A Baikal Teal hit the information services on Saturday morning in Cambridgeshire at Fen Drayton RSPB. Apparently actually present for two weeks already, it had been dismissed as an escapee by the original finders before being independently found by someone else who thought to put it out. As we all know, determining the plasticity of wildfowl is a real minefield with no easy solution though apparently this one was unringed, with feathers in good condition and it seemed wary, keeping its distance out in the middle of the lake where it had been found. It had also turned up at about the right time of year and if it does the decent thing and disappears fairly quickly then it must be in with a shout. Not that I rely on committee decisions for these assessments anyway - I prefer to make up my own mind on what goes on my list. Judging by how frequent the RBA updates were over the weekend plenty of people were paying it a visit. For myself, I was tied up with visiting relatives over the weekend and to be honest I don't get quite so enthusiastic about ducks as some other species so I wasn't exactly champing at the bit anyway. I decided to see how I felt on Monday.
Monday dawned and a full moth trap to sort through put me in a good mood. I'd managed a couple of new garden ticks in the form of a (rather battered) Herald and a worn Small Quaker as well as good count of 27 moths in total, which is not bad for my small urban garden at this time of year. I sat down at my desk and took a look at the financial markets - they were turgid and uninteresting. After a busy weekend I wasn't exactly raring to crack on with my work and the Teal had come up as "still present" so I decided to give it a go. What's more there was an Ikea en route so I could pick up some brownie points to counterbalance my outing. Not that weekday outings tend to cost much on the brownie point front for me anyway but it always helps.
Fen Drayton RSPB lake complex
I went for my usual route de choix to Cambridgeshire, namely via Milton Keynes, the A421 and A1 up to the A14. The journey was uneventful and in about an hour and forty minutes I arrived at Fen Drayton, a new reserve for me. From the map there were several routes to get to Moore Lake, the most westerly of the half a dozen or so lakes in the complex but a passing birder directed me (and a convoy of two other cars) to the best car park half way along the southern edge of the complex in the south east corner of Elney Lake. From here it was a (sometimes muddy) twenty minute walk in the warm spring sunshine to the hide on the east side of Moore Lake with singing Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps to serenade me as I went.
When I arrived at the hide there were only a handful of people there and the Teal was immediately visible, actively swimming around behind a small island and seemingly picking up flies of the surface of the water. It certainly was a very smart bird with its striking black Pierrot tear stripe down its golden yellow face that contrasted nicely with the bottle green rear half of the head. Throw in some foppish feathers á lá Garganey and a Green-winged Teal white vertical breast stripe and you have a very handsome duck indeed which looked great in the spring sunshine.
I spent the next hour trying to digiscope it - the light was good but it was a bit hazy and distant. I then took a break for lunch, letting others admire the bird in my scope before trying to shoot some video footage. Other birds of note on the lake were a smattering of Wigeon and Teal and on the islands a few Redshank, Lapwing and my first Little Ringed Plover of the year. It was all very pleasant.
Moore Lake - the teal is one of the duck blobs behind the island
The best digiscoped shots I could manage - it was rather distant and it was a bit hazy
Fortunately the youTube stabilisation function salvaged this video footage from the Recycle Bin.
The hide floor was shaking about so much that the image was jumping all over the place.
After a while the hide started to fill up and get too crowded so I decided to leave. I wandered back slowly, listening to the singing warblers and enjoying the sense of spring about to burst forth in the hedgerows. Reed Buntings and Bullfinches offered quick glimpses as they flew across the path. Back in the car I finished off my packed lunch and then pointed the Gnome mobile in the direction of home. The journey back was uneventful and I even remembered to nip into Ikea to pick up my brownie points. A very smart duck that was certainly worth a visit whatever its provenance.