Monday, 22 December 2014

American Wigeon, Newquay, Cornwall

I haven't been out properly birding since my visit to Dawlish Warren on November 24th! And so with finally a free day on December 20th I was very keen to get out and about  - but where to go? With the pre-Christmas birding doldrums well and truly here there has not been a lot reported and as I would still like to try and add a few more species to my year list I decided to head to the Gannel Estuary in Newquay to have a look for the 2 female American wigeon being reported there.

I wasn't sure what to expect but after reading the excellent Cream Tea Birders blog my mind was made up and off I headed on the train. I had to change at Par for the branch line to Newquay and it was a very scenic journey although the train really chugged along quite slowly. A bit of a circuitous walk from the railway station at Newquay to the Estuary saw me arrive at the car park overlooking the mudflats at 10:30. I found the wigeon flock immediately, only around 60+ birds, but they were on the opposite side of the river and mostly tucked out of sight in the river channel due to it being low tide.

I headed back to the head of the estuary and crossed over a footbridge and managed to get into a better position to view the birds. A quick scan with my telescope and I immediately picked out 1 of the birds, a very well marked individual,  but it promptly tucked its head under its wing and went to sleep! It woke up briefly and flapped its wings showing its diagnostic bright white armpits (or rather wingpits) before going back to sleep. A dog walker then came too close to the birds and they all took off, circling around the estuary, and the white axilliaries were again very noticeable as it flew overhead. The flock soon settled back on the mudflats and I managed to find the second bird amongst them, not as well marked as the first bird I saw but still quite distinctive.

American Wigeon (upper centre)

 American Wigeon (left)

American Wigeon (upper centre)
American Wigeons (upper right and upper left)
I spent some time watching the wigeons despite them being regularly disturbed by dog walkers and I enjoyed listening to the whistling calls of the Eurasian wigeon. Also seen were plenty of gulls loafing around and bathing (herring, black headed, great black backed and lesser black backed) and I managed to find a smart adult Mediterranean gull amongst them. A kingfisher also flew downriver and 2 greenshank were feeding along the narrow river channel near the footbridge.

I headed back to the railway station, watching a little egret catching fish in the boating lake along the way, and while waiting for the train I had a quick look offshore, seeing a lone fulmar and gulls. And so I had had a pleasent few hours despite the gloomy conditions and occasional spits of rain, and it had been very interesting getting to grips with my first female American wigeons.

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