Saturday 7 December 2013


BAIKAL TEAL hungry birders scan Crossens Outer Marsh.
Photo by Adam Archer

Having let the hysterical, duck-bashing dust settle down for a week or so, we finally decided to embark on a trip to Lancashire (I refuse to use the word M*rseyside on my blog) for a rather splendid looking BAIKAL TEAL that despite the opinions of the many 'quackerphobes' is full of eastern promise. This species should be spending the winter months waddling around in the wetlands of Korea, Japan or south-east China however it seems to have been caught up with a flock of Eurasian Wigeon at some stage and has decided to spend at least some of its time munching away on marshland south east of Blackpool instead.

After a relatively late start from a twitching perspective we finally arrived at the seawall overlooking Crossens Outer Marsh, north of Southport at around 9.00am. The chilly winter air was filled with the whistling of thousands of Eurasian Wigeon and the skies were adorned with flocks of hundreds of  Northern Lapwing and European Golden Plover, it was end of year birding at its very best.

As for the BAIKAL TEAL there had been no sign of it yet. I could tell this easily by the body language of the ensemble of miserable looking twitchers in the distance. They were huddled together in a loose line, moping around, scratching their heads and no doubt chatting the same drivel you hear these days when the target bird is not on view.  Just a quick tip for you folks, the rare bird may not always be in the exact same spot as it was the previous day. If this bird has flown thousands of miles to grace us with its presence then it is not averse to stretching its wings again and finding a new spot to feed or rest in.

With this in mind I decided to go it alone and scan the flocks of wigeon and teal that were present adjacent to Marine Drive. Whilst picking my way through the roosting birds I was eventually joined by some friendly faces from the West Midlands to help in the search. After about thirty minutes I finally located an interesting looking duck that was fast asleep amongst the bulkier looking wigeon. A few moments later it moved slightly and my heart rate quickened...... it moved forward once more and 'bang' there it was, a fine looking moulting male BAIKAL TEAL, my first ever sighting of this species in Britain.

BAIKAL TEAL (adult male) - Crossens Outer Marsh, Merseyside
Photo by Dave Hutton

After a quick whistle and a waving of my arms I signalled to everyone that the bird was showing. I then spent the next twenty minutes or so trying to make sure everyone could get on it. Unfortunately a combination of the poor light, strong winds and the fact that it would slip back into the midst of the flock meant that it was quite difficult to pick up. In the process I nearly lost my patience and elbowed one particular southerner in the chops for making sarcastic remarks about my directions. Look with your eyes you ungrateful twat and not with your mouth! One elderly gentleman with one of those snazzy new Swarovski scopes was struggling too and I kindly offered to assist. Little did he know that whilst he repeatedly asked me if I had found it in his scope I was actually watching it in glorious HD. Cheeky hey? Finally, after all the excitement had subsided we enjoyed some pretty decent views for the next hour. It was then time to find somewhere to thaw out and grab a bite to eat.  

Johnny Hague proves that note-taking is not dead
in British birding!
Photo by Adam Archer

With our stomachs full of inferior quality American cuisine we then headed back for seconds and hopefully some additional views of the rarity. This time we pulled off Marine Drive to find the BAIKAL TEAL almost immediately. It was actually one of the closest birds on view but alas it was fast asleep on a grassy knoll. Fortunately after about it twenty minutes or so it yawned, had a quack flap and a stretch and started to feed again providing us with the best views of the day.

BAIKAL TEAL (adult male) - Crossens Outer Marsh, Merseyside
Photo by Dave Hutton

Other highlights around both Crossens Outer Marsh and on Marshside RSPB included a distant Great White Egret, 6 Little Egret, plenty of Pink-footed Geese, 2 male Pintail, 2,400 Eurasian Wigeon, 280 Eurasian Teal, 220 Northern Lapwing, 520 European Golden Plover, 60 Black-tailed Godwit, 5 Ruff, 44 Dunlin, a female Merlin and a single European Stonechat.

BAIKAL TEAL (adult male) - Crossens Outer Marsh, Merseyside
Photo by Dave Hutton

The BAIKAL TEAL in Britain

This species breeds across north-east Russia as far west as the River Yenisey and migrates to south-east China, Japan and Korea for the winter. It was thought to be in considerable decline during the end of the last century however current evidence suggests this was either inaccurate or the species has enjoyed a remarkable reversal in fortunes in recent years. Rumours are that during November 2001 there was an estimated 350,000 birds distributed throughout one area of South Korea alone.

It was always considered a species that could be a potential vagrant to Britain and other areas of northern Europe either as a reverse migrant or as an abmigrant based on the fact that its breeding area in the west overlaps with that of both Eurasian Wigeon and Eurasian Teal. Interestingly the arrival of the Crossens Marsh BAIKAL TEAL has coincided with record numbers of Eurasian Wigeon being present in the area. As a result, this individuals credentials have got to be as good as any of the previously accepted records of the species in Britain.

This species was readmitted to category of A of the British List by the BOURC during October 2009 following isotope analysis of a BAIKAL TEAL that was shot in Denmark in November 2005. The results from the stable isotopes suggested that the feathers grown on its breeding grounds in the east were markedly different to those feathers that had grown on its wintering grounds. This more or less proved it to be genuine wild vagrant. Following this, a review of past sightings was undertaken providing us with just four accepted records for Britain as follows:

1906 - Essex - Tillingham - first winter male shot on the 1st January.
2001 - Suffolk - Minsmere RSPB - first winter male from 18th November to 29th December.
2002 - Oxfordshire - Dix Pit, Stanton Harcourt - male from 22nd to 24th December.
2010 - Essex - Chigborough Lakes - juvenile male on 2nd October.

There was also another sighting earlier in 2013 when an adult male BAIKAL TEAL flew in off the sea with a couple of Eurasian Wigeon and spent the day at Flamborough Head in East Yorkshire.  This could potentially be the same individual that was present across the Irish Sea in County Wexford from the 8th to 9th February 2013.

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