Tuesday, 15 September 2020

A Garganey Moment 12th September 2020

c Mark
We met early in the country park and walked to a small reed margined lake, much of its surface covered by a green carpet of duckweed.The lake is one of two that are found secreted from a much larger main lake which in a couple of hours will become heavily populated but here a narrow track alongside the smaller lake forms a cul de sac and along which people rarely venture, especially at such an early hour as this.

This suited our purpose as we would be required to sit in virtual silence, if we were to be successful in sighting the bird of interest. We found a gap in the bushes, a cramped space created by fishermen and sat at the bottom of a steep bank by the water's edge, secreted in our small space by surrounding brambles, reeds and sedge. This would effectively mask our profile. It was quiet at this hour with no traffic noise or extraneous un-natural sounds. Only the quiet clucking of Moorhens and explosive burps of Gadwall drakes hidden in the three narrow and separate reedbeds opposite us, came in the stillness of the morning. 

Four Mallard casually swam through thc duckweed, so close that we could hear the slapping of their mandibles as they sifted through the duckweed. The ducks left sinuous trails of dark water that ran like scars through the green carpet with the disturbed weed slowly floating back to become, as the water stilled, re-united with the overall green surface.

Common Chiffchaffs flickered like the emerging sunlight through the base of the reeds.Tiny and inconsequential, they chased insects through the multitudinous stems, inches from the water, their buff brown plumage the colour of the reed stems.

Two late Swifts careered through the bluing sky, high over and were gone, hidden by the trees that hung over the lake sides.

A much smaller duck, with a colder, greyer but similar streaked brown plumage to the Mallards, totally unremarkable to the undiscerning eye, emerged with utmost caution from the dense reeds opposite and commenced the same Mallard like dabbling in the weed. It was a juvenile Garganey, the object of our desire  and which had lured us here on this early autumnal morning.

Garganey at this time of year, be they juveniles or adults adopt an unexceptional brown plumage overlaid with darker streaking and spotting and can appear very similar to the slightly smaller and much commoner Teal. The main difference is the patterning on the head which consists of a pale supercilium, a dark line across its pale cheeks and a distinctive pale spot on either side of the bill. Structurally it also possesses a slighty longer bill and body. A duck for the purists maybe but its secretive lifestyle and comparative scarcity give it a certain elan and no birder is ever disappointed or blase on encountering a Garganey.They are a duck to be remarked upon.

This individual has been present o nthsi lake since August 22nd but will depart this month for a winter home in some part of southern Africa where it will moult into adult plumage.

We watched this insignificant migratory duck as it fed amongst the weed. It never came really close and its feeding was continually punctuated by stops as it raised its head, floating motionless in the weed, listening and looking for any potential danger. We followed its deviating course through the weed but it was far happier when in the sanctuary of the reed beds opposite, where no doubt it felt re-assured and secure under cover of the still green and leafy reeds.

We left as it flew to sleep amongst the duckweed in another quiet but inaccessible corner of the lake. Joining a sleepy Shoveler in the sunshine. 

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