During the snowy weather a trio of drake smew had been located on the river at Dorchester, taking refuge from the frozen lakes. They'd been seen most days during the week but work commitments had meant that I wasn't able to make a sortie out there until Saturday afternoon when I took L out for an afternoon visit that way. I'd not actually been out with L for some time now, partly as he requires less overseeing at home now that he's older (and so it's less of an imposition on my VLW if I do go out) and partly because he's less included himself to be dragged out to some wind-blasted location in the middle of winter whilst I look at birds. He was rather reluctant this time too but once we arrived he really got into it. He's becoming quite keen on walking now and walked a good half a mile whilst chatting away and splashing in the puddles with his wellies. As far as the smew hunting was concerned they'd been seen both up and downstream of the lock at Day's Lock so it was not a case of simply turning up and ticking, rather they had to be looked for. As it happened though, as we were arriving we met a fellow birder who'd just searched upstream so we decided to do downstream together. He was a very active Bird Track reporter: in fact last year he made the fourth highest number of reports on the system with an amazing count of over twelve thousand submissions! Anyway, this meant that my companion was keen to record every species that we saw which made it rather more interesting that usual and I soon got into the spirit of looking out for birds for his list. We found four goosander tucked in under the trees on the far bank though they took flight before I could attempt a photo. There was a rather nice flock of goldfinches in an alder tree with a couple of siskins in amongst them. A flock of canada geese were grazing in the middle of a field and there were tufted duck and little and great crested grebes on the river. A sparrowhawk buzzed over and four red kites were soaring over the wood on the other side of the river. After a while with no sign of any smew my companion decided to call it a day but L and I walked a bit further on to see what we could find. L found some ice which he ate a bit of (well, at least it will boosts his immune system!) and as we were heading back in the gathering dark a red kite posed in a distant tree long enough for a quick videograb record shot. Despite not finding the smew it had been a pleasant afternoon's walk which we had both enjoyed.
Dorchester red kite videograbbed in the distance at dusk
Later that evening the three smew were reported as having been relocated on a pit very close to where we were which was a tad frustrating. I was tied up the next day with family stuff but on the Monday I had some spare time and wondered about trying to find them. An enquiry on OxonBirds revealed that the birds had been looked for but not found on the pit so they'd probably gone. Fortunately however a red-head smew had turned up on Thrupp Lake at Radley so I sent a text to Jason Coppock, whose patch Radley was, asking if he were popping in there on the way to work and whether he could let me know if the smew was still there. A while later I got a text back saying that it was indeed still present so, as I would be passing the recycling centre en route, I loaded up the car with some junk that needed recycling and set off towards Radley. A short while later I arrived, meeting up with Peter Barker and Jason who was still there. The smew was being rather secretive when we arrived, tucked in behind an island though after a while it showed again though always rather distant. I was keen to take some record shots but smew can be very difficult to photograph as they dive so frequently. Nevertheless I persevered and managed some shots of at least record shot quality.
Two record shots of the Radley red-head smew. Unfortunately all the real close-up shots were of even poorer quality.
Smew are such lovely ducks that it's always a pleasure to see them. It's a shame that I didn't catch up with the three drakes but the Radley red-head was a nice bird to see. A few more ticks to add to the year lists:
069 siskin 16/01/2010 Dorchester
070 red kite 16/01/2010 Dorchester
071 little grebe 16/01/2010 Dorchester
072 stock dove 16/01/2010 Dorchester
073 pintail 17/01/2010 Port Meadow
074 gadwall 17/01/2010 Port Meadow
075 jay 17/01/2010 Langley, Bucks
076 smew 18/01/2010 Radley
065 siskin 16/01/2010 Dorchester
066 red kite 16/01/2010 Dorchester
067 little grebe 16/01/2010 Dorchester
068 stock dove 16/01/2010 Dorchester
069 pintail 17/01/2010 Port Meadow
070 gadwall 17/01/2010 Port Meadow
071 smew 18/01/2010 Radley
072 jay 18/01/2010 Radley
073 pochard 18/01/2010 Radley