Friday, 18 April 2014

Mandarin Madness

By 09:30 I had just finished the early visit for the Waterways Breeding Bird Survey for the BTO. This requires recording every single bird in 4 consecutive 500m transects, in this case south along the River Thame from Cuddesdon Mill. Recording the location of every bird, whether calling, singing, seen or flying could be time-consuming in some areas. Fortunately for me, the habitat is so poor here that bird numbers are generally low. Indeed, I was reflecting on how quiet a morning it had been, the highlight being the first Treecreeper of the year. And possibly the only Treecreeper of the year. No Kingfisher, a few Moorhens and Mallards, not even a Canada Goose. 

As I came to the end of the 4th and final transect I flushed 3 Mallard from the river. I only saw them briefly, the male called loudly as they rose and they were lost behind the riverside vegetation. When duck are flushed from the river, they have an endearing habit of flying back past the observer a short time later, as if they are checking on the progress of the person who disturbed them. True to form the 3 duck circled behind the woods and appeared in front of me, flying directly towards me. I looked up and could immediately see that one was clearly smaller than the Mallards. A late Teal? I raised my binoculars are found myself looking at a bird identical to this one:

A male Mandarin Duck! My jaw dropped to ankle height and swayed slightly in the light breeze. My brain went into the sort of freefall that is rarely experienced without a serious ingestion of LSD. I raised my camera but the duck swooped down and landed further back in a wooded area of the river. I literally ran across the field to the riverbank and began heading back north. The 2 Mallard flushed nosily before I saw them and left quacking through the trees. Then another splash and wingbeats and I had another glimpse of a huge white supercilium, bright orange face and pink bill before I lost the bird as it headed south. The chase was on. I walked a full 3 kms south along the river towards Chippinghurst, but without luck. I then retraced my steps and returned 5km back to Cuddesdon Mill, again with no further sightings. 

This is, without doubt, the maddest and least expected addition to the Cuddesdon bird list. In a large area of arable fields and intensive agricultural monoculture, containing the most degraded tributary of the River Thames (its official!) what are the chances of stumbling across a Mandarin? A closer view would have revealed the magnificence of this exotic introduced species (again, a picture borrowed from the web):

Apart from that it was business as usual. Below, Chiffchaff; bottom, Reed Bunting:

79 species for the year. 105 bird species (+2 escaped species) for the area since 2008

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