Friday 14 January 2022

Lesser Scaup

This recent fine weather has been great for catching up with work, so last night's sore throat and below par-ness were most unwelcome. A precautionary day off then. At 11:01 the local WhatsApp group informed me that 3 Glossy Ibis had just dropped in to Sheep's Marsh on the Axe. Typical! Not much I could do about that from Bridport. At 12:19 they flew off, heading high west. So, that was that.

After lunch I felt well enough for a walk, and headed north from home along the River Asker in optimistic search of Dipper. I'd just added Greenfinch to the #LocalBigYear total when my phone rang. Seeing the caller was Mike Morse, for some reason I absolutely knew that the three Glossy Ibis had about-turned and dropped in at West Bex. Good thing I don't do betting...

'Female Lesser Scaup at Bex, on Big Pond', said Mike, but used a few more words in real life.

Big Pond is actually a small pond, and a dream location. If the Lesser Scaup stayed, views would be very good. Mike and Alan had found it with Tufties, and it was a new bird for the West Bex and Cogden recording area. I was hugely grateful for the shout, and instantly retraced my steps. Not long after...

This is how I like my ducks: close and sunlit. Female Lesser Scaup in the foreground with a pair of Tufties. That little 'bump' at the back of its crown is consistent in all the photos. There appears to be a hint of pale auricular patch too, or am I just imagining it?

Nice comparison with female Tuftie. From the side it was virtually impossible to see any black on the bill tip. Perfect.

White secondary bar, switching to grey across the primaries. Perfect again.

That white/grey wing bar contrast is even more obvious on this shot

One of my favourite pics. If ducks were a thing here instead of gulls, I'm sure I would constantly be going 'always look at ducks'. Because even a small gang of common ducks might contain a subtle gem like this one.

The whole occasion was a delight. Apart from the bird itself, which was an enjoyable object lesson in tricky Aythya identification, it was great to meet up with a few fellow birders for a change. Nick Senior was there when I arrived, with Ian McLean and Alan Barrett (co-finder) turning up a little later. As the four of us watched the Lesser Scaup and chatted in the warm, late afternoon sun, the real world and all its woes seemed far away. I like this hobby...

News of the bird had evidently drawn one or two other would-be admirers. Unfortunately they were over on the beach. Due to current water levels in the nearby reed bed, the pond is not really accessible from the beach without some serious wading.

Lesser Scaup twitchers? They could see us, so hopefully made it round to the right spot okay.

So, that was an unexpected development. A new duck for my #LocalBigYear effort. In fact it was almost a new duck, full stop. I've only seen one Lesser Scaup before. It was quite a significant one though...

Lesser Scaup at Chasewater in 1987 - the first for Britain!


  1. Fantastic! Can you imagine if you (or others) had your current camera set-up back in 1987. No worries getting that past the ten rare men!

    1. Absolutely Seth. These [relatively] cheap super-zooms are amazing. I assume the question mark in my old notes indicates a degree of general uncertainty about the bird's ID at that time. Notes are all very well, but you're right, good photos are invaluable at times.

  2. Great account and a super set of pics, Gavin. It's nice when everything comes together, there are no ID doubts and you can just relax and enjoy the bird. I guess it would become boring if it was always like that. Sometimes we need the occasional putative Eleanora's or ... But I've said enough. Seriously, though, top bird. And kudos for seeing Britain's first. I didn't realise it was in 1987. Compararively recent.


    1. Thanks Malcolm. Prolonged, close views, in brilliant light and pleasant company is not how it always works, that's for sure! It made a nice change. 😊

      I was a fairly active twitcher in 1987, and a potential first for Britain was irresistible.

  3. Nice bird Gav and great shots too. I have seen a few over the eyars ( Lancs, Dumfries, 3 in Northumberland) but not for a while. I get a few Tufties on 'my' little pond ( about 9) and often with they would have one of these with them...

    1. Thanks Stew, it could hardly have been more photogenic! I've not checked BB rarities report but I guess there have been quite a few in recent years. Amazing to think the first acceptable example was as little as 35 years ago.

    2. Yes, probably overlooked as hybrids? or even tufties in the case of females.