The Smew (Mergellus albellus), this Nordic sawbill is the misconception when it comes to avian plumages as when your told that the supposedly stunning drake is black and white your mind goes straight to the Pied Wagtail or Barnacle Goose, both birds which to be totally honest aren’t the most stunning nor attractive birds out there. But the Smew, well no other bird on the planet can take the contrasting colours of black and white and blend them together to create such a striking and captivating bird.
Smew is an annual wintering waterfowl in the UK which we get from north eastern Europe and depending on how server the winter is or gets depends on how many of these mini beasts we see each year, hence why numbers fluctuate from year to year with the overall trend being numbers wintering in the UK are decreasing despite having a wintering population of only 180. Virtually all the birds we get winter along the east coast with an odd few making the journey across to the west coast and even Ireland! Hence why over in Wirral & Cheshire a Smew is a bird to get very excited about, especially when the bird in question is a drake.
The Smew is a bird that I’ve wanted to set my eyes upon for as long as I can remember ever since I first saw them in captivity at WWT Martin Mere 10 years ago. This opportunity then arose when 2 years ago a “redhead” (female) turned up at New Church Common, Cheshire and has wintered at New Church Common for the past two winters, but as I said it was a female, not the striking drake which is what makes a Smew such a special northern wonder. The fact that it was a female and that some birders have deemed it as “fishy” meant that I wasn’t going to go for this particular bird.
4 days news came out of a drake Smew up at Lunt Meadows in Lancashire, just a 25min drive from me and it was and is when typing this a genuine bird with no rings or signs of having its wings clipped, it was all perfect. Today on the way to school I received a message from good friend Allan Conlin asking whether or not I’d like to join him to “itch” (local twitch) the Smew as it would be a lifer for me, my 224th in fact and it would give us a chance to catch up as it had been some time since we’d last gone out for a spot of birding. Of course I accepted his generous offer and after school we made our trip up to brilliant Lunt Meadows reserve managed by the Lancashire Wildlife Trust.
When we arrived at Lunt and I’d got into appropriate foot ware (still in school clothing), me and Allan made our way round to the Smew. Whilst catching up with Allan and seeing what else was around the reserve: Gadwall, Swift (1st of year for me), Sand & House Martin, Little Egret, Greylag Goose, Lapwing, Shelduck and Tufted Duck, we eventually had the Smew within our sight and my god what a bird it is, unmistakable and easy to pick up no matter the distant. It’s worth mentioning that both Allan and I were highly impressed with the reserve and we both believe that the site has the potential for much rarer birds: Glossy Ibis, Ring-necked Duck, White-winged Black Tern and Purple Heron are my guesses.
Shelter from the winds behind the one of the many viewing screens with the Smew insight we were both pretty pleased with ourselves as we hadn’t got lost and we’d seen the bird which we knew there was a possibly of not seeing as last it was last reported at 9:30. We spent about 20mins observing this northern wonder which was fairly distant, my 300mm lens wasn’t the best way to view it (500mm lens is being repaired), before we made our get away. It may have distant but all that matter was that we’d seen it; a beautiful bird on a beautiful reserve and even better I saw it with a great mate. Birding doesn’t really get much better than this apart from if it was you who found the bird in question.