Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Wednesday 12th November 2008

To tick or not to tick?

The continued presence of the drake Hooded Merganser at Radipole Lake had been tormenting me for some time. I hadn't seen this species before anywhere. It was a world lifer. Could the Radipole bird be a genuine wild bird? I wouldn't like to say either way! It has certainly turned up in a westerly location, always a good sign for a genuine American vagrant. When it turned up in the late spring, it was a grotty little grey and brown duck! Now it has moulted in to stunning near-adulthood and certainly is a superb bird. Well, I was unable to resist any longer, and decided to get up even earlier than usual, and drive along the coast to see it. I was up at 4.45am, and duly arrived at Radipole visitor centre at 7am. There wasn't too much traffic on the way over, but the coast road was closed between Swyre and Abbotsbury. I decided to go the main road way to the Dorchester by-pass and take the Weymouth road from there. Massive queues of traffic heading out of Weymouth, all the way to Dorchester (ie. coming in the opposite direction), gave me a mental reminder that I should not return this way later!

Anyway, I parked the car by the (closed) visitor centre, and started scanning the water nearby. There was no sign of the bird, so I wandered slowly down to the Gurkha restaurant and scanned the area down to Westham bridge. It wasn't there either! OK, so it was only 7.15 and I had a couple of hours to find the bird. At 7.20 I was back up by the visitor centre, and lo and behold there was the drake Hooded Merganser steaming out from under the branches out on to open water. It performed beautifully and even bobbed it's head a few times in mock-display. Apparently in the wilds of North America this species has hybridised regularly with Goldeneye, so a bit of head-shaking towards a couple of female Tufted Ducks was perfectly acceptable! They just drove it off anyway. No American posers allowed in posh Dorset then! It drifted back under some low branches the other side of the footbridge in common with its native habits across the pond. I reckon this is where the bird was when I first arrived, well-hidden in some dark corner under the trees. The outrageous crest on the rear of the bird's head had to be seen to be believed. It looked some enormous powder puff. And yet the bill was thin, long and delicate. The eyes were outstanding, looking like a couple of colourful beads, deep yellow irises with black pupils. The reddy-brown (orangey) body was finely vermiculated with brown.

I decided to have a stroll round the reserve while I was there. Apart from two people with dogs on leads, and a young female red-faced jogger, I saw no-one. Bliss! There were several duck species present, but there did not seem to be half the number of birds there that I used to see, when I visited the place regularly from my Wiltshire home some 25-30 years ago! Mind you, there wasn't a horrendous noisy main road running down the western flank of the reserve in those days. Regrettably all you could hear the whole time I was there was thunderous traffic. How sad that this awful state of affairs should spoil my happy memories of how things used to be! I seem to remember being towards the western side of the lake back in February 1980, when I was watching a Pied-billed Grebe. It was so quiet back then. I see some new houses have been built alongside the road too, another thorny issue...........

Cetti's Warblers were as usual, everywhere, and a couple provided stunning views. A Chiffchaff was more fleeting though. I returned to the bridge by the visitor centre to find that the "hoodie" had drifted some way up the channel and had returned to hiding amongst the vegetation and low branches. Indeed, it was even having a quick forty winks, whilst I watched it. A little while later, it decided to do a bit of diving a bit nearer the bridge again, so I had great views of it once again. Having to be at Budleigh Salterton back in Devon by 11.30, I left the bird to it, again having drifted back under the branches. This just gave me enough time to pop over to Ferrybridge for a scan over the eastern end of the Fleet, and take a much-needed cuppa from my flask.
Here there was a massive flock of Brent Geese of all different types. About 1500 geese in all, mainly being adult and several juvenile birds of the Dark-bellied form. However, I counted at least 15 Pale-bellied in amongst them and, star of the goose-fest, a single Black Brant! I hadn't seen one in Dorset before, but my last one, in December last year, had been on the Kingsbridge Estuary in my home county of Devon. A cracking bird and so different from the Dark-bellied form! Also there stood in a little group, were at least 12 Mediterranean Gulls, 6 of which were adults, the rest being made up of juvenile/first winter and second-winter birds. Some goon with a dog came up on my left flank, marched over and read a sign which said to the effect "Please do not exercise your dog here due to feeding birds", then proceded to wade through the mud with his pooch and let it run amok! All the birds took flight and flew around in a blind panic. I immediately left in disgust, otherwise I would have been in trouble with the local constabulary for assault! I took the coast road as far as Portesham then cut up to the A35 through Little and Long Bredy's, and made my way back to East Devon.
This afternoon I had a look over the seafront at Exmouth, but save from 20 Common Scoters and a few Gannets, there was little to fire the enthusiasm. Still, I was happy with my trip this morning, and glad to have caught up with a possible lifer!

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