Ferruginous Duck and Dipper in Milton Keynes

In the What’s About news items for the 16th and 23rd February 2016 we advised you that a Ferruginous Duck and a Dipper had been seen in Milton Keynes.

The Bucks Bird Club (BuBC) produce an excellent monthly bulletin for their members. The March edition contains articles on both of these rare visitors to Milton Keynes. The BuBC have kindly agreed that the Society can publish these articles on our website:

Ferruginous Duck, Caldecotte Lake by Andrew Moon 11 February 2016

This photograph of the disputed adult Ferruginous Duck at Caldecotte Lake shows off its rear undertail white feathers, one of its key identification features at distance as well as its high forehead. Photo – Andrew Moon

Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca is a scarce duck at the best of times with only ten or so records from Bucks.  However the possibility of escapes from wildfowl collections cannot always be discounted. This rather smart drake turned up at Caldecotte Lake on 5th February 2016 found by Keith O’Hagan.  It stayed there for several days and then moved to Mount Farm Lake on 12th February.  It then proceeded to move between the two lakes periodically. The bird showed all of the identification features of a Ferruginous Duck, however a few of our experienced birders in Bucks felt this was more inclined to be an escaped bird. However, not much could be pinpointed to this, perhaps too good to be true getting the vote. It was drifting around a Black-headed Gull for some time, which either suggests watch out for a very interesting hybrid or it was just looking for friends, choosing this bird rather than closer related birds such as Pochard or Mallard, which doesn’t necessarily make it tame. While the origins of many scarce ducks is often unknown, this individual was rather wary at times and was un-ringed, so perhaps suggesting a wild origin, and what’s wrong with a ‘too good to be true’, being true on occasion, at the right time of year and when a small influx of other birds have been seen around the UK in February.  The natural location of breeding birds is in East Europe and beyond, with a few regular localised wintering populations in Central France. Perhaps this one favoured BreExit! The Bucks records committee will decide in due course whether to accept as a wild bird or a potential escapee. Still a beautiful bird and one well worth publishing here and as seen by many.

Dipper, Loughton Brook by Sarah Mckeeman 13 February 2016

This photograph of a scarce bird for Bucks proved to be a much sought after Dipper (also known as White-throated Dipper) which has not been seen in Bucks for many years. Thanks to this opportunistic photographer for recognising this wasn’t just any bird and for sharing this image with us to help aid its identification as a valued record. Photo – Sarah Mckeeman

Reports of a Dipper (White-throated) Cinclus cinclus in north Milton Keynes was more conclusive and brought out bird searching fever after being reported by a non-birder but keen photographer Sarah Mckeeman. This single photo of the bird was taken on its favourite rock on Loughton Brook, near Bradwell and blog-posted on Sat 13th February, probably one of only a few locations in this part of Bucks, where the bird could have found some pleasure in habitat that it would normally seek in more northern streams and rivers of the UK, or gushing brooks in Devon or Wales. No doubt the same bird seen again shortly after, but this time located in the Emerson Valley Park stream in Furzton near a footbridge very close to V3 Fulmer Street.  Adam Bassett, who was seeking the bird at the time, came across Sarah and a friend whilst looking for the bird, who shared the image seen here with him. This being the case she was delighted to learn of the rarity of the image she had captured but more importantly had collected a record for Bucks, not seen since 1994. Other birds have been seen over preceding years but only ones and twos over each decade. It would appear from this valued photograph that the bird is of the nominate form, the continental Cinclus c. cinclus. Most birds in the distant past have been migrants, as the more resident two UK sub-species birds of West Scotland c. hibernicus and rest of Scot/North and West England and Wales c. gularis tend to stay local. Both of these forms have a slightly more rusty brown belly, whereas the birds from the continent are known as Dark-bellied. In Sarah’s own words: “Walter and I were stalking the kingfisher that lives along this piece of river.  We were at the brick bridge than runs under the west coast main line.  This bridge has a wooden bridge that lets pedestrians through.  We were walking back south and out of the corner of our eyes, saw a bird flying fast and smoothly just above the water to under these bridges.  We both looked at each other and for a second as it looked like a black kingfisher in flight.  Anyway, next thing we knew, it flew back past us again, to the stepping stones in the water. Curious to see what it was, we started clicking away, light was pretty poor and we daren’t get any closer as we didn’t want to spook it.  A couple of times it flew back to the bridge, then back to the stones.  We lost it after that” Alas, it was not seen again at these locations although some intrepid Bucks birders trod miles just in case.

I would like to thank the BuBC and especially Tony Hardware for their assistance in the production of this article. I recommend that you check out their website and consider joining the group.