Friday, 19 November 2010

First Tring Merganser in 6 years


A much brighter and warmer day than of late with predominantly clear skies and light SE winds. Although I was glued to the computer all morning, the afternoon was brightened up when I took a call from local birder Jeff Bailey - he had just found a RED-BREASTED MERGANSER at Tring - the first at the reservoirs since 26 December 2004..........


At around 1230 hours, Jeff Bailey located an odd sawbill roosting close to the main spit and as it woke up after 15 minutes or so, he realised it was a RED-BREASTED MERGANSER. Jeff immediately phoned me up and went through its salient features with me and I agreed to come straight out to join him. Before I left the house, I contacted David Bilcock, so that he could inform the local grapevyne, and about 40 minutes later, I arrived on site.

Jeff was still standing on the jetty watching the bird, whilst Roy Hargreaves had snatched views and was already leaving. Mike Campbell was attempting some video and Martin Parr some distant record shots. Ian Williams and Mick Frosdick were to join us later.

The bird was sleeping when I arrived, floating just a few yards out from the spit, between the jetty and the Drayton Bank, perhaps just 40 yards from the latter. It was a fine and dapper drake almost moulted out of eclipse and was typified by its bright rosy-pink slim bill (slightly broader at the base), its gloss green head, its abrupt steep forehead, reddish-pink eye, shaggy nape, white neck collar, black-streaked pale brown breast, gleaming white undercarriage, black mantle and back, grey uppertail and lightly vermiculated grey sides. The undertail-coverts were pure white but with marbling at the tips.

The upperwing pattern was marked with dark outer primaries and extensive white bars on the lesser and greater coverts, the secondaries and even the tertials. The underwing was also gleaming white with contrasting dark flight feathers.

As we watched it at rest, it was eventually jostled by a Coot and forced to wake up. It then became quite active and spent several minutes bathing, washing and preening, occasionally flapping its wings. At 1415 hours, it climbed out of the water and on to the stony spit, sat down briefly and then jumped up again and resumed preening. It was then the target of an annoyed Lapwing, who pecked at it and forced it back in the water, and then once back in the water, another Coot and a Mute Swan had a go at it - they simply did not like his punk-inspired hair cut! Fortunately, he did find another resting spot and floated asleep for a further 20 minutes. He then awoke again and started swimming, flew a short way and swam close to the spit and onward towards the jetty. At 1456 hours, he took flight and gained height and went off strongly into Buckinghamshire airspace towards Wendover.

It represented my 169th species in Hertfordshire this year and was the first to be seen at Tring since December 2004. The 29 recorded since 1970 are as follows -:

2) 1970: two females at Tring Reservoirs on 5 December;
4) 1973: a pair at Tring Reservoirs on 9 December;
5) 1975: a drake at Wilstone on 23 April (incidentally my first Tring sighting of this species)
10) 1979: an unprecedented influx when 15 or more occurred in Herts involving 3 female-types at Wilstone on 20 February and a pair there on 4 March;
12) 1983: a pair visited Wilstone on 3 April;
14) 1986: a female was at Wilstone on 12 October and another from 9-12 November;
16) 1987: two remained at Wilstone from 5-16 February;
17) 1988: a female visited Wilstone on 18 October;
18) 1991: a female visited Wilstone Reservoir on 18 November;
19) 1993: a drake at Wilstone on 19 November;
23) 1995: a female was at Wilstone on 15 January followed by a redhead on 6 December and three birds, including a drake, on 15 December;
24) 1996: a drake visited Wilstone on 24 March;
25) 1997: a female remained on Startop's End Reservoir from 22-26 December;
27) 2000: a pair was seen by Dave Bilcock on Wilstone on 12 April;
28) 2001: a drake visited Startop's End Reservoir on 13-14 December;

29) 2004: a redhead was at Wilstone late afternoon on 26 November

In addition to the celebrated merganser, Wilstone this afternoon yielded the continuing BLACK-NECKED GREBE, 5 Little Grebes, the two adult Whooper Swans, a drake PINTAIL, 83 Wigeon, 206 European Golden Plover and a very confiding first-year COMMON KINGFISHER by the jetty. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers also flew over the jetty.

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