The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Monday, 9 December 2013

Teal or No Teal?

If you're short on time, I'd urge you to scroll down to the Baikal Teal twitch.  I've only got another couple of days to catch up on, but I wouldn't think any less of you of you wished to bypass these, in comparison, very uneventful days!


I spent a morning mooching around the Ferrybridge and Portland Harbour area, but found little to show for it.  Nonetheless, it was still enjoyable in perfect sunny conditions.

I started round at Sandsfoot Castle, as it's often the best point to view the harbour.  Unfortunately, on this occasion it was rather quiet there, with just two flocks, of 6 and 2, Black-necked Grebe out of the ordinary.  It goes without saying that despite doing everything in my power to scrutinise ever bit of the harbour, someone later counted 15!

I then had a nice watch from the visitor centre at Ferrybridge, as the tide receded.  The light enabled me to fully appreciate all the plumage features of the gathered Gulls and Brent Geese, such as these immature Great Black-backed Gull.

And I also found a striking Common Gull that could be a serious trap for the unwary, sporting as it did a perfect ring round it's bill.

As I was photographing it, the view got interrupted... the long-staying Black Brant got in the way!

Finally, I suddenly noticed a small flock of Skylark feeding close-by, on the seaweed on the edge of the mudflats.


All the birding I got in today was a brief look at Bincleaves Corner, which is the northernmost extreme of Portland Harbour, before I started work in Weymouth.

Yet again, despite the calm conditions, nothing of note in the harbour, but on the wrong side of the breakwater from my point of view was a single female Eider (which presumably later entered the harbour, when it was seen by Joe).


When I got my new car, I told myself that I really should get back into twitching again.  This was largely inspired by the remarkable year the UK has had for twitchable rare birds, with the likes of the Great Snipe, Pacific Swift, Hermit Thrush, and Orphean Warbler all being at the forefront of my mind.  So, to that end, I have decided to try and go for as many of the twitchable good birds that turn up in the UK from now on, though with the restriction of mainland only. 

The first long-distance possibility occurred yesterday, with the appearance, and subsequent stamp of approval, of the Baikal Teal in Lancashire.  As it will be for all these long-distance trips, I ideally needed to find others to share travel costs with.  It came to my attention that a few guys in the New Generation Birders Facebook group were keen to go, including some that were conveniently positioned along my route.

So, we were all set, and the first challenge was getting up at 3am!  That done, I first headed the 150 miles to Hereford to pick up Espen Quinto-Ashman, then another 35 miles onto Kidderminster for Craig Reed, as the day dawned.  Assembled, we did the final 120 mile stint up to Southport, and got there at 9:30, in overcast conditions.

I initially wasn't sure where to park, and my best guess turned out to be a bit wide of the mark, as we had to walk a fair way along the coast road before we got to the area the bird had been yesterday.  Nevertheless, we thought it wise to scrutinise all the Wigeon and Teal flocks on the way, and boy was that a task!  There were hundreds of them! 

A view out onto part of Crossens Outer Marsh, as the sun attempts to break through.

I say part, as the area was massive, with the vast Ribble Estuary saltmarsh on the other side of the road in addition.  I don't envy the job of the WeBS counters for the area!

As we were about to arrive at the line of scanning birders, we received the dreaded 'no sign' message, and our hearts dropped.  We carried on regardless, as with so many duck about, we felt confident it had to be here somewhere! 

Once at the beginning of the seawall, I thought it best to let the others carry on, while I rushed back to get the car.  There was a hellish biting wind blowing, and I don't think any of us could have coped with having to fight our way back to where I'd parked it, particularly if we dipped!

I was almost at the car, when I got a phone call from Craig.  I could barely hear a word he said, as the wind was obviously howling at the exposed seawall where he was!  But, did he really mention something about the bird being found? I wasn't sure!

Anyway, once I'd driven round to the seawall, I was met with a stampede of twitchers, as they frogmarched in a long line towards the road.  A mass exodus like that can only mean one thing!  I overheard a few words from some of them, and all I could gather was that the bird had been found at Marshside, which I took to mean the main reserve.  Hence, why I waited for Espen and Craig to appear, so we could drive round, rather than head off on my own.  I had barely noticed that all the birders had been disappearing down a nearby path, rather than jumping in their cars! 

Once the guys had returned, I learnt that the bird was actually not far away at all, adjacent to Crossens Outer Marsh. 

On arrival at the long line of birders, there was a little confusion, as the bird was sleeping in the middle of a large group of Wigeon, with very few markers nearby!  It was a bit of a struggle, but eventually I found the stunning Baikal Teal, and it stuck out much more than I expected, like a foreigner in fact!

The sun was now out and behind us at this point, and we all got really good views, although the bird was rather distant, and largely inactive. 

A couple of phonescoped shots, the latter using full zoom on the telescope eyepiece.

And this was the view with the naked eye (you can just see the flock in the distance).  Thank goodness for optics!

I would have liked to have watched it for longer, particularly to see it more active.  Reluctantly though, we really had to leave if we wanted to have a go for the Two-barred Crossbills in the Wyre Forest on the way back.

I couldn't resist getting a crowd shot on the way out.

We knew things would be tight what with such a short amount of light at this time of year, but I hadn't really factored in traffic.  It wasn't that bad really, but by the time we'd got to Kidderminster, the sun was almost at the horizon, so I don't think there would have been any chance of catching the birds before they roosted.  A real shame, as we could have spent more time at the Teal!  Hey ho.

In reality though, I think we were all grateful for getting home a bit earlier, cause it had been a very long and tiring day!  I dropped off Craig, then Espen, before getting home to Portland myself just past 8. 

Thoroughly enjoyable!  Maybe an Ivory Gull or two next?  Perhaps more realistically, a Pacific Diver!

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