22 November 2014

Portuguese-ringed Lesser Scaup in Wales

Here Mark Waldron relates a quite exceptional resighting at Llangorse Lake in south Wales:

"On 17th October, scanning through a flock of 100 or so Tufted Duck that were feeding just off Llangasty car park, I came across a duck which had a bright orange or red nasal saddle. At first I was so concerned with reading the saddle that I hadn't taken much notice of what the duck actually was. It suddenly dawned on me that I was not watching a Tufted Duck but a Scaup. This made it even more exciting as I desperately struggled with the code. I digi-scoped a number of photo's hoping that I may be able to read the code from the photos later if needs be. The Scaup came much closer to the reed bed, perhaps only 2-3 meters away from its edge and with a brief break in the cloud giving better light I clearly saw the code read 'YH'.


However, the better light also clearly showed light grey vermiculations along its flanks. Alarm bells started ringing in my head; could this actually be a Lesser Scaup? It was similar in size to the surrounding Tufted Ducks and I checked the head carefully and there was the bump at the back. I now started taking photo's trying to get a decent profile shot. It continued to feed and occasionally preen so I made a film of the bird during which it gave a brief wing flap. I knew I needed the wing pattern and I hadn't managed to clearly see it. I now set my camera up on a repeat shot mode to try and capture the wing pattern. Another wing flap eventually came and I got some shots, but the wing bar looked too pale in the primary feathers. I had to leave the lake as I had to attend an open afternoon at my daughter's school, but all afternoon my mind was going over the ID features and I was still leaning toward Lesser Scaup.


A search of the colour-ring website did not turn up any clues as to the source of the ringing project: this actually increased my hopes. Following further feedback the next day and comments from Andrew King, the county recorder, following his own observations of the bird I was convinced we had identified a Lesser Scaup. The real clincher came on Sunday when Andrew found a blog post that showed what looked like a first-winter Lesser Scaup that had been ringed in Portugal at São Jacinto Dunes Nature Reserve (over 1500km from Llangorse Lake). More than that, the photo's appeared to actually show 'our bird'. Later that night, confirmation was received from David Rodrigues that our Lesser Scaup had been marked at São Jacinto as a juvenile male juvenile Lesser Scaup on 20th December 2013. It was also confirmed that the nasal saddle code actually read 'VH' and not 'YH' as previously reported. The bird then remained at São Jacinto until 3rd February 2014."


This is, unsurprisingly, our first recovery of a Lesser Scaup, and as far as we can tell the first ever European recovery. Such records of transatlantic vagrants aren't exceptional, and there is even a record of a bird 'going back': a Ring-necked Duck ringed in Gloucestershire in March 1977, shot in Greenland in May later that same year. Rather coincidentally, the only other Ring-necked Duck recovery involving the UK also involved Llangorse Lake, with a bird ringed in Canada in September 1967 shot there in December that year.

Thanks to Mark and David Rodrigues for the photos of this bird either end of its journey.

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