14 Mar 2022

14 Mar 22 - A Perfect Level Morning

I had spent the three previous days in Ireland catching up with the Egyptian Vulture and Northern Harrier for my UK & Irish List. It was time to return to the UK. I prefer to catch the daytime ferries back from Ireland, so I can seawatch on the way back. In the Summer & Autumn, there will usually be a few Short-beaked Common Dolphins and maybe a Harbour Porpoise or a Grey Seal, as well as, a few Seabirds. However, I figured it wouldn't be that exciting in mid-March and therefore I might as well I had catch the evening Irish Ferry sailing from Rosslare to Pembroke Dock.

I managed to get a bit of sleep on the ferry, before we were called to prepare to disembark at 00:45. Arriving at this time, leaves a long drive out of Wales in the early hours of the morning. I could have found somewhere to pull the car over for the rest of the night in South Wales, but I had plans for the following morning. So, I carried on until I reached Gordano Services, in the Bristol area. I managed to get an hour & a half of sleep here, until it was starting to get light. After another forty minutes of driving, I pulled into the car park at the Greylake reserve on the Somerset Levels.

It was my first visit to Greylake, but it was a couple of months overdue. On 3 Jan 22, a photographer had published a photo of an odd Duck which was quickly identified as a gorgeous male Baikal Teal. It later turned out it had been there for at least a week before anybody bothered to ask what it was. This is the problem with many Bird photographers, who don't bother to learn about how to identify their subjects. This is a contrast to the Birders, who might still be learning how to get the most out of their cameras, but they generally have good identification skills. In January, I was fully into the start of my 2022 Historic Isle of Purbeck Year List and I never made the journey up to the Levels.

It was a lovely still, crisp and sunny morning, which was perfect weather to visit. I headed straight for the main hide, where there were over five hundred Ducks on a bank running away from the hide or in the water. This included at least one hundred and sixty Teal, four hundred Wigeon, as well as, some Shovelers, Gadwall and Mallards, with more Ducks poorly visible to the left. I asked the two local photographers in the hide about the Baikal Teal, but they weren't looking beyond the first twenty metres from the hide and didn't have any idea if the Baikal Teal was present.
Teal: Males. There were a lot of sleeping Duck in the edges of the reeds
Teal: Male
Wigeon: Male
Shoveler: Male
After five minutes of scanning, one of the Ducks moved to reveal the sleeping make Baikal Teal on the bank. It looking stunning and was closer than normal, according to one of the photographers.
Where's Wally?: This was just some of the mainly Wigeon on the raised bank
Baikal Teal: Wally wasn't that hard to find, once the Wigeon that had been obscuring him had moved out of the way
Eventually, the Baikal Teal woke up and flew a couple of times when the patrolling Marsh Harriers got too close and disturbed all the Ducks. On the second time, the Baikal Teal landed in the water, before heading back to the raised area.
Marsh Harrier: They only passed close to the hide twice, but when they did they flush most of the Ducks
Wigeon: Flushed by one of the flying over Marsh Harriers
Baikal Teal: The Baikal Teal woke up & flushed with the Wigeon, but it quickly came back down onto the water
Baikal Teal: Note, how variable the green colouration in the face is, as the Baikal Teal moves its head
Baikal Teal: It has an interesting head shape when head on
Baikal Teal
Baikal Teal: Finally, it walked back onto the raised bank
It is a great reserve which I will definitely visit again when I'm passing the Levels.
Great White Egret: There were three Great White Egrets further back in the marsh
I stayed for about an hour and a half and left the hide just in time. As I walked back to the car, there was a number of toggers descending on the hide. I was only just starting to use bird hides again after the C19 lockdowns and I didn't want to be in busy hides.
Snipe: This Snipe has just found a worm
Snipe: Sucking up the worm. I love it when I get to photograph a bit of behaviour like this
I later found out that I managed to see the Baikal Teal on its final morning, as it was seen flying off North East in the late afternoon. It wasn't seen again. I was out on the Birds of Poole Harbour bird boats later in March and also at Studland and saw parties of Duck, lift off the water, fly high & leave Poole Harbour on similar clear evenings. So, it looks like they regularly start a migration flight in the hour before dusk.