Friday 10 March 2023

The Lesser Scaup Revisited 7th March 2023

Farmoor Reservoir was cold and drear this morning as I refreshed myself with a coffee in the yacht club cafe.A blustery, bitingly cold wind was whipping across the waters bringing an occasional shower of sleet to add to the misery and I was loathe to leave the comforts of the cafe and expose myself to the elements by walking up the causeway.

Today however there was a greater incentive than usual to leave the cafe. 

Would the Lesser Scaup still be gracing the reservoir with its presence? 

Most waterbirds seemed to be seeking sanctuary wherever the reservoir walls provided shelter from the wind. I walked up the causeway, a Pied Wagtail and a few irascible Coots were the sum of it. I walked most of the perimeter track around the larger basin known as Farmoor Two but found only a few Tufted Ducks asleep on calmer waters in the sheltered southwest corner.

Gadwall have returned to the reservoir in the last week or so, a sure sign of Spring's imminent return to Farmoor and today a few pairs were scattered across the water. The males superficially grey, dull and uninteresting when seen from afar reveal a subtle beauty of blended muted colours, overidden with streaks, spots and vermiculations  when seen closely. Their aesthetically pleasing appearance is somewhat devalued by the fact they can only muster a rather comical call, ironically mimicking those duck decoys blown by wildfowlers, an abrupt noise rather like someone blowing a raspberry.

Gadwall pair

Eventually I found myself at the extreme southern side of the reservoir and had just about given up hope of finding the scaup.Its two favourite places on the reservoir had yielded nothing today but here now was  a small group of Tufted Ducks swimming and diving. Like all such groups there was an uneven balance of sexes with females outnumbered by males. In this case there were about half a dozen male Tufteds and two females and in the middle of them, as I watched, the Lesser Scaup surfaced. Marginally smaller than its companions it swam and dived with them. Its pale grey vermiculated upperbody far from obvious as it swam low in waters of a similar colour.

A little wary to begin with the group moved further out onto the water but after I  sat on the wall they slowly came closer.

Naturally it would be remiss of me not to take yet more images of this rare transatlantic duck. Who knows how long it will remain here but for sure it will leave fairly soon. Already the hundreds strong wintering flock of Tufteds is no more and only two or three single figure groups remain. When they depart so will our rare transatlantic visitor.

The pointed unabraded tail feathers indicate the
Lesser Scaup is an adult

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