A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Thursday, 9 February 2017

BANANABILL - White-billed Diver makes landfall in Lincolnshire!

When reports surfaced of a juvenile White-billed Diver photographed on the River Witham 20 miles inland in rural Lincolnshire, it was certainly an early contender for one of the strangest records in 2017. Relocated further up river late on the Saturday evening, my car breaking down couldn’t have come at a worse time, and I subsequently had to see through a rather agonising week in work bombarded by the hundreds of breath-taking photos of this stunning Arctic diver at point blank range.
White-billed Diver - Lincolnshire
White-billed Diver on the River Witham - an incredible record!
By some miracle however the following Saturday saw the diver remarkably still present on the same stretch of river, and with my car now (hopefully fixed) I dragged Alex out of bed early and made the 3 hour journey down to Lincolnshire.

Arriving at Kirkhall Bridge near Woodhall Spa just after lunch, we made the long treck north along the river bank, the fog from earlier in the week thankfully abating (I didn’t much fancy trying to pick out the diver in thick mist!) and the sun shining down. Luckily the diver hadn’t ranged as far north as on previous days (it was often up near Stixwould several miles away) and after around 20 minutes we caught sight of a group of birders on the edge of the water which could only mean one thing – the White-billed Diver must be close by.
River Witham, Lincolnshire
Sure enough, upon approaching the river a large shape surfaced among the ripples and the ghostly figure of this majestic Arctic species came in to view. 
White-billed Diver - Lincolnshire
Sporting a mammoth dagger-like bill in beautiful pearly white hues of pale ivory, the sheer size of the bird was striking, living up to its reputation as the largest species of diver and sailing imposingly down the river. With the slightly upturned bill and delicate pale lemon colouration it was clear to see how it got its “Bananabill” nickname – it was truly an impressive sight and sure to strike fear in the hearts of fish as it stalked them in the murky depths of the river.
White-billed Diver - Lincolnshire
White-billed Diver - Lincolnshire
The big beefy neck was instantly apparent, as was the diver's size, being slightly larger than a Great Northern
Regularly diving down under the surface and only staying afloat for minutes at a time, we were surprised to see just how much ground the diver could cover while under the water, often re-surfacing much further away than expected and covering a huge stretch of water during the time we were present. 
White-billed Diver - Lincolnshire
The White-billed Diver was constantly diving, often staying under for over a minute
Often coming to within several metres, its lack of shyness towards people was also apparent, and such close up and incredible views of this species are a once in a blue moon experience!
White-billed Diver - Lincolnshire
White-billed Diver - Lincolnshire
The strong northerly winds the UK experienced a couple of weeks ago have more than likely brought the White-billed Diver to Lincolnshire from its usual Arctic home.
In a rather remarkable coincidence, another White-billed Diver (and the only other inland river bird) frequented the exact same stretch of the River Witham back in March 1996, unfortunately meeting a sad end after tragically ingesting a fishing hook and line discarded in the water.

Having not made it down for the Devon bird at Brixham Harbour a few years ago and not having travelled for the far out to sea distant dots off Portsoy where White-billed Divers can be found miles offshore in the summer months, it was great to unexpectedly catch up with what was a much sought after species for me and certainly a bird that I had been left wondering exactly when I’d get the opportunity to see in British waters.
River Witham, Lincolnshire
At one point a canal boat flushed the diver, causing it to swim rapidly down river at speed
Sadly however and mirroring the bird found 20 years ago, the diver seems to have got the remnants of a discarded fishing line caught in its bill, often seen to be gathering algae after dives and sometimes trailing from the birds mouth. 
White-billed Diver - Lincolnshire
With fishing lines undoubtedly come hooks however, and it would be an extreme shame if this beautiful bird met a sad end after ingesting unwanted fishing tackle discarded by humans – a stark reminder to keep our riverside locations free from fishing debris.
White-billed Diver - Lincolnshire
With the diver still going strong however after at least a two week’s stay on the river -  it was last seen flying off 7km south of Kirkhall Bridge on the 1st - fingers crossed it will survive and somehow dislodge the fishing line – a truly incredible bird that I was exceptionally glad I made the trip down to see!
White-billed Diver - Lincolnshire

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