Taking my customary Wednesday wander around the reservoir with Amanda, Dave and Phil we stopped to scan the large wintering flock of Tufted Ducks (500+), feeding on freshwater mussels off the western side of Farmoor Two, the larger of the two basins. It is always worth checking these flocks as sometimes a new arrival can turn go un-noticed amongst them.
I found the hybrid drake Greater Scaup x Lesser Scaup feeding with them but soon after Dave alerted us to a male Tufted Duck sporting a pale blue nasal saddle on its upper mandible with the black code FF9 embazoned on it. The purpose of fitting such a nasal saddle is to be able to readily identify a bird that spends most of its time on the water. Normally colour rings would be fitted to a bird's leg for easy identification but as a diving duck's legs are submerged most of the time this would prove a waste of time and so the nasal saddle works as an alternative.
I am not sure I agree with such a thing being fitted but I am told it does not inconvenience the bird in any way and watching the duck this did appear to be the case. It does however look unwieldy and I wonder if this unsubtle bit of bling affects the chances of the wearer finding a mate as it certainly is not aesthetic and does nothing to enhance the bird's appearance.
I took some images of the bird and when I got home did some research on the internet and found a web site called European colour ring-Birding (www.cr-birding.org) which lists all the ringing schemes in Europe. You find the project your sighting refers to and then contact the project leader with your sighting. By doing this I found this nasal saddle originated from a French ringing scheme and I emailed the person who had fitted the nasal saddle with the details of our find.
I received a commendably prompt reply by the next morning telling me the nasal saddle had been fitted to the duck on 15th January this year at a place called Saint-Philbert-de Grand-Lieu, which is located in the Loire Atlantique area of western France.
Apart from the resident population of Tufted Ducks wintering in Britain, many others come from Iceland, northern Europe and Russia and this may well be the origin of this bird. Although it was caught in France last winter I doubt it breeds in France and would speculate that it migrated to France to spend the last winter and is now in England where it intends to spend this current winter. It may not be coincidence that this duck has been discovered while three Greater Scaup are also present on the reservoir, the majority of which come from Iceland to spend the winter in Britain.
This is the fascination of bird migration and the conundrums it throws up.