As a birthday treat I introduced young Wirral birder Luke Anderson to the joy of visible migration at his patch, Bidston Moss NR. Due to a combination of strong winds and light rain very little was moving through with totals coming in at Great Cormorant (89), European Shag (1), Eurasian Hobby (1), Redwing (25), Pink-footed Goose (28) and an unidentified race of Brent Goose (1). Moving swiftly onwards we headed up to one of our favourite reserves, RSPB Marshside to spend the rest of the day.
Passing the marine lake at Southport I stumbled across a close in flock of Tufted Duck which amongst them lay a 1st winter drake Greater Scaup, only my second encounter with this species in this particular age and sex. Despite not being the most experienced as others in the ageing of Greater Scaup, I felt safe putting it down as a 1st winter drake as I’d had a 1st winter drake spend the winter on my patch 2 years ago, enabling me to watch and study its plumage transformation from 1st winter to adult.
Having put news out as a 1st winter drake, I was soon contacted by a high profile birder I had respect for and was known to be an “expert” who at first corrected me in that it wasn’t a 1st winter, but infact an adult drake coming out eclipse plumage! I was a bit disheartened by the tone in which this birder gave the news to me, “you of all birders Elliot Montieth should know better”. So when it came round to posting images of the bird online I wasn’t expecting to be confronted by other birders who I got well with and respected, (knowing they had far superior knowledge than I), saying that infact “I” was wrong in that the bird was infact what I’d originally put it down as, a 1st winter!
So having cleared up the image of what had happened myself, Cian Cardiff and Alan Conlin finally cemented on the bird being a 1st winter and NOT an adult drake coming out eclipse as what was thought. Features that allowed for this to happen were that the eye was an amber tone, not bright yellow unlike that of an adult and that the mantle still had traces of juvenile plumage, an adult coming out of eclipse plumage would have a far more well developed mantle than this bird was showing and the remaining brown on the breast, flanks and rump would never be this dark on a adult bird.
A lesson learnt from this experience is that never be afraid to ask questions on identification, the best way of learning is from making mistakes and as stated by Steve Groves…
“A birder that’s never made a mistake has never been birding!” – Steve Groves
The 1st winter Long-billed Dowitcher was quickly picked up amongst the flock of 200c Black-tailed Godwit from the Viewing Platform along Hesketh Road, with a stockpile of Eurasian Wigeon & Teal also providing for some good entertainment as it’s a good time of year for either of their yank cousins to turn up.
Continuing round the reserve we came across a better position to view the Western Cattle Egrets from and saw that unlike the five we’d just been watching down the road, only four were present. A 5th bird flew south past Neil’s Hide 15min later to join the flock of four that relocated to the more sheltered area of the marsh; in other egret news a Great Egret was distant on the slat marsh with several Little Egret scattered round the reserve and salt marsh.
Waiting for the rain to die off before making out move back Southport for lunch, the pair of us spent a hour in the Neil’s Hide studying and scanning the waterfowl on show, of which included several hundred Eurasian Wigeon and Teal with tens of Northern Pintail and Shoveler along with Gadwall and Mallard for support.
In addition to the waders and waterfowl a small gather of gulls had built up on the few grass clumps, with amongst the loose flock a single adult European Herring Gull of the nominate race argentatus. The bird is in the centre of the image below and can be identified by its darker shade of grey on the mantle compared to lighter argenteus (the subspecies which breeds in Britain & Ireland), with the mirrors on the primaries also being noticablitly larger as the image demonstrates.