Thorny topics

Leucistic male Red-crested Pochard with typical female, Rutland

In 1991 I published a short paper (Birding World 4: 171-175) in which I argued that the majority of British records of Red-crested Pochard are likely to involve birds of captive or feral origin. Although not everyone likes the idea, most recorders seem to agree. Nonetheless, it is good practice to review the evidence from time to time.

Today I observed a flock of 38 Red-crested Pochards at Rutland Water, of which four (three males and a female) were leucistic. Since leucistic birds are very unusual in wild populations, this provides support for the view that they are likely to be of captive or feral origin. They seem to have become an established part of the local avifauna, and should be recorded accordingly.

Leucistic female and male Red-crested Pochard (left) with typical male, Rutland


Clipsham church weathervane, and Hawfinch (right)

During the 1990s I used to see wintering Hawfinches with some regularity at Clipsham, Ketton and Tunneley Wood (Exton), normally in single figures but including a flock of 14 at Tunneley in January 1991. Since then numbers have declined and encounters have involved occasional migrants in single figures rather than small flocks of wintering birds.

The large influx this autumn, however, has given us another opportunity to find Hawfinches – and they have reappeared in exactly the same places (and indeed exactly the same trees) where they could be found 25 years ago. Yesterday I checked Clipsham (one Hawfinch) and Tunneley (12-15 Hawfinches), and this morning checked Ketton (no Hawfinches). The birds at Clipsham and Tunneley might well winter. These events confirm the importance of preserving both habitat and local knowledge – enjoy them while you can.

Cory’s Shearwater (with GC Grebes), Rutland

Today’s Cory’s Shearwater at RW – a completely unexpected find by AJM in calm conditions – seems a good opportunity to review my encounters with seabirds in Rutland.

The more notable true seabirds include: Fulmar, Manx Shearwater, Storm Petrel, Leach’s Petrel, Gannet, Arctic Skua, Long-tailed Skua, Great Skua, and Sabine’s Gull. Although this list looks quite impressive, it covers a period of more than 25 years. Nonetheless, it shows what is possible. The most surprising omission is perhaps Pomarine Skua, which I have seen as close as the Wash from where skuas regularly take an overland route to the Severn.

It is worth noting here that records of seabirds in Rutland do not always follow gales – several of the above were observed in calm (sometimes misty) conditions. We still have much to learn; if only we knew the Cory’s Shearwater’s story.

Part of a flock of 10 Barnacle Goose hybrids at EBR this morning

In rather gloomy conditions at EBR this morning I was surprised to see a flock of 10 Barnacle x canada hybrids. I have seen small numbers of similar hybrids previously (for example one on Islay below), but never anything like this number. Unlike birds on Islay which are assumed to be wild, the EBR birds are likely to be feral. Normally hybrid geese are seen with at least one of the parent species, but in this case the whole flock was made up of hybrids. It would be interesting to know which taxon of ‘canada goose’ was involved.

If anyone has any information about their possible origin, please let me know.

Barnacle x canada hybrid (left), Islay

Juvenile Black-winged Stilts (with Lapwing), Ouse Washes

Over the years I have seen some notable birds at the Ouse Washes, including Blue-winged Teal, Greater Yellowlegs, multiple Red-footed Falcons and Northern Harrier. More importantly, the site invariably hosts an impressive number and variety of birds.

Yesterday was no exception. In addition to the family of Black-winged Stilts, amongst other waders there were Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits, Ruffs and a migrant Wood Sandpiper. A Whooper Swan seemed unseasonal this far south, whilst a fresh juvenile Cuckoo ‘hiding’ on the track seemed unsure of its environment.

Amongst the butterflies, it was pleasing to see a small colony of Wall near the pumping station: we lost this species from Rutland over a decade ago.

Wall, Ouse Washes

Fallow Deer, Rutland

Fallow Deer, Rutland

This morning the temperature rose to 12 degrees, so we visited Pickworth Great Wood in the hope of finding an early butterfly. The butterflies knew better; the first flowering blackthorn is actually six weeks behind last year.

As with other Rutland woods which I have visited recently, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were active but there was no sign of Lesser Spotted.

Hazel flowers, Rutland

Hazel flowers, Rutland

Bluethroat, Lincolnshire

Bluethroat, Lincolnshire

Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. (Thucydides)

For those who believe in democracy, this is one of the worst things which can happen. Normal communication is undermined, along with trust in the institutions upon which we rely. Yet this is precisely what we face in both Britain and America: academic endeavour and the pursuit of truth are being replaced by wilful misrepresentation. Those who oppose the abuse of power are accused of the very actions which they condemn. The next logical step will be to replace a free press with state-run media.

On a slightly lighter note, here is some real news. There really is a Bluethroat wintering in south Lincolnshire, because the climate really is changing.