Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Birds of a feather. Diverse Divers, 28th December 2018 & 6th January 2019

After spending a fair bit of time on the 28th December mostly staring into reeds and dense bushes at Kingsbury Water Park near Birmingham in an attempt to see a very elusive Dusky Warbler and only getting a couple of brief glimpses of it as reward, Mrs Caley and myself stopped off at Arrow Valley Water Park in Redditch to see a juvenile Black-throated Diver that had been present for a few days. It took us only a few seconds to locate the bird on the small lake next to a very busy and noisy adventure playground. Not the normal spot you'd expect to find a bird that summers in remote and quiet parts of Scotland and other northern climes. Despite it being past mid-afternoon the lake was lit by low sunshine and that helped to really appreciate the beauty of the monochromatically hued bird.

Black-throated Diver, Arrow Valley Park 28th December 2018
The Diver made several whole circuits of the eastern end of the lake delighting birders and photographers alike that stood waiting at various vantage points. Initially that old conundrum raised itself again; "it looks closer to that bank, we should be stood over there" but before very long it passed very closely to us (no doubt the birders on the opposite bank were then contemplating the same conundrum) enabling me to take some decent shots.

The Black-throated was very active diving frequently before resurfacing again in a different spot, sometimes closer, sometimes not. I tried to time my snapping with the birds diving with varying degrees of success.

As the light waned away the Black-throated Diver decided to preen and brush up. It was fascinating to watch as it swam rapidly across the surface of the water with open wings allowing water to be driven into the feathers. It would then preen for a bit before shaking off excess water by stretching upwards and opening its wings right out and flapping. It repeated this procedure at least half a dozen times while I sent the camera into overdrive. When I got home I had 350 photos to edit!

Fast forward to Sunday the 6th January and we were walking towards the River Thames by Beale Park at Pangbourne in the search for a Great Northern Diver that had been found there. The park, which is in Berkshire, contains a lake, that the bird had first been sighted on, which is connected to the river by a cutting. The river Thames forms the border between Oxfordshire and Berkshire. The Great Northern Diver was frequenting both lake and river so was available to listers from both counties. There was no sign of the Diver on the lake but as we approached the river we spotted it immediately just out from the cut swimming along in the current in tandem with a Cormorant. Just as I took a couple of record shots, it was only just getting light, a team of rowers came sweeping towards the birds and they both dived under. After the boat had passed the Cormorant resurfaced in almost the same spot seemingly unperturbed but of the Great Northern there was no sign. We walked downstream and I was amazed to see the Diver on the river but about a hundred yards away! It must have swam all that way underwater in order to get away from the rowers above. I considered that a remarkable feat!.

Great Northern Diver, River Thames nr Pangbourne 6th January 2019
We closed in on the Diver which was now diving under frequently and played the same game as before with the Black-throated Diver seen a week ago, namely trying to anticipate where it would resurface. It was a much harder test this time though, the Great Northern Diver almost always came back up where we least expected it to and always further away than expected too. A couple of other teams of oarsmen paddled past, the bird clearly didn't like any of them and on every occasion took evasive action by diving and disappearing then reappearing well away from the river craft. Once all the boats had left the vicinity the Diver relaxed and slowly began swimming back upstream and back towards the lake. We kept pace with it and I took a multitude of shots trying every conceivable setting that I could in order to glean any acceptable images that I could given that it was yet another cold and leaden sky.

As we neared the wildlife park entrance the Great Northern Diver really seemed to relax and I was able to take photos at leisure. The bird began to preen and exhibited the curious habit of stretching its right leg out behind it. This gave me the opportunity to take even better shots. 

I felt even luckier still when the bird suddenly stretched its wings out for a good stretch before mimicking the Black-throated's actions in having a good old shake while pointing the bill skywards. The sun had also put in a brief appearance at this point lighting the bird up and thus allowing its beautiful cryptic plumage to be enjoyed even more.

The bird relaxed once more and I took a few more photos but then an angler in a small boat came chugging slowly upstream and startled the Diver once again. It resurfaced downstream well away and rather than follow it again we decided to stay put and see if it returned back upstream to its apparent favoured feeding spot.

Nearly two hours after we'd first arrived on the river bank we spied some other birders approaching and so, thinking that the views wouldn't get any better, decided to head for the car. We related our sightings to the others and left them to it. We had seen other birds too of course, some wild, some not so wild and in the wildlife park some not wild at all. In the wild category came Finches, Song Thrushes and various Ducks, not so wild were the half a dozen Egyptian Geese that flew around and amongst the definitely captive, Peacocks, Storks and Inca Terns!

Egyptian Geese, free flying on the river but one is sporting a ring
Peacock, inside the Wildlife Park
We had reached the lake and I was alerted to the whistling of a Kingfisher which landed on the prow of an old boat moored at the bank side. But as I lifted the camera to capture the moment I became aware of a commotion further out on the lake the source of which was the Great Northern Diver scuttling along the water! I had literally sold the other birders down the river! They were looking for the Diver there while it had decided to rejoin us on the lake. Just a week ago the same thing had happened with some Shore Larks in Suffolk (see Shore Larks) and we were beginning to think that we may be a pair of bird whisperers! The Diver then exhibited the same bathing behaviour that its cousin the Black-throated Diver had the week before, that is it would run across the water in order to get water into its feathers and then stretch its wings out and shake the water off. Then it would preen for a while. Faced with the dilemma of what to watch and photograph I just had to leave the Kingfisher in order to capture the bathing detail. In hind sight I should have stayed with the smaller and more brightly coloured bird since the Great Northern repeated its bathing ritual several times more before we left.

Luckily though Mrs Caley had watched the Kingfisher fly off onto a small jetty and I took a couple of record shots but I had missed my chance of much closer shots because of my haste to capture the Diver but I guess that I'm more likely to get another chance at a Kingfisher before I do at another Great Northern Diver. 

We managed to edge a bit closer to the bathing Great Northern Diver and I took lots more action shots although the open grey skies above the lake as opposed to the tree cover on the river didn't lead to such aesthetically pleasing images. After seemingly completing its bath time the Diver drifted further away so we thought that we may as well too.

A couple of the other birders had returned and they told us that the Diver had been scared out of the river by a flotilla of rowing boats and that it had actually swum back into the lake via the cutting rather than taking flight, so maybe we're not the bird whisperers that I cracked us to be after all.  Divers are designed for swimming primarily so will always choose to swim ahead of flying to evade trouble. We chatted for a while and they told us of a Cattle Egret locally which we thought we'd go for later. Just as I was putting the gear back in the car I noticed that the Great Northern Diver had indeed taken flight and I managed to run across to fence and rattle off some quick images, none of which were focussed correctly but they'll do for posterity.

There was one last flurry of action as half a dozen Egyptian Geese flew in noisily, if loud hissing counts as noisy that is! Egyptian Geese are odd looking birds appearing as if somebody needed to use their paint pallet up when designing them.

We didn't see the Cattle Egret, it must have moved elsewhere but had had a terrific morning anyway.

No comments:

Post a Comment