Sunday 20 December 2020

Two Ring necked Ducks at Radley 19th December 2020

A text from Badger this morning alerted me to the presence of a pair of Ring necked Ducks at Radley Gravel Pits near Abingdon. As I had plenty of free time on my hands it was an attractive prospect and provided a welcome diversion from going to Farmoor Reservoir, which on these pandemic weekends has now become uncomfortably busy as more and more people learn of its existence and come to walk its perimeter.

On a morning where the sun, always low in the sky at this time of year, dazzled as it reflected off roads made wet by overnight rain, I made my way to Radley and parking the car set off down the familiar lane that runs alongside Thrupp Lake, to eventually reach the old railway line, where I turned left and followed the stony course of the track, running straight and true through some bushes and small trees until I came to a small lake on my right.

Here I found two of Oxonbirds finest, Badger and Peter, who pointed out the pair of Ring necked Ducks that were diving by some reeds. Unfortunately, although always welcome in these desperate times, the sun effectively banished any hope of seeing them well as it was shining directly into our faces and the birds were, as a consequence mere silhouettes.  I could clearly see the distinctive dome shaped head of the male and the slightly less extreme shaped head of the female but any detail of plumage was currently an impossibility. 

Needless to say this was disappointing and the only recourse was to walk around to the eastern side of the lake to try and get a clear view of the ducks with the sun behind me. I walked along the east side, not a prospect to take lightly in all the wet mud and puddles that lay there. One slip and it would be a dry cleaner's bonanza. Thankfully I made it, still upright, to where a fortuitous gap in the reeds allowed me a clear and uninterrupted view of most of the lake.

The Ring necked Ducks had in the meantime swum to the other side and were currently stood in the wet margin of the lake, opposite to me.

As with all rare ducks that are found in unlikely locations there is always the question in the back of one's mind about provenance. Had these ducks originated from their normal home in North America or someone's private collection? With rare ducks you just never know but in this case there has been a recent small influx of Ring necked Ducks into Britain, with, for example, another female currently frequenting a lake in Surrey, and these two were certainly wary enough to appear wild. My mind went back to the last record of this species in Oxfordshire, when an unprecedented four Ring necked Ducks, three males and one female, were found at Standlake on 5th April 2015. These, too, were considered wild birds and their number slowly diminished until the last one, a drake, departed on 2nd May.

After a few minutes the female took to the water once more, obviously intent on feeding and the male followed.They swam out to join a small flock of Tufted Ducks and commenced diving in the middle of the lake.The drake in his finest plumage looked an absolute picture on the blue water  and in the pleasant company of my two friends I enjoyed these rare visitors to Oxfordshire

As usual my eye was attracted to the male, although thankfully I did manage to avoid neglecting the female which in an understated way is a nice looking bird in her own right with her prominent white eye rings and trailing white streak down each side of her grizzled grey head.

Courtesy of Badger.

We were joined by Thomas and Mick and together we watched the birds for a while before I decided to leave and wandered back down the old railway line with Badger and Peter. My confidence and state of mind are fragile these days and I find solace and pleasure in the company of friends. I did not want to part but put on a brave face when the time came. Poignantly we wished each other Happy Christmas or the best it could be in these anxious times and whatever they may bring next.

What a shit show this Government of ours have made of matters.We have now got the worst person possible as Prime Minister to handle this  crisis and who, in turn, has appointed a bunch of second rate nodding dogs as ministers to handle affairs of state, when we so obviously need precisely the opposite.

Ominous grey clouds had obliterated the sun. It was going to rain. Little did we know of the dire news that was to come later in the day. Maybe it was just as well. 

Still, in the evening Bill Bailey, the comic and avid birder won Strictly come Dancing. Frivolous I know but it is things such as this that I cling to and that bring some relief from the constant bad news. 


It would appear that the male Ring necked Duck has a plastic ring on its left leg. This would suggest a captive origin.

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