Friday 16 February 2024

Long wait for a Long-tail

 Long-tailed Ducks are mega-rare in the York area, despite being a regular, but scarce passage migrant and winter visitor along the Yorkshire coast. It has been a good winter for inland records in England, with a few in the north, so I had had my fingers crossed one might show up and break my 'duck'. On Tuesday, I had a meeting over at Grassington with some of the senior team at YWT and it was with shock and a little dismay that as I arrived on site, I saw a bunch of excited messages from fellow York birders congratulating Stuart Rapson, who had just found a Long-tail at Castle Howard! I was stuck in the Dales for most of the day, so it seemed unlikely I was going to get there in time to see it. Fortunately, the meeting finished ahead of schedule and the trip back to York was smooth, so after catching up on a bit of work admin, I decided to head over before the dusk slammed shut. There had been no news since late morning, so it was with trepidation that I made my way down the path by the lake. I scanned the water hard, checking the flocks of diving ducks carefully. Alas, there was no sign. When Long-tailed Ducks turn up inland they either disappear within a few hours or stay for several weeks. It appeared that this bird, which seemed to have been the individual that had spent the last few weeks at Pugneys Country Park in West Yorkshire, was heading coast-wards and it looked like it had maybe moved on during the afternoon. I reached the end of the lake path and with no more water to check, I turned to head back, with a sinking feel of an impending dip beginning to envelope me. Would it be another 20 years before I got a shot at another York Long-tail? I hadn't even seen the Smew which had been found this morning. Gutted! I carried on scanning as I wandered back and to my delight, I suddenly had my bins on the Long-tail!

She immeditely dived, opening her wings as she went under. She spent a good 45 seconds underwater and on surfacing, was only up for about five seconds before disappearing again. No wonder I'd walked right past her! I decided to try and get closer, as I was looking into the light. It took me about ten minutes to refind her, during which time I began to think I was losing the plot! Fortunately, she surfaced again in my field of view and this time I managed to track her. A smart bird, and really dinky compared with the local Tufties and Goldeneye. The bird seemed ot have a pinkish wash near the bill tip, making me thing the bird might be a young male, but later discussion confirmed it is a first-winter female, and the pinkish colour is actually just pale grey. This Long-tailed Duck is my 228th species in the York recording area and my first new addition in 2024. What will be next?



Today I had the day off and headed back up to CHL to see if the Long-tail was still there. Again she took a bit of finding and this time she was right down the far end in the company of a few Goldeneye. She again was diving repeatedly and once took flight and did a bit of a fly-round, soon returning to the same spot. 

After watching her for half an hour, I decided to head off to look for other things. Two Barnacle Geese were loafing on the lake and a Cetti's Warbler was singing in the reedbed near the road. 

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