Monday, 6 April 2015

Scarce & Secretive: GARGANEY!

Stills taken from video footage, showing male and female Garganey at Long Crendon

Long Crendon: The RSPB describe the ever-so-attractive little dabbling Garganey duck as “scarce and very secretive”….Shhh.... I say those rich, chocolatey tones with vanilla accents make me think of Viennetta ice-cream or Tiramisu. No? Just me then. Ok, anyway, the species is strictly migratory, spending the harsh winter months far, far, far away in southern Africa, India and Australasia. But, now is the time of their return to UK breeding territory in central and southern England. Just 14-93 pairs will breed here, according to the RSPB. By my reckoning that makes this Easter’s sighting of 3 males and 1 female, at Long Crendon, west of Aylesbury, pretty special.

The birds were first spotted on the 4th and I didn’t hold out much hope that they’d still be there on Easter Day. By 14:15 on Sunday, I couldn’t resist any longer. I jumped in the car and thought I’d give it a go. I was fully prepared to arrive to an empty pond or, if I was lucky, a pair of Mallards.

As I parked up, the skies darkened and started to spit rain at me. Pah! It was going to take more than that, especially when I discovered that the fantastic little birds were still there. The rain eventually cleared away although the thick, dark clouds weren’t quite so forgiving. I watched the energetic ducks paddling fast, twisting this way and that, picking off insects that had landed on the surface of the water and occasionally even displaying. They would produce strange crackles, clicks and whistles. The males would create this quick display motion where they’d put their heads behind their wing and fan it out, whilst still paddling forward. It was over in a flash. There was also a lot of head waggling, neck stretching and shaking of tail feathers. All in all, a sight to brighten any dull Spring day.

I took some video footage although light levels, rain and distance were against me. It’s not great but it’s a record of this “scarce and very secretive” (shh..) migrant.


At 15:30, the stillness was shattered by the crack of gun fire just 100 metres from the pond. “Shhh...” wasn’t going to cut it. The steely Mallards didn’t flinch but the rather more sensitive Garganey, accustomed to the quiet marshes of Norfolk and Suffolk, were up and out of there. They flew as if to return to the water only to be scared off by further shots. That was it. They flew east, likely along the river, and I lost them.

Hoping that the birds might yet decide to come back, I stayed in the area. South of the pond there were numerous Red Kites, circling high and in flocks. I counted at least 19 and, with them, 5+ Common Buzzards. By 15:50 the Garganey hadn’t come back, the shooting party was still going strong and I called it a day. Those were the best views I’ve had of Garganey and were well worth the drive, the rain and the gun fire.

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