Friday, 1 January 2016

Smew Beauty...2016 Begins on Patch

1st Jan.  As we are leading a walk in Killingworth tomorrow planned to cover several miles, Sam and I decided to confine ourselves to the area around the lake and village today and follow a laid back approach to beginning our 2016 lists.  Whilst down at the lake we began to feel that the area had become the place to be such was the number of birders about (good to see familiar faces and enjoy a chat).  Had everyone learned of the wonderful conservation management that has gone on in Killingworth (that’s a joke by the way) and decided to start there New Year in style.  Nah, it soon became apparent that it was the redhead Smew that was attracting folk.  This is a bird I have never seen on patch and I understand that there has been no sighting of one on the lake for years.  Does anyone know when that was?  Well, what a way to begin the year.  A great sighting of a beautiful bird, and seen in flight too.  When it flew to the far end of the larger lake it give even better sightings to the three of us who bothered to walk down there in fading light.  The lighting conditions were very poor this afternoon and the balmy days that we have enjoyed during December seem to be at an end.  New patch tick for me on day one and a lifer for Sam.

I'm telling you, there was a Smew there!

My day had begun fairly late with some garden watching.  Starling, Collared Dove and Blue Tit being the first three birds seen in 2016.  Numbers of Greenfinch soon arrived at the seed and it has been good to see numbers of this species seeming to increase on patch recently.  Are they recovering from the disease which inflicted them in recent years (I’m not going to try to spell it)?  Not at all surprised to see Starlings as there are still a fair number in Killingworth as anyone who shops at Morrison’s would be able to confirm.  Sadly no House Sparrows seen at all today.  A year list beginning with no House Sparrow on it is sad indeed.

A little later it was down to the lake to meet with Sam.  It seemed that perhaps the dropping temperatures had brought some birds to the lake.  There was certainly more Goosanders about and numbers of Goldeneye may well have increased too.  Gadwall remain and a female Shoveller was picked up.  A Scaup too, a species we added to the list early last year.  Only one Pochard was seen!  Coot numbers are well down and have been for sometime.  The usual wildfowl was present amongst them two Greylag Geese.  A number of Pied Wagtails were heard and seen.

Distant Smew

We wandered through what was in general quiet woodland near the new housing development.  This allowed us to pick up a small flock of Redwing, Mistle Thrush and Song Thrush.  We eventually wandered over to the village area where the church grounds were almost silent, in total contrast to our previous visit.  The rest of the area was especially quiet too, although we did find a flock of Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tit and Great Tit.

Although still fairly early, the cloud build up meant that the light was already dimming, so as we doubled back towards the lake I picked up the telescope from home.  Well yes, we determined to have a good look at this Smew while we had the chance and having watched it at length I have to say it’s the best sighting of a Smew I’ve ever had.

Keeping its distance!
So having said goodbye to Sam I marched off home with telescope and binoculars, well satisfied with the few hours on patch and dreaming of what wonders 2016 has in store.  Just before arriving home as darkness was creeping in I listened to the song from a Song Thrush.  I later found that I had recorded forty species in a rather small area of the patch.  As I say, laid back birding has a lot to recommend it and the many other species will I’m sure oblige as the  year moves on, but in any event it’s quality wot counts and the Smew was definitely a quality sighting.

Happy New Year.

Smew Mergellus albellus

Etymology: albellus diminutive of albus, L. for white, in reference to drake plumage.  Mergellus diminutive of mergus meaning little merganser.  Common name, known since 1668, derives from Smee Duck and refers to kurr-rik or krr-eck call of drake.
(Info taken from B Fs of the W, Ducks, Geese and Swans/Janet Kear)


  1. Glad to see you're back (as opposed to 'your back'!).

  2. Thanks Ian. All the best for 2016 and I hope it will include some sea-watching. Apologies for not being in touch to arrange.