Aqualate - 18 Dec 16

It was a magical morning with some great light at Aqualate and there were many opportunities for decent photos as hopefully you will see:

Good light on this flying Mute Swan. It is not breeding season yet, nevertheless the lack of orange tone in the bill suggests this is a immature bird.

Coming at ya!

A Mute Swan flotilla sails by. (Tufted Ducks, Coots and Canada Geese can be recognised).

One of these Canada Geese is shouting here.

These two seem to think Spring is in the air.

A grab-shot of two rather distant flying geese. Only looking at the pix on the computer did I realise these were a pair of Egyptian Geese. One or more pairs of this introduced species breeds in the area. Sufficient pairs are established for this species to be accepted as a native bird.

Two drake and one duck Mallard show their upperwing patterns. Even at this range the unique curled tail-feather of Mallard drakes can be just about made out.

 “Like water off a ducks back” – well the neck of this drake Mallard.

A fine study of a first-winter drake Shoveler – the slight rufous on the flanks tells us it is a drake.

This is quite hard: ducks have grey forewings; drakes have pale blue forewings. Which is this? And the spread wing is covering the flanks. My vote would be a grey female, with the head being paler than the base of the neck another pointer.

And this shows I was correct: having folded the wings here we see the flanks show no real rufous tones.

The difficulty in separating the sexes is often glossed over in Field Guides. the closest bird is obviously an adult drake; the bird at rear centre is an immature drake – we see the bottle-green head beginning to appear and the white blaze in front of the eye. The bird on the left is a duck showing a grey forewing. But the bird on the right? As it apparently has an all-dark bill I assume it is a drake – none of my books is too specific about the bill colour on immature birds. But from head-on the plumage would otherwise suggest a duck.

Here is another bird moulting in to adult drake plumage also showing a white blaze in front of the eye.

A duck showing the underwing (and part of an upperwing) pattern.

This appeared and then disappeared before I could get a better shot. The white on the back identifies this as a first winter drake (Greater) Scaup.

An interesting collection: mainly Tufted Ducks but the 2nd from the left is the first winter drake (Greater) Scaup; the bird in the centre with two white patches on the face is a duck Velvet Scoter; the bird at the back is a drake Goldeneye (the others are Coots).

There is white and then there is white. The Mute Swan is white: the drake Goldeneye is white, but they are quite different in tone.

It is not just Shoveler where sexing can be hard: this group of Tufted Ducks seem to be all drakes with various degrees of full breeding plumage – the one on the left is most advanced (we cannot be sure about the hidden bird at the back right) [ Shoveler in background].
Amazingly the duck Velvet Scoter headed towards the hide and proceeded to perform well. Here she comes.

Can you get any closer?!

Note the water droplets on the plumage.

Has a scratch.

Interest here (apart from the water droplets) is the tail spread out on the water.

The distinctive bill shape is well-shown in this view.

She frustratingly failed to flap her wings – unlike the recent bird at Trench which did so all the time – so it was not possible to see the large white wing-patch. We can see part of it on the folded wing as the bird turns.

They are visible in other shots but not so clearly as here: the white shafts in some of the feathers.

Another view.

Shows over and she paddles off. She did return later but the light was not as good.

Here we see the 12 (?) pointed tail feathers as she dives among a throng of Shoveler. The Shoveler seemed drawn the area, probably by the sediment being stirred up by the scoter’s dives.

Last shot: promise! My book tells me these birds dive with wings partially open – I never saw this bird open its wings once and this shows it clearly.

It's almost Christmas: we need a Robin. No snow though.

A Willow Tit. Tits are not hard to photograph on the feeders if you are quick. But try and get them waiting their turn .... This is especially true of Willow Tits that tend to arrive, grab the food and go. Note there is a ring on the right leg.

As always: what a sweetie. We can just see the pale edges of the tertials that separate this species from the very similar Marsh Tit. The latter species usually lacks any buff on the flanks and has a shorter black crown. The call and song of these species differ and are the easiest way to separate them.

A slightly soggy-looking Blue Tit.

Looking away.

A dry specimen.

Under different lighting. Note how the branch is held.

For some reason Great Tits are harder to photograph: the contrast between the black and the yellow is hard to get right. This bird is also ringed.

The ring is on the other foot – and no: I did not invert the image.

No rings on this one. I assume they are ticks behind the eye.
(Ed Wilson)