ring through the scope but there really was no chance of that today. Hopefully somebody else will manage to read it or better still photograph the ring on a better day. Surely it's worth the effort? Oh well, excitment over, time for another pub meal.....

1 comment:

  1. Since writing this post, somebody has partially read the ring and it appears that the bird was not ringed in North America, so the chances are that it is an escape. Where it was ringed and by who still remains a mystery, and is probably one which will never be solved as interest in the bird wanes still further.


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