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....

Monday, 19 January 2015

Harlequin Duck makes landfall in Aberdeen!

Whilst sat in TGI Fridays tucking in to my birthday meal of Jack Daniels chicken at the start of the month, an alert popped up on my phone announcing that a Harlequin Duck had been seen and photographed at Seaton Park in Aberdeen – one of my personal ‘must see’ birds and an incredible record for Britain! Originally put out as a female but later re-identified correctly as a first winter male, this proved to be a great ‘unblocker’, being the first really twitchable one in my lifetime after the Wick bird of 1991 and the two first summer females in Ayrshire 5 years later. With a handful of birds making it to the remote Hebridean islands in the past 15 years, this mainland bird was extremely welcomed and it was fingers crossed he would stick around until the following weekend.

With several previous birds overwintering there was a good chance it would, and sure enough, after a tiring 6 hour journey up to Aberdeen in less than ideal weather conditions and an overnight stop in a hotel, we arrived at the site and immediately locked on to this arctic wonder as he happily went about his business – a long way from home in the unexpected location of a stretch of river in the local park!

Harlequin Duck

Like its Icelandic counterparts, this Harlequin Duck tended to favour the fast, rough torrents of the rapids, flying from point to point as it continued to dive for food in the depths of the icy flows, plunging down to take advantage of the clear rich pickings in the river below. A pair of displaying Dippers were a nice sight on the rocks, as well as several drake Goldeneye in their beautiful black and white plumage and up to 3 Goosander – again highlighting the rich food source available in this small stretch of river.

Representing just the 19th record of this stunning duck for the UK, this individual tended to favour both the reeded area of the river to the left of the toilet block as well as the rapids immediately to the right, providing great views as he dived down on the river in front of us for a prolonged period before flying downstream past the development works to the furthest point of the river, where sadly there was no access.

Harlequin Duck

With the nearest population being Iceland, where over 5,000 pairs breed each year, it is highly likely that, due to the fierce Northerly gales experienced lately and the bird’s location on the East coast in Aberdeen, the most likely source of origin for this Arctic dweller will be from these rocky coastlines – displaced after the fierce storms that battered the North Sea. The Harlequin Duck’s range also expands further afield, with birds found in Greenland, Eastern Russia and NW and NE America, and birds sometimes wintering further south in California and North Carolina.

Distinctive in their breeding plumage with their fantastic showy orange and slate-grey colouration, this first winter male sadly looked more like a female, with an overall appearance of dark chocolatey-brown feathers. However, the distinctive round white spot behind the ear was clearly visible, as was the white patch in front of the eye and clear cut white line on the breast. Obviously not yet in his full breeding finery, it would be great if this male sticks around to develop his full breeding plumage – where a second visit to tie in with our planned Scottish Highland trip at Easter may well be on the cards!

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