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Biggest Twitch
Biggest Twitch
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With Ruth up early and heading for work over near Chester Alan thought he might as well make the most of the early start and sort out a hire car for the weekends work. The hire car depot is at Llandudno Junction and it did not take long to sort out the car. Now it is only a few minutes drive from here to Conwy RSPB reserve so it seemed a good idea just to have a quick look before heading home to do a mountain of paper work put off over the Easter weekend. Stepping from the car it began to rain, not good, things got worse, reaching the Benarth hide it was still locked, no shelter. Now what? Alan decided to push on as the rain seemed to be easing off. Very few birds about, a flock of roosting gulls were scanned with the scope but no rarities amongst them.
Then a large dark duck came flying down the estuary from the north, Common Scoter? No, what is it? Hybrid Mallard? The bird circled and as it did so alarm bells were ringing! Silver-white under-wings and no white on the upper-wing, black body, brownish head, no can’t be. After a second circuit of the estuary the duck splash landed about 300m away and Alan had it in the scope. The bill was greeny-yellow, the face pale brown, no hint of abnormal plumage anywhere, it looked just like a drake Black Duck, a vagrant to the UK!
A moment of self doubt set in, surely Alan had missed some feature that would see the bird labelled as a hybrid? Then the duck was flying again, oh no! The silver under-wings flashed in the dull morning light as the bird headed south. Then it turned and landed on a sand-bank but dropped out of view. What to do now? Put out the news and risk the memory letting him down? Were all those feature right for Black Duck? Alan was pretty sure they were but a little voice somewhere in the back of his mind said
“No white on the speculum? You sure that’s right”
Alan was almost sure but not sure enough to start pushing buttons on his mobile! Quick dash to the RSPB visitor centre and grab the Collins Field Guide, no question all features perfect for a drake Black Duck, no white in speculum of course!
Mobile phone was hot, Birdline North-West and Birdline Wales were updated by Ted Abraham and Alan contact as many local birders as possible.
Now to relocate the bird. Judith Benbow and Robert Hughes joined Alan heading back to the estuary track. Two members of the reserve had beaten them to the viewpoint at the south end of the reserve but had not seen the bird. More birders arrived but still no sign. Then Alan saw the bird walking across the sandbanks in the distance. Reg Thorpe managed a quick look through Alan’s scope before it dropped out of sight into a creek, damn! Over the next hour the views were like this just a glimpse at very long range.
Martin Jones was searching for the bird at nearby Glan Conwy but could not see it so bravely decided to try a different tactic. Martin drove several miles, through the town of Conwy and south down the Conwy valley. Alan and Paul Brewster thought this sounded like a good idea as the views were so poor from the reserve and headed back towards their cars. Just as they reached the parking area Martin rang to say he had the Black Duck and the view was pretty good! A few minutes later and Alan and Paul joined Martin on a narrow lane south of Conwy over-looking the sandbanks where the Black Duck was feeding in full view, in the sunshine, brilliant! The views were a little distant but with the scopes perfectly good. Martin even managed some hazy digi-scoped images.
Only the third record ever of a Black Duck in Wales, let’s hope it stays around for many to enjoy. P.S. The Black Duck was obliging enough to still be showing well off Glan Conwy when Ruth made it back into the area after work that evening - phew!If you’d like to join The Biggest Twitch for some wonderful birding, just drop us an email on and you too could enjoy a fantastic day out seeing great birds!
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