Wednesday 23 November 2022

A Red throated Diver on an Inland Reservoir 23rd November 2022

A Red throated Diver that has been present at Upper Bittell Reservoir in Worcestershire for around a week roused my interest in what is a quiet time of year for birding and I decided to make the not too arduous journey to see it. I have seen any number over the years from coastal seawatches to breeding on lochs in Shetland but one inland in England was sufficiently infrequent to be worth the effort to go and have a look. 

The trip would also allow me to further familiarise myself with a new camera and its various settings and idiosynchrasies. Focusing on a larger bird and practicing would hopefully allow me to be ready to deal with the much smaller bird species such as warblers which would inevitably test my camera skills sooner or later.

The journey from my home to Upper Bittell Reservoir is not that long and today was forecast to be sunny after some early rain. I had never travelled to this location before but it was easy enough to find by following my satnav's directions.

Parking in an area just large enough to accommodate three cars I made my way along a lane and after  a short walk found myself on the dam wall of the reservoir which has a public footpath running across it. 

Just as well, for the manager of the yacht club which uses the reservoir told me I had to be a member of the yacht club to walk anywhere else around the reservoir. This would cost me £20.00 but thankfully was not necessary as the diver was fast asleep on the water bang in front of the dam wall and viewable from the footpath. 

The diver remained asleep for another five minutes and then commenced preening before drifting further out onto the reservoir and going back to sleep.Essentially grey and white in winter plumage, they are the smallest of the four diver species that occur in Britain and the commonest.

However, as I mentioned they are unusual inland especially in the middle of England and one can only speculate that this bird was driven inland by recent high winds and for now has opted to settle here for a spell but will probably move on to its more normal winter habitat on the sea. It certainly shows no sign of injury or illness and gave every impression of being entirely content where it was.

While watching the diver a first year Common Goldeneye, possibly bred in Scotland came close to the dam wall diving for food. Immatures and female Common Goldeneyes look very similar but adult female Goldeneyes have a yellow tip to their bill.

Red throated Divers are known as Loons in North America deriving from the diver's calls, the name being a corruption of an old Norse name lomr which translates as 'moaning bird'. Although diver is the preferred name here 'loon' is still used as an alternative in Orkney and Shetland. To this day in parts of Scotland the Red throated Diver is also known as the 'rain goose' which originates from mythology about the bird that was once widespread around the northern parts of the globe where the diver was revered and thought to be a winged helper in a shaman's journey into the spirit world. The rain goose's supposed ability to foretell the coming of storms forming part of its reputation as a bird of ill omen.

Looking at the diver today, floating on an unremarkable and tranquil inland reservoir, it was I admit, a struggle to tune in to the romance and mystique that has been attached to the bird down the years.

It is widespread as a winter visitor around most of the British coastline, sometimes in large numbers where feeding is good, such as the two thousand that were found feeding on sprats off Suffolk in the winter of 1999/2000, the largest concentration of this species so far recorded. As a breeding species it is much more restricted in range and numbers with around 950 pairs breeding, all in Scotland and of which over half are on Shetland. 

As I was restricted to the dam wall and not allowed to walk around the reservoir there was not much else for me to see as most of the birds were on the far bank and I had neglected to bring a telescope with me. A shame really as it was rumoured that a Bean Goose and a Pink-footed Goose were hiding amongst the inevitable Greylags feeding on the distant shoreline.

After an hour I left the diver, again asleep after a spell of feeding and despite the forecast of sunshine all day, the sky rapidly darkened and it commenced raining hard as I made my way back along the lane to my car.

Maybe rain goose was not so fanciful after all.

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