Birding Trip Report: Lesser Scaup at Blithfield Reservoir, Staffordshire 14th January 2019
You may recall my failed attempt to see a Lesser Scaup at Blithfield, Staffordshire on the 7th January. In the week that followed there were no further reports of the bird, so I naturally assumed that it had departed. Although a report of Greater Scaup a day later did raise an eyebrow, as did a similar report over at Belvide Reservoir, which is also in Staffordshire, albeit further south than Blithfield.
I'd spent the intervening week at work planning my birding for my regular 3 day weekend. On Saturday, Paula and I had an excellent day trip to Lincolnshire, whilst the next two days would be spent birding locally. As is usual on my Sunday off, I took a walk in the area surrounding Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, and it was there that an unexpected sighting came through- the female Lesser Scaup had been seen at Blithfield in virtually the same place it had been seen a week earlier. I couldn't believe it! Where on earth had she been hiding? I contemplated taking a trip there that very afternoon, but I already had made arrangements with Paula to take a trip to Hednesford, also in Staffordshire to try and connect with her first Bohemian Waxwings. That trip would sadly be unsuccessful as the birds had departed the area by mid afternoon and wouldn't return until the next day. Even so, there were no further reports of the Lesser Scaup on Sunday, so felt confident that I'd made the right decision.
Monday morning (14th January) came and I decided to take a less gung ho approach than last week. Instead of racing off into Staffordshire, I decided to wait for any reports at first light. If none were forthcoming, then I would simply go to my local patch. As my own little corner of the world lit up, my phone remained silent, so thoughts of chasing rarities dissipated.
It was a cold but fine day, just the right kind of conditions for a gentle walk around the patch. I arrived there early, before the inevitable hordes of dog walkers and as usual began my visit by exploring Elmdon Manor Nature Reserve, and in particular, the woodland that surrounds an old and long abandoned orchard. After ticking each of the common birds to be found there, I moved down to the lake to check up on the local residents and to check for a possible Water Rail or Snipe in among the reedbeds of the New Pool. However, just as I had settled into counting the Goosanders, my phone vibrated. I hoped it was just a text from Paula. But it wasn't- it was the report I'd been waiting for. The Lesser Scaup was still present. Now came a dilemma for me, do I stay and finish surveying the patch, or do I go off to chase a lifer. For most of my birding friends, this question is a no brainer, but I did truly weigh up the pros and cons of each decision. In the end it was Paula who convinced me to go after the lifer. She reminded me that after today, I would be in work for 6 straight days and during that time the bird could easily disappear, and if that happened I would quite literally kick myself.
So, after quickly thanking Paula via text I raced up the hill, and back to the car. On the way, I managed to get a few shots of the patch's newest residents- Ring-necked Parakeets. These birds are not native to the area, and indeed are not native to Britain, having been introduced to the UK in London during the 1960's when exotic pets were all the rage. Down in the south east flocks of hundreds are common, and as anyone who is familiar with these birds can testify, a flock of hundreds make an almighty racket. On my patch, I've counted a maximum of eight, although on this occasion there were 5, all of them busily investigating tree holes for nest sites and attempting to fend off the local Western Jackdaws' in the meantime.
The Location of Blithfield
The Race to Blithfield
I would say that I made a mad dash to Blithfield, but I currently drive a 21 year old Citroen Berlingo, so dashing anywhere is difficult, but it's a highly reliable car, and it ended up getting me to the Reservoir a minute earlier than my sat nav had predicted. I was slightly bemused to find the southern car park empty just like it was the week before, but a quick scan down to the other end of the causeway revealed that the northern car park was full, and full of people with binoculars and scopes. Surely my luck was in.
I drove down the causeway and parked alongside the other birders in the northern car park. Most of them were barely aware of my arrival, although a few did turn around, perhaps to check if they recognised me. As per usual when it comes to twitches, I like to try and find the bird myself, so didn't approach the other birders and duly set up my scope and began scanning a distant flock of Tufted Ducks. From the car park though it was impossible to tell for sure whether the Lesser Scaup was out there, so quickly decided to walk down the causeway to try for a better view.
As I moved off, I was stopped by a local couple out walking their dog. Understandably they were curious about all the commotion, so I obligingly filled them in. They weren't birders of course but they seemed interested, especially when I explained that the bird should be in North America. They even asked me how to spell Scaup so they could look it up at home. They wished me luck and carried on their way.
Blithfield Reservoir From the Air
I walked briskly down the causeway, but then slowed to a creeping pace as I drew nearer. The last thing I wanted to do was flush the bird and incur the wrath of my peers. Fortunately almost all of the birds on the southern side of the reservoir were either idly loafing or sleeping, and seemed rather indifferent to my presence. I set up my scope and quickly proceeded to scan the flock. Going from left to right, I quickly noted a small group of male Tufted Ducks, but then scanned more carefully once I came across the brown females, and unlike last time, there was no need to scan over and over again. The female Lesser Scaup to me at least, stuck out like a sore thumb, with her greyish-brown back, body shape and lack of tuft. I felt a wave of relief wash over me at having picked out the bird without any help. I took a moment to study her, so as to boost my chances of someday finding my own.
A couple of other birders joined me and the one who reached me first promptly asked where the bird was. I attempted to point it out, but he struggled to locate it. I tried to explain where it was, but my efforts were clumsy. Fortunately, the second birder, presumably a friend of the first one suddenly proclaimed that he had it, and duly showed it to his companion through his scope. With all satisfied, I attempted to creep closer in order to obtain a photograph. I had hoped to get a shot of the bird's face, but it barely moved in the time I was there so had to be satisfied with a shot of it sleeping. Still, I left Blithfield relieved and content that I'd made the right decision. Moreover, I was able to complete my survey of my local patch in the afternoon in the company of Paula and the two dogs.
© 2019 James Kenny