Friday, 31 January 2014

Does it really matter? 31st January 2014

Not too far from my home in Kingham lies the Cotswold Water Park (CWP), a large area of lakes covering three counties, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. Some of the lakes are now surrounded by upmarket housing developments whilst others are used for windsurfing, waterskiing or fishing but some are set aside specifically for birds and nature. Today the now seemingly endless and almost daily rain was not due to arrive until lunchtime so I set out on the half hour journey from my home to the CWP this morning to check a couple of these 'bird lakes', one of which was reported to hold a Green-winged Teal, always a nice bird to see.

Due to the almost incessant deluge over the last few weeks the Cotswold Water Park is now enhanced with many temporary and impromptu stretches of water as more and more of the surrounding fields succumb to flooding. I encountered one such field by the road near to Down Ampney, a small rural village in Gloucestershire with the not inconsiderable claim to fame of being the birthplace of Ralph Vaughn Williams, the classical composer perhaps best known for his adaptation of Greensleeves but also responsible for a number of well known classical symphonies and choral works . 

The flooded field was initially unprepossessing but I nevertheless stopped for a scan and was delighted to find a pair of Ruddy Shelduck standing out on the flooded field.

Now like all ducks these are a very attractive species but there is much debate as to whether when they, like many other 'unusual ducks' are encountered in the UK they are truly wild  (they breed in southeastern Europe, Asia and northwest Africa), are escapes from a local wildfowl collection or originate from the feral populations that now exist in The Netherlands and Germany. No one knows or will ever know and each individual sighting has to be judged on its merits or whatever the relevant County records committee decides at the time. 

Currently there are another two Ruddy Shelduck in Pagham Harbour in West Sussex and it seems that this species does regularly appear in little pulses of occurrence. This would suggest that they are either wild or more likely from the feral populations. Either way, to me they are wild and free living, making their own way in the world and therefore can legitimately be assumed to be worthy of my attention irrespective of conjecture about their origin. All I can say is that when I saw them I got the same huge amount of innocent pleasure and thrill as I would do with any encounter with a rare or unusual species. Surely that is what birding is all about?

Ruddy Shelduck pair - female upper and male lower

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