Saturday, 5 January 2013

Smew And Velvet

It made a change for me to have decided on where I was heading before I set off, well before in fact. Images from friends of a drake smew at Draycote and velvet scoters at a place called Swithland Reservoir were enough to tempt me away from my usual quest for owls at this time of year, and after reading Dave Hutton's blog about when to try for the scoters, I got up early and headed over to Draycote Water first thing. 

It was pretty quiet when I arrived, with a few joggers and cyclists starting gingerly out on their circuit of the lake, with me trying my new walking boots out for the first time on a stroll along the path. It was smooth enough to have taken my slippers, to be honest! 

Didn't take long to spot the smew as despite the cloud, it was surprisingly calm up there, and the bird stood out against the water and the group of tufties he was with. The smew was preening and then fishing, all the while moving along the lake, following the flock, though not too closely. I took a load of shots, but I could see towards the dam, that the clouds had broken, so waited and thankfully the sun eventually came out. 

With the sun on him he positively glowed. 

Such a cool-looking bird, with the white and black markings. 

Interesting to watch him dive too, as he seemed to take a breath (opening his beak) before tail down, and dive forwards and under. 

Caught a few fish when I was watching, though he would turn towards the centre of the lake and away from me to eat the catch. He also took offence to a male goldeneye which surfaced too close, though I missed that scuffle. The female goldeneye wasn't far behind the male and I was just starting to divide my time between the three, when the boats started to sail, and the birds headed further out and down towards the hide end. My cue to leave. 

SatNav set to Swithland and after a short check on a map, I found my way to the dam at the reservoir. Dave wasn't wrong about the light being awkward, with the sun being in your face from any side which looked over the water. After a chat to a local birder, I located the pair of velvet scoters along the side of the reservoir. Females, and a new species for me. 

The one bird was fast asleep, bobbing around in circles quite far out, but the other seemed intent on fishing, so I followed that. As is often the case, you take lots of shots in case it never comes closer, but as it does, you know all the previous ones will be binned. As was the case here, as it fished near the overflow area for a while, giving me reasonable views - far closer than before. 

I think it can out-dive the smew. Was down for a good while, though unlike some grebes, this tended to appear close to where it dived. 

Compared to the smew they're not the most attractive birds, but are a welcome addition to the gallery. They're also interesting to see how they dive compared to the smew. Both birds use their tails to push down and propel themselves up and into a dive, but these open their wings, which makes predicting the action a bit easier. 

Moving over towards the dam, I drove round and got some more shots of it, closer still. 

Below me I spotted a pair of goldeneyes also fishing, so I grabbed some frame-fillers of these distinctive birds. Light could have been better, but what am I saying? It wasn't raining so I should be thankful for that! 

The female was keeping the male close by, though both were fishing constantly. 

When the scoter headed off, I thought I'd do the same. Wasn't sure where to go though, so considered Marsh Lane again, but enroute, changed my mind and tried for the long-tailed duck at Coton. Beside the main road though, perched in a tree was a buzzard and who am I to refuse such a shot. I parked up, put the window down, lined up the lens and... 

Got a shot of the side of a yellow tanker as it went past, obscuring the buzzard!! Made a change from the buzzard buzzing off! Thankfully it didn't, and I got a few shots albeit in difficult light. 

The long-tailed duck was showing, but at a distance according to some friends I bumped into, who'd just been to see it. I changed plans again and headed over to look for the firecrest(s) near Hams Hall. By then though the light was woeful, and after a brief search, the lure of a cup of tea and comfy sofa was too much, so I called it a day.

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