15th April 2013 – BAIKAL TEAL, LITTLE BUNTING, LESSER SCAUP…I’ve had worse days!

Today’s plan was to leave home very early – our target bird was a smart male Little Bunting near Houghton-Le-Spring in County Durham. We would then be able to spend a few hours birding around Saltholme in Cleveland and still get home by mid afternoon, keeping everyone happy. Well that was the plan anyway!

After enduring some seriously crappy traffic on the southbound A1 around the Metro Centre we still managed to arrive at the Little Bunting site nice and early, and after parking up the car we headed towards Herrington Burn on the NE side of Elba Park. Obviously being early on a Monday morning we figured we would be on our own, which suited us just fine, however the downside of this was we weren’t exactly sure where we were supposed to be looking for the bird! We checked the burn for a little while, I heard a Yellow Wagtail overhead and got nice bin views as it flew over – and then I spotted the Little Bunting just a few yards away on the edge of the burn! I beckoned Col back and we were then treated to absolutely crippling views as it fed along the water’s edge…

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Col picked up a Little Ringed Plover flying over calling, another year tick, but time was cracking on. We really had to drag ourselves away from the Little Bunting – it was a real pleasure to watch and without doubt the best views I’ve ever had of the species.

Soon after arriving at Saltholme we were watching a drake Lesser Scaup on the Allotment Pool, it was diving a heck of a lot of the time but nice to see nevertheless. On nearby Dorman’s Pool I soon picked out the Green-winged Teal that we’d missed on our previous visit to Cleveland last month. Things were going well – very well. All the target birds were safely in the bag by late morning so we decided to have some lunch. It was then that I looked at the RBA app on my phone. MEGA ALERT! Baikal Teal Flamborough Head! And it was a drake. What!? Col and I looked at each other in disbelief, and then looked at a map, before looking back at each other and saying – ‘Let’s do it!’. Oops, our original plan to get home early had just gone up in smoke. Within 10 minutes we were heading south down the A19 towards Thirsk, and then east along the horrendous A170 through Pickering and dozens of other villages. It’s a horrible journey to Flamborough but it had to be done and by early afternoon we were parking up at the lighthouse car park.

Flamborough Head lighthouse - Certainly wasn't expecting to see that when we set off this morning!

Flamborough Head lighthouse – wasn’t expecting to see that when we set off this morning!

And it was looking good – apparently the bird was still showing! We then had to walk along the cliffs for some distance before arriving at the site – North Cliff Marsh…

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The hide was small and full of lenses and scopes, but thankfully the bird was also visible from the track leading up to it. But being a ‘vertically challenged’ birder it was a bit of a struggle to see the bird because the vegetation on the near side of the pool hampered the view a bit. However when I first clapped eyes on it I was mightily impressed – what a stunner! This was a typical view for me for the first ten minutes or so…

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With patience the bird slowly worked it’s way into view, flippin’ eck this was one beautiful duck…

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Apparently the finder saw it fly in off the sea at 0940hrs with 2 Wigeon, and it was then quickly relocated nearby. What a superb seawatching find.

So is this bird the real deal? Who knows? Up until now there have been only 4 accepted records of Baikal Teal in Britain, and it’s down to the BBRC to assess this birds credentials and make a decision. Timing and location seem pretty good, and it was unringed. Flight shots show some slight damage/gaps/moult around the secondaries on the right wing. Anyway it’s on my list at the moment until the BBRC say otherwise – and if they do, it’ll come off. No problem. I’m not a competitive or big lister so I won’t be losing any sleep over it either way to be honest. But whatever the outcome I’m glad I went for it, it was too good an opportunity to miss – it was a stunning looking bird and it’s ages since I’ve been to this stretch of beautiful coastline. All that matters is that we’d had a great day!

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Other bits n bobs today included Willow Warbler, House Martin, Avocets, Wheatear and a Red Kite somewhere near Buckton I think.

We drove home in a bit of a daze, it had been crazy and enjoyable, just like the good old days! 

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2 Responses to 15th April 2013 – BAIKAL TEAL, LITTLE BUNTING, LESSER SCAUP…I’ve had worse days!

  1. Carl Baggott says:

    What a cracking day and I know what you mean about the olden days!
    The Baikal Teal looks like it has good credentials.

  2. Absolutely smashing shots of the Little Bunting!

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