Disappearing Ducks (2)

Smew by Tony Hisgett used under Creative Commons Licence

When I was studying at Lancaster University I got involved with winter wildfowl surveys on the River Lune. For several years I walked upriver from the town centre to the picturesque Crook O’Lune and back. It was a lovely walk and there was enough birdlife to keep it interesting. On a couple of occasions I saw Scaup, there were usually a few Goosander near Skerton Weir and Kingfishers often shot past. There was one survey I will always remember though, a February count in perhaps 1991.

Jane and I (for we are that old and have been together that long) joined the riverside path somewhere near Sainsbury’s by the Heysham / Morecambe bridge. We bumped into Bob and Kath Marsh, sadly no longer with us, who were doing the count downriver from ourselves. I think we had already seen a redhead Smew among a group of Goldeneye, and when we saw them they had already also seen it. We had a nice chat and went off on our separate counts.

Somewhere on the Halton Mills stretch near the Army camp (I have no idea if there is still an army camp, I must check) we were surprised to see a lone redhead Smew feeding busily on this quiet stretch. It was immediately obvious it was a different bird due to the presence of darker feathering around the bill base. I eventually found out this meant it was a first winter male, but this was a time at which the books didn’t necessarily go into that level of detail. Come to that it was a time when I could go and twitch birds that weren’t in any books I owned and pre-internet (Greater Sandplover anyone).

So having found my first Smew within an hour or so I had found my second. Now I am not saying this wasn’t notable then, and I remember it now for that reason. But basically it just wouldn’t be possible to do that anymore. The first year male concerned returned to North Lancashire (mostly Pine Lake – see yesterday’s blog) for several winters with several females in tow. This winter there hasn’t been a Smew anywhere in North Lancashire or the Fylde, and that’s largely expected.

I am beginning to write the Cumbria Bird Report for 2021, as the records came through this week. I work with the last five published reports to give some context to what I write. At the start of that period Longtown Ponds was described as a nationally important wintering site. In the last four years there have only been two singles there. It’s the short stopping I described in yesterday’s blog.

Jane’s from Burton-on-Trent and when we visited her relatives before they moved up here there were still several Smew wintering near there. A female spent some time in Stanley Park in the heart of Blackpool a few years ago and I saw that one. I had to think hard about whether I had seen one at all recently, and remembered dropping in at Brockholes about three years ago when passing to twitch one there.

I am not sure how interesting this nostalgia is to anyone else, but if you’ve got this far and don’t know them google drake Smew. Then I promise you’ll want to see one for yourself if you haven’t already.

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