Thursday, 6 September 2018

Ducking Marblous

Proper out of county twitches to see something of interest have been distinctly thin on the ground this year. It's partly down to an increase in work commitments on my part but also partly as there's not been much to see within striking distance. So when news broke of a Marbled Duck at Grimley in Worcestershire it certainly piqued my interest. The only trouble with this is that Marbled Duck is a species which has yet formally to be accepted onto the British List. In the wild, whilst formerly breeding in good numbers in the Mediterranean, now it is confined to southern Spain, north west Africa and parts of the Middle East so a vagrant visitor is certainly possible. However, because of it being a popular bird to keep in captivity there have been no records that have yet been deemed good enough to be accepted by the BOU. Still, I tend to sit in the "making my own mind up" camp and as a card-carrying Gnome Rarities Committee (GRC) lister I thought that at the very least it would be interesting to see and in the current BOU climate of being more accepting of wild duck records (e.g. Baikal Teal and Hooded Merganser recently) it would be worth a punt even for the strictest of BOU listers. So it was that on Monday of last week I headed up the M40, then down the M5 before turning off into deepest, darkest Worcestershire. I passed a location I recognised and remembered that I'd seen my first ever Glossy Ibis here at Holt Fleet back in December 2009. The journey took a bit longer than the Sat Nav had been predicting and it was getting on for two hours by the time that I finally neared my destination. I had been wondering where exactly to park but a line of cars along an otherwise quiet stretch of country road could only be twitchers and I had soon parked up and got directions from a departing birder. I headed off down a footpath towards the distant gaggle of duck watchers that I could see standing in some stubble in the next field along. 

On arrival I immediately spotted fellow Oxon birder PL and went over to get the latest info. It turned out that the duck was on view sitting rather incongruously on top of a low bush that was adorned with Traveller's Joy. Viewing conditions were rather hazy but I managed to make out the salient features well enough before after five minutes it dropped down out of sight.

A rather poor digiscoped record shot in the heat haze
Not knowing when (or even if) it might appear again I thanked my stars that I'd arrived when I did and set about waiting for its reappearance whilst chatting away with PL. After getting on for half an hour it reappeared back in the same place as before where it stayed for a while before having a fly around to the north end of the pit, briefly landing on the water, before taking off again and heading back to its favoured perch. A little while later it once again took flight but this time headed south where it landed out of sight behind some flooded trees. In flight it was clear to see that the bird was fully winged and it had also been reported as unringed and wary. All good so far!

Some rather hazy video footage of the bird

Having had reasonable views but not ready to head back home just yet, I joined PL and a couple of locals in a wander down to the south end to see if we could see it. Viewing was rather restricted at this end and try as we might, we could not relocate it. Still we got to enjoy a rather nice walk around the far side of the lake and I passed the time in botanising with one of the two locals who seemed to know his stuff and was happy to talk. Back at the head of the lake with no further sign of the duck PL & and I both decided that it was time to head back. I chose to go back along the A40 this time though the Sat Nav insisted on taking me through the centre of Worcester which would not have been my preferred option. Still, the journey was fine and I arrived back in time for a cup of tea and a catch-up with my VLW.

As a footnote to this, a day or two later news broke of a second Marbled Duck also in Worcestershire which has been present at the same time as the first one but which was by all account rather approachable. This rather seemed to tarnish the credentials of both birds though the BOU has net to pronounce and the GRC is generally much more tolerant of this kind of thing anyway so it may still be accepted by the latter listing authority. Either way it was nice to go out on an actual twitch again after a very quiet year so far.

A much better photo of the bird courtesy of Andy Warr (c) on Twitter  (@AndyWarr3)

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